As a recruiter specialising in newly qualified accountants, most of my working day involves conversations with accounting professionals at all levels and across different disciplines about their career progression. These discussions have taught me that the biggest decision for these young professionals tends to be when they are approaching the end of their qualification.
As a qualified accountant myself, I’ve first-hand experience of what its like to stand on at this crossroad. While many professionals I speak with have a very clear idea of what they want from their career post qualification, most are focused on their current roles and on managing the pressure of completing a challenging set of exams. After such an intense period, many people’s first instinct is to seek change, rather than trying to begin to utilise the very qualification that they’ve just achieved.
At FK International, we believe that it is not just important to understand what skills and capabilities a candidate has, but also gain insight into how they view the direction and trajectory of their career, what motivates them and in what areas they would like to progress. This allows us to offer specialist advice, which allows them to work toward achieving their objectives.
Seeking commercial experience
Once qualified, many candidates are immediately interested in pursuing a more commercial role; one that doesn’t necessarily revolve around audit or another practice area. While roles in corporate finance seem exciting and different from the outset, it’s vital that people research the different types of opportunities that are available; what the day-to-day tasks and expectations are; and how the switch will strengthen their capabilities further and make them a better professional. Once they have done this, candidates can decide with more clarity whether a commercial rather than a progressive audit role is the right move for them.
Right move for the right reasons
While many candidates move to industry to get away from audit and seek somewhat higher salaries, we regularly hear from these people over time that the move hasn’t been what they hoped it would be. Many realise that working for a company doesn’t guarantee your role is commercial. Others move into financial analysis and are consumed by spreadsheets, with no engagement with business leaders, while others go down the route of management accountancy and work on similar, non-strategic tasks every month. Candidates also often explain how they miss client interaction and the diversity of working in practice, dealing with unique clients that are of all sizes and from across different sectors. Clearly, many people move successfully and happily into industry roles, however I believe that there are a few points to consider for every candidate considering their options.
- Know your worth: To candidates that have worked hard and developed good within their firm, I always urge them to take time to discuss their future with their manager or director to discuss the next step in their career. Firms will always look to prioritise long-serving and proven staff over potential new joiners, so candidates must always try to demonstrate their commitment and loyalty to earn further recognition in their current role, get promoted or even move to another area to gain further skills.
- Gain fresh experience : All firms have a huge variety of different roles across different specialisms, so it is important to consider such opportunities and understand what is available before making a decision about your career. This will involve research, but more importantly, taking time to speak with friends and contacts in these areas to understand their role and gain insight into its pros and cons. Once this is done, candidates should ask their manager the question and if it doesn’t work out, then perhaps another practice or industry role can provide such experience.
- Further training: Accountancy firms offer further training and a structured career path, while isn’t always the case when moving into industry as companies do not always feel the need for it. Accountancy is just one part of their financial operation and a cost to the business, rather than a revenue generator, so it can receive less investment in training and development than in practice. Additionally, the gap between newly qualified roles and the finance director is normal quite substantial, so there is usually several more experienced colleagues in roles above you, which can hinder progression.
So what are your options and what else do you need to consider ? There are several routes a young candidate can take to progress their accountancy further and it is about chosen the right one for you.
- Same firm, new role: After finishing exams, candidates are likely about to receive a promotion and pay rise, with a new role bringing new responsibilities. This exciting transition should be embraced. Additionally, practice has a more defined structure and most firms will provide two year progression cycles to move further forward. While the money may be somewhat better in industry at newly qualified level, the increase and opportunity to move upward, quicker, is not the same as within practice.
- Moving to another firm: Some candidates just need a change as they really do not enjoy the area of accountancy they are working in. Like myself, who moved into specialist recruitment, some leave the profession completely after realising early on that it wasn’t for them. Others often decide that it is not the role that is making them seek change, but the environment they are in or the people they work with. This can be difficult to work this so it is important that candidates take time to consider the pros and cons of their role, so that they can understand what has them unsettled. A move to a new firm and role can provide the fresh start needed and is often viewed as an opportunity to start with a clean slate.
- Working Overseas: Making a move abroad in industry is possible but is less likely if you do not have prior experience. We seldomly work with candidates that have successfully made an international move without travelling over to work in a practice firm first, so our advice is usually to target a similar practice role abroad before shifting into industry. This way, a candidate will have more locations and opportunities to consider; the move will be less stressful as they will have a chance to gain understanding of any differences there are in accounting standards and processes; and gain experience of working with a wide range of new, specialist accountants.
If you are unsure about your next step please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my direct number 01-6315515.
Robert F. Kennedy
Senior Recruitment Consultant at FK International