Newly qualified? What to consider when planning your future career

Published: 18 Sep 2017 By Kevin Elvin

Although accountants face significant career decisions at all stages of their professional life, they are likely to find themselves at the most complex career crossroads when approaching qualification to become a newly qualified chartered accountant.

As a trainee accountant in a large firm, individuals will have often specialised in a specific accountancy discipline and will have taken on additional responsibility following further exam success. At this stage, for those who don’t have clearly set ambitions beyond qualification, trainees tend to focus on their current workload with exam pressures becoming quite consuming, rather than thinking about their career path ahead.

Yet, once trainees manage to reflect on their career progression, there’s a tendency to adopt “the grass is always greener” approach, in which individuals consider moving away from what they are currently doing rather than embracing what can be achieved either internally or at another accountancy firm within the same discipline.

Specialist recruiters and career consultants can be key to helping accountants not only understand what skills they currently possess but to also offer advice on career objectives in the short, medium and long-term according to the individual’s personality and motivations.

Becoming ‘more commercial’

Time and again, recruiters meet potential candidates who want to become “more commercial” but who are unable to define what they believe that to be. While working in industry can sound appealing, it’s important for individuals to research the types of opportunities available and assess whether they already have the skillset required or need to further develop and acquire the necessary skills.

Recruiters can offer invaluable experience to individuals making these key decisions. They understand the market and can provide insight on whether an individual’s preferred move is a viable one given an individual’s career experience to date.

Trainees considering a move from practice to industry should reflect on whether they would miss the client interaction they have become accustomed to, or the opportunity to work across sectors and with multiple businesses of varying sizes.

Here are seven points to consider when making the decision whether to further your career in practice, or make the leap to industry.

1. Legacy and time invested within your current firm

You’ve worked long hours and have developed good will with your current firm. So why not take full advantage?

Sit down with your managers and map out a career plan that aligns with your expectations and ambitions. Your firm will more likely be open to investing in you rather than recruiting a new hire, and your manager should be able to discuss the options available. Firms are finding it increasingly difficult to attract and retain new talent so utilise your loyalty and commitment to further develop your career.

2. Change specialism

If you’ve made the decision not to continue with your specialism, consider whether there are other areas of the firm in which you could work. Take the opportunity to speak to individuals from different departments and learn more about their roles and responsibilities. You might just find the right specialism one floor down.

3. Further training and a structured career path

Accountancy firms offer good training and a structured career path, but in industry, companies don’t always offer similar opportunities. Accountants often experience being in the same role for a long period of time, and accountancy departments frequently receive less investment in training and development than other areas. Recruiters have also seen a big gap between newly qualified roles and those of a financial controller, or finance director, which often means somebody more experienced is recruited into a role above you.

4. Same firm, new opportunity

As a newly qualified accountant, you can expect to receive a promotion and pay rise, and you will most likely begin to feel new importance and value in your position at the firm. Embrace this change and seize opportunities to follow development programmes offered by firms, putting you on the right track to grow your career. Practice firms usually work on a two-year promotion cycle, and you’ll begin to see frequent salary increases and responsibilities being offered.

5. Candidate pool and job competition

Think about the demand for your specialism within the accountancy sector. Take audit, for example. Accountancy firms need accountants who have the relevant audit experience and who have worked with a range of reporting standards. Recruiters have found an ongoing shortage of experienced auditors in the UK and overseas, providing you with a great opportunity to capitalise and propel yourself into a more senior role.

On the other hand, in industry, you may find yourself up against a larger pool of candidates who either already have experience in industry or who have previously worked with larger FTSE firms. While there are roles available, be aware that competition could be tight.

6. Moving to another practice firm

If a change is what you need, then perhaps a new environment is what you require, and a new accountancy firm can offer just that.

However, remember that firms will often provide counter offers to keep an employee, and in numerous cases the best option is to sit down with your own firm first to explore progression options.

But this shouldn’t deter you from holding conversations with other firms to see what else is on offer and how it compares with your current firm.

7. Working overseas

In the UK, qualified accountants from a practice background are always in high demand and there is no better time to make an international move than at newly qualified stage, as this is when you are viewed as being “the most flexible”. Most of the major international cities will have the same top accountancy firms that you would expect to see in the UK, and if they don’t, then there will most certainly be some kind of affiliation to one that you know.

Making an international move in industry is possible but is less likely if you do not have prior industry experience. Recruiters advise making a move for a minimum of 12 months in a similar practice role and then making the move into industry. That way, you will have more locations and opportunities to consider, the move will be smoother as you are doing something you know, and you will also have a chance to gain understanding of any differences there are in accounting rules and processes whilst working with a wide range of specialist accountants.

Next steps

As a newly qualified accountant, it’s an exciting time to choose your path and shape your future career, with a multitude of options at your fingertips. To make sure that you have considered all options, speak to a recruiter – either a specialist in practice or industry – about how best to fulfil your career ambitions. If you do your research and take your time then hopefully whichever way you go will be the right direction for you.

For advice about your career path, speak to Levitate Recruitment, specialists in placing practice-trained accountants and insolvency professionals across the UK, and find the right role to suit your ambitions.

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