- Despite the heavy workload, cadetships represent an enviable opportunity.
- Undertaking a cadetship can mean you have less competition for sought-after positions.
- One of the best things about accounting is the flexibility to pursue a variety of career paths.
By Ben Power.
Photography and video by Dan Karas.
Up and coming accountant Jessica Zhou calls it her “humble brag”, but at 19 years of age she bought a brand new Audi A4 with no help from her parents.
Unlike most recent school leavers, Zhou could afford the car because she had started an accounting cadetship at mid-tier accounting firm HLB Mann Judd, which combined full-time university study with full-time work, a challenging combination.
Currently completing her CA studies, Zhou is now a successful 25-year-old analyst at Deloitte and she remains a big believer in cadetship programs.
“It’s a no brainer,” she explains. “If you get an opportunity like that, you take it with both hands and run with it.”
Australians and New Zealanders in their teens and early 20s face rising living costs and skyrocketing house prices. But Zhou’s story shows that with hard work – in her case, a cadetship – there are ways to have a successful, interesting career, independence and even luxury items at a young age.
Zhou had early exposure to finance. Both her parents worked for the Bank of China. But it was the link between fashion and accounting that got Zhou interested in an accounting cadetship.
When Zhou was still in high school she attended a Meet the Business Leader event hosted by the then Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia.
It was the link between fashion and accounting that got Zhou interested in an accounting cadetship.
“The lady on the stage said, ‘I’m a chartered accountant and I work at Louis Vuitton’,” Zhou recalled, which for her crystallised a clear path for a successful business career in a field she loved – fashion.
Zhou had already been heading down the business path at high school. In years 11 and 12 she selected all business subjects and no science subjects.
Ambition over attrition
Undertaking the cadetship meant simultaneously studying and working full-time.
“It was hard,” Zhou recalls. “But I’ve always been quite ambitious. I started work when I was 14 years and nine months.
“My parents always told me that money doesn’t grow on trees. ‘If you want that dress you have to go out and earn it, don’t expect us to buy it for you’.”
The heavy workload saw some of Zhou’s fellow cadets quit. “I don’t think it’s for everyone,” she admits.
Zhou used ballet and contemporary dance classes, which she’d been attending since she was seven years old, three times a week as stress relief, and even managed to keep in close contact with school friends.
But despite the heavy workload, she says the opportunity was amazing. Cadets are given time off – and therefore effectively paid – to study. In addition to their full-time wage, their university costs (though not actual fees), including textbooks, are paid for.
Getting a head start
Zhou says there are other benefits to undertaking the cadetship, including the fact that cadets have less competition for sought-after positions.
"When you graduate from university you are suddenly competing against everyone who graduates – and people already in the industry – for positions in accounting firms.”
"When there’s an opportunity like a cadetship, there is no downside to applying and no downside to giving it a go."
A cadetship is also a great opportunity to work out whether you want an accounting career, rather than finding that out after you’ve completed a degree. “Even if you didn’t like it, you find out early on.”
But above all, cadets gain hard-won financial independence. Zhou moved out of home at 20, gaining the independence that many young people crave.
At HLB Mann Judd, Zhou presented to school students, selling them on cadetships. And in the process she discovered a love of public speaking.
“I tell the school kids it’s okay not to know what you want to do. You’re so young and there are so many things to try. But when there’s an opportunity like a cadetship, there is no downside to applying and no downside to giving it a go.”
Eighteen months ago Zhou was approached by Deloitte. She joined the firm, shifting from tax to business advisory.
A world of options
Zhou believes that one of the best things about an accounting career is the flexibility to pursue a variety of paths.
“It’s a great skill set to have,” she enthuses. “I know people who studied accounting and have become investment bankers, engineers or work in fashion. It’s so diverse.”
One of the best things about an accounting career is the flexibility to pursue a variety of paths.
She is excited about her future and is still eyeing up fashion. “Maybe I
could become a management accountant at Chanel... there are so many paths.”
Zhou is adamant that the hard slog of being an accounting cadet has positioned her well, even if at the time it meant turning down invites to socialise with friends.
“I lost out on that part,” she says. “But looking at where I am now compared with them, I don’t regret it at all.”
For more on how Jessica Zhou fast-tracked her dream, visit CA ANZ's You Unlimited website now.
This article is part of an ongoing Careers column offering tips and advice for provisional members of CA ANZ and younger full members. For more information on the Chartered Accountants Program, as well as inspiring stories of young chartered accountants, visit youunlimitedanz.com now.