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In our regular look at different professions, Melanie Wilson, tells how so ended up running her own practice in Edinburgh.
How long have you been in your current position?: Three years – I set up my practice in 2008, but I’ve been a chartered accountant for over a decade.
What was your route to this position? After leaving school at sixteen, I worked in hotel management which involved working in every department of a hotel and I developed a real interest in the accounts side of things.
After a couple of years working in the accountants departments of various firms, I realised that I wanted to get into practice where there would be more variety and different challenges.
Around this time I saw a vacancy for a part-qualified accountant and, although I wasn’t one, I took a chance and applied. I already knew that I wanted to do the AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) qualification, and explained that in my covering letter. Luckily they were impressed – possibly by my sheer brass-neck – and took me on to train with them.
I really wanted to qualify as a chartered accountant and discovered that while many people go to university first, that it was possible to achieve this without becoming a fulltime student, which – as I was used to working – didn’t really appeal to me.
Once I’d completed my AAT qualification it was a case of agreeing training with my employer and the ICAEW (Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales). Back then it was still relatively new territory for all of us, but now the fast track scheme makes it much easier, as it’s a formally agreed route from one qualification to the next.
After time with large and medium sized practices, I felt that the natural progression was to set up on my own, as that would enable me to more closely with clients, which I’d always enjoyed. I set up Systematic Tax in 2008 and have been working for myself ever since.
When you started out, what was your dream job? When I left school I wanted to work in Outward Bound but I was too short. Once I started working in accounts, however, I knew I wanted to become a fully qualified accountant and run my own business – both of which I’m proud to have achieved.
What’s your dream job now? I love running my own business, so my goal is for it to keep growing and developing.
What’s the best thing about the job? I really enjoy having direct contact with my clients and working with them to develop their businesses. I also like the technical tax side of things as well – because there aren’t always set answers that apply in every scenario it’s always an interesting challenge to match the rules to a real-life situation.
What’s the worst thing about the job? Too many deadlines. You have to be really organised and stay on top of everything.
What advice would you give to someone starting out? Be flexible – you may start out thinking you want to specialize in one area, but then find something else which really captures your interest. Also, be realistic – studying takes a lot of commitment and you really get out as much as you put in. It’s well worth all the work, though, as a good accountancy qualification, like the ACA qualification, can take you pretty much anywhere in business as there are so many transferable skills – just because you’ve qualified as an accountant, doesn’t mean you have to be an accountant per se!
Still at school? Lots of people think you need a degree to be an accountant, and while many accountants have been to university it’s by no means essential. The AAT-ACA Fast Track scheme – which is essentially what I did – can be done right after school, it’s just a matter of securing a training agreement. After that – as long as you pass the exams – you could be a fully qualified chartered accountant in just four years.
Anything else? The Fast Track programme is also a great route into theprofession for graduates – in fact, I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in accountancy.
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