Thoughts, insights & waffle


Non Business Graduates



The typical presumption by students is that milkround positions are only for business and accounting graduates. While the majority of the graduate trainees will have business and accounting degree backgrounds this certainly does not exclude any student with other degree backgrounds from applying (and being successful) in the milkround process. All of the firms are explicit in respect of this issue and they actively encourage candidates with a vast array of backgrounds to apply.

There has been an increased popularity in the accounting profession among non-business graduates (partly due to the economic climate we find ourselves in and the resulting jobs market) with the most recent figures for 2012 showing that 18% of the direct graduate intake for CAI were from non-business degrees (source page 7).  From my personal experience I have encountered graduates from history, English, law, physiotherapy, psychology and engineering degrees all being successful in the milkround process and subsequently thriving in the world of accountancy.

In my opinion there are ultimately two key issues for non-business graduates to consider;

(i) How would this impact on your ability to get past the application/interview process?;and

(ii) The longer term impact such a route would have on the ability to perform and excel in the role.

The purpose of this post is to tease out these two issues in a bit more detail, give non-business graduates a framework to use in approaching the milkround process to ensure they put their best foot forward and finally to consider further study options for non business graduates to allow you to get a solid foundation in accounting before beginning your training contract. For people who are currently established in the working world  we will also briefly look at the Elevation Programme as a flexible route to completing your professional exams.

Note:  Even if you are from a general business degree you still may have had little, if any, exposure to accounting (e.g. if you specialised in HR, marketing etc) and thus this post is also of great relevance to you and all the points made are directly applicable to your situation.


Getting Past the Application

It is only natural that students from non-business backgrounds would be apprehensive about their ability to demonstrate to interviewers their suitability for the role. I would recommend to any student in this situation to utilise the following framework to analyse their current situation and assess their reasoning for applying to the milkround;

Interest – Motivation – Ability

  • Interest – Why are you interested in the role? What sparked your interest? How have you developed your knowledge of the area?
  • Motivation – What motivates you to become an accountant? Where do you want to be in five/ten years?
  • Ability – What transferable skills have you? Have you a quantitative background? Are you an experienced leader?

The most important thing to do is put yourself in the mindset of the interviewer/person assessing your application. It may be useful for someone to play devil’s advocate and ask you some hard questions to prepare you in advance.


On the Job

The other general presumption is that a candidate with a non-business degree will struggle with the demands of the graduate trainee role and the professional exams. Again this is not necessarily true as a whole and the IMA framework above will certainly give a better understanding of whether a student will be able for the role.

 Furthermore there are many degrees (with just a few examples below) that compliment several milkround areas;

  • Legal degrees –  taxation, restructuring and M&A roles;
  • Management degrees –  advisory and consulting roles; and
  • Engineering, Science & IT – problem solving skills and sector experience.


Further Study/Route

The final issue for non-business graduates to consider is completing a postgraduate diploma in accounting (PDA) for a year prior to commencing work. Many firms will sponsor your fees for the year and it will allow you time to understand the core principles without the need to juggle full time work. The PDA will also provide you with full exemptions from your first set of professional exams. Please see my Masters/PDA section for a more detailed discussion of the pros & cons of the PDA along with a full list of each college that provides the course.

In recent years the CAI have launched a new flexible training programme entitled the “Elevation Programme” which allows students to study for their professional exams without being in a training contract. This provides great flexibility to many mature students who do not wish to give up their current role while completing their professional exams. With 12% of the most recent student intake choosing the Elevation Programme it is clearly becoming a popular route for many prospective accountants.


Ultimately it should be clear that you should not automatically rule yourself out of a milkround position just because you have had no prior exposure to accounting or a business based degree. Nearly a fifth of new entrants into the CAI in 2012 were from non-business backgrounds.

You are likely to have gained many transferable and complementary skills through your prior study and experiences and it is important that you portray these skills and experiences both in your application and your interview (if you are successful). Use my Interest-Motivation-Ability framework as a guide to help you frame your points

Another somewhat related issue can be age. Many trainees beginning their path to become a professional accountant can be in their early to mid (and sometimes even late) 30’s so a career change into accountancy is no longer an unheard of route. The investment of 3/3.5 years in a training contract could be a valuable investment in the grand scheme of things when you emerge with a globally recognised qualification and the emergence of the Elevation Programme has significantly increased the flexibility of completing your professional exams.

For any final uncertainty in your minds I will let Benjamin Franklin weigh in with the concluding remarks.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”


 If you have any questions about tackling accountancy as a non business graduate feel free to get in contact via, @accmilkman or using the feedback function.

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