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Hiring the Right Accountant Just Got A Whole Lot Easier

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by Greg Thorpe, Managing Director, Howett Thorpe

Until recently AAT qualifications were cut and dried. Either it was a pass or a fail. Employers had no idea whether a candidate with an AAT Qualification had just scraped through, or was top of the class.

As of September 2016, this all changed with the introduction of a new grading system. Anyone who has taken or is studying for the new AQ2016 qualification will be graded as follows: unclassified, pass, merit or distinction. For line managers, Finance Directors, HR professionals and those responsible for talent acquisition, this could provide you with an additional way of shortlisting candidates for your finance and accountancy roles.

However, not all new qualified candidates or students currently studying towards AAT will be assessed using the new criteria. Until 31 December 2017 it is possible to continue to study the old AAT Accounting Qualifications 2013 (AQ2013) if already registered, and therefore be assessed as either a pass or a fail. All students that have registered since September 2016 will take the new AQ2016 qualification.

What Does This Mean to Your Business?

The AAT accounting qualifications have been updated to make them more relevant to business today. A key difference between AQ2013 and AQ2016 are ‘synoptic assessments’: linking together multiple connected topics and testing students on their understanding of the whole syllabus, not just each unit. Synoptic assessments have been developed to assess core accountancy skills and the student’s ability to apply them in the workplace.

Students will also have fewer opportunities to re-sit exams at levels 2 and 3, they will only be allowed to attempt each unit twice within 12 months. On average, it takes between 6 and 12 months to complete each level. It therefore follows that any candidate with a new AQ2016 qualification, as of March 2017, will have successfully passed each unit first time around.

Anyone who is interviewing candidates that are currently studying towards AAT, may find it a useful talking point to gauge how well it is going for them. Candidates that have failed a unit more than twice will have to wait for the next 12-month assessment period to open, and this may have an impact on their suitability for your role.

As mentioned above, the new grading system will also give employers a way of identifying more highly qualified candidates. A distinction represents a 90-100% success rate, combining all unit assessments and the synoptic assessment for the level.

For example, a Level 2 Foundation Certificate in Accounting has 4 unit assessments (Bookkeeping Transactions, Bookkeeping Controls, Elements of Costing, and Using Accounting Software), and a synoptic assessment that may also test students on the ‘Work Effectively in Finance’ unit, as well as other units. Each unit assessment counts to 16-22% of the overall grade; the synoptic assessment is 30% of a Level 2 grade.

Naturally, candidates with distinctions will be much sought after. However, academic achievements – whilst desirable – are not the only qualifications you should be looking for when shortlisting candidates. Cultural fit, motivation, interpersonal skills – amongst other personal attributes – are all important; so don’t overlook those candidates with just a pass or a merit if they are strong in these areas.

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