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I’m newly qualified… should I stay or should I go?

As a specialist recruiter with over 11 years’ experience of working with accountants, we have had many a conversation with accounting professionals at all levels and across different disciplines about their careers and plans for the future.

During this time, we have always found that biggest crossroad tends to be when people are approaching becoming a newly qualified chartered accountant.

Having entered the profession as graduates, trainee accountants tend to be on a pretty straightforward path for the first 3-4 years of their career.

Straightforward path

Within the larger firms, they tend to specialise within a specific discipline such as audit and as the years progress and they pass further exams, and the level of responsibility they take on increases.

We have found that during this time there is a real split in how people approach and think about their future careers.
While some have very set plans beyond qualification, the majority tend to focus on what they are doing now as the workload and exam pressure can become quite consuming.

Once they have a chance to lift their head and look to the future, the natural tendency when thinking about career progression and change is to move away from what they are currently doing.

It is key for us to understand not just what skills they have obtained but to dig deeper and try to gain a better understanding of their personality, what motivates them and where they would like to progress in their career.

This then allows us to offer advice and assist them to plan effectively to achieve their short, medium and long term objectives.

“I want to be more commercial!”

Most conversations and meetings we have with potential candidates normally start with:

Candidate: “I want to get out of audit” or “I’m not sure what I want to do but it needs to be something more commercial.”

Levitate Recruitment: “OK, why do you feel you need to move away from audit and what would you class as more commercial?”

At this point, we normally receive a blank stare before a few job titles are thrown at us such as, corporate finance executive or working in industry as an analyst or a Financial accountant.

Great answers

When asked why they feel those areas would be more commercial? We have received some great answers but, more than often, an answer that hasn’t been considered and one that has no real evidence of why it would be the right move for them in seeking out something ‘more commercial’

We can see why people may initially believe these disciplines are more commercial, they are certainly different to audit but it’s fundamental that people research both areas to gain knowledge of the different types of opportunities that are available, what the day to day duties will be and how the move will improve their CV and develop their skill set further.

Once you have done this then you will have a better idea if it really is more commercial than a progressive audit role and if it is in fact the right move for you.

Improve your chances

It is also important to understand if a certain move is available at this stage of your career and, if not, what do you need to do to improve your chances.

This is one of the many reasons why experienced consultants that have worked in accountancy recruitment can be invaluable when people are looking to make the next step.

Many newly qualified accountants choose to apply for lots of roles directly and whilst this can be a good way to secure a new role, there is no harm in at least having a conversation with an experienced recruiter that understands the current market. This can not only provide useful insight but remove the risk of you applying for roles that you will not be considered for at this stage.

If it turns out that the move isn’t possible just now then they will be able to assist you in working towards this move within your current role or providing a stepping stone move that will get you closer.

‘I made a mistake!’

While many jump ship into industry to get an extra few thousand pounds and a move out of audit, we regularly receive calls from the same people six months later to state that the move wasn’t all they thought it would be and whilst they are working for an industry company, the role is anything but commercial.

Some will move as analysts and find themselves looking at spreadsheets with no real communication with business leaders and some will move as management or financial accountants and find themselves working on the same accounts every month in a role that has very little impact on business strategy.

Key factor

Another key factor for people coming back to us to reconsider a career in practice is that they miss the client interaction they were once accustomed to and they often miss the opportunity to work across different sectors and with a whole range of different business sizes that operate in a totally different way.

We frequently hear: “I didn’t think that working in audit was that commercial or interesting, but I now realise that I learned so much more about different businesses when I was working on-site and interacting with my clients”

This is of course not the same for everyone and many people do make immediate moves into industry that work for them. Below we have provided a few points to consider that may assist you to make the decision to further your career within practice first.

Legacy and time invested within your current firm

You have worked long hours and developed good will within your current firm …Try to take advantage of this and sit down with your managers and directors to discuss a career plan that will take you further.

They will more likely be open to investing in you than a new person joining and as someone that is more senior, they can hopefully educate on the different options that will also work for the firm.

One of the hardest parts of running a successful business is to attract and retain good staff that are motivated to assist the business to move forward.

Why not try to utilise your commitment and loyalty as a strength to either push on within your current specialism or move across to another area of the business to gain further skills?

Change specialism

There is the obvious choice to push on within your current specialism but if this is something you really don’t wish to do then why not ask about other areas of the firm that you can work in.

It is important to do your research first. This should include looking at all areas of the business and taking the opportunity to speak with people in these departments to understand what they do and what they enjoy about their roles. Once you have done this then ask the question!

If it isn’t available then perhaps another great accountancy practice down the road can make it available?

Further training and a structured career path

It is well known that the accountancy firms can offer further training and a structured career path.

This is not often the case when moving into industry as many firms do not embrace or feel there is a need for further training.

Dependant on the size of the firm, there may only also be a few steps up that you can take and you therefore see yourself sat in the same role for quite a long time which means you then need to make another move to push forward.

Accountancy departments are just one part of their business and as a cost to the business, rather than revenue generator, it is often the area that receives less investment in training and development.

We also find that there can be a big gap between the newly qualified roles and FC/FD roles which normally means they recruit someone more experienced into the business above you.

Same firm, new opportunity

Working as a newly qualified accountant within practice also means that you have now dropped the exam pressure that was hanging over your head.

You are most likely about to receive a promotion and pay rise where your role will gradually begin to change and your responsibilities will give you more feeling of importance and value to the firm.

Try to embrace this chance as a new start in the business where you can build on your knowledge and focus on the next step.

Objectives for promotion

Setting timelines and objectives for promotion are certainly more manageable within a practice structure and most firms will provide two-year programmes for you to take the next step up.

You can make slightly more money stepping into industry at newly qualified level but the rise in salary and opportunity to push to manager will generally happen quicker in a practice firm due to the structure and two yearly promotion cycle.

Once this does happen, you will see the salary level jump up much quicker each time. We also find that those that have had further training and decide to move into industry at manager level are more than likely going in at a higher level than their peers that may have left at NQ level.

We’ll be posting more advice from Levitate in the new year!

Career decisions are some of the most important life changes you will ever make. Let us help.For advice about your career options, speak to Scott Lowes at Levitate Recruitment, specialists in placing practice-trained accountants.

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