If you automatically assume that all applicants for positions with one of the Big Four accounting firms require a related degree and all sorts of practical experience, then you are wrong.
"Accounting is not rocket science," says Victor Ng, partner and head of audit at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. "It can be taught and it does not take ten years to do so."
In fact, Deloitte actively encourages graduates with degrees in a variety of disciplines to apply and nearly 40 per cent of entry-level recruits have taken subjects other than accounting. Mr Ng himself studied management at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and other employees of the firm have backgrounds in engineering, IT and even English literature. The policy is intended to create a diverse yet balanced intake each year.
"If we hired only accounting majors, we would be limiting ourselves," says Mr Ng. "Bringing in some non-accounting professionals encourages a different way of thinking and new ways of solving problems." The main thing for candidates is to demonstrate a commitment to the profession and a certain level of competence.
I expect the number of new recruits to remain fairly steady
With the help of HKU, the firm puts non-accounting recruits through a conversion programme. This teaches the basics and is recognised by the professional qualification boards, so leads on naturally to the next stage of formal training. If things go smoothly, recruits can expect to be professionally qualified within 12 to 18 months. To assist junior employees, the firm has also set up an internal service to assist with revision courses, mock exams and a 24-hour hotline.
For ongoing training, there is the Deloitte Institute, set up to provide comprehensive, structured and tailor-made programmes to equip members of staff with the skills to deliver the highest quality services. Courses and seminars are open to clients as well as members of the public.
With a major recruitment drive now in progress, the firm is keen to hire people with differing levels of experience. Typically, those who join as fresh graduates are found to be the most loyal employees. "I am a great example of that," says Mr Ng. "This was the firm I joined when I graduated 20 years ago, and I expect it will be the only one I work for before I retire."
However, with the general demand for accounting professionals at unprecedented levels, there is also a need to take on more experienced personnel. Of last year's 300 new recruits, nearly 200 were recent graduates while the remainder had significant industry experience. "In previous years, when demand for talent was not as intense, there was a higher proportion of fresh graduates, since it is usually easier to train them with an eye to long-term professional development," Mr Ng explains.
The firm offers a five-stage structured career path, moving from entry level up to partner via intermediate management grades. Outstanding performers are invited to join a fast-track programme, which can lead to partnership in as little as nine years, compared to the more typical 12 years.
In 2005 alone, Deloitte received 2,100 applications and made 300 job offers. "I expect the number of new recruits to remain fairly steady as there is no sign of the demand for qualified accountants falling away," Mr Ng says.
Any applicant should be sure to know about the firm's background and be well informed about current developments in the accountancy profession. "We give recruits the chance to develop their potential to the fullest, so they can achieve the maximum from their careers," Mr Ng adds.
Realising your potential
Candidates interested in a career in accounting are not required to have a related degree
Hiring recruits with different academic backgrounds encourages new approaches to problem solving
A conversion programme teaches non-accountants the basics of the profession
Employees are given special assistance when preparing for their professional exams
People hired as fresh graduates generally show greater loyalty to the firm
Demand for both fresh graduates and experienced accountants is expected to remain high