Careers: The first night of the rest of their lives

Most young accountants will be celebrating passing their final exams in some style, most intent on exorcising the last few years of studying and stress in a frenzy of boozing and partying.

All but the most serious-minded will put important career decisions to the back of their minds for a few days in order to concentrate on enjoying themselves.

But midway through the festivities they could find themselves dancing to a song which aptly sums up the choice they now face.

The Clash hit ‘Should I stay or should I go’, played by every self-respecting party host, sums up the dilemma facing every newly-qualified English ICA accountant.

With just a few forms to fill in before they can display the letters ACA proudly after their name, most newly-qualifieds will be weighing up whether to stay in the practice where they have cut their teeth over the last few years, or to seek pastures new.

For some there is no question. There is always a hard core who are so heartily sick of their jobs that passing their final exams is like having the jailer hand them keys to the prison door.

They will have made their escape plans long ago and will be submitting their resignation letters before their chief partner has had a chance to congratulate them on their exam success.

There will also be some in the opposite camp, so seduced by their firms – and the opportunities for advancement – that there is no question of them leaving.

But in the middle there is a large majority who are rather more undecided about what to do.

There are many pros and cons to be considered – and there is plenty of choice.

Some newly-qualifieds will be tempted by an immediate move out of practice and into commerce and industry, where there is a vast range of roles and working environments. Other options include moving to a different practice – perhaps one of a different size and culture.

Some consider a shift from a small firm to large firm a good move at this stage.

Those in larger firms could also have the chance to move into one of the multiplying number of specialisms – big firms these days employ qualified accountants in everything from forensic accounting to mergers and acquisitions.

For others, the City offers glittering salary packages for those prepared to put in the hours. Others seeking a slightly different path are tempted by training colleges to take up posts teaching the joys of accountancy and tax to those still going through their exams.

According to David Callaghan, operations director of Reed Accountancy Personnel, and also an ACA, far more newly-qualifieds are holding back from making immediate decisions than a few years ago when the results season marked the start of a lemming-like rush of newly-qualifieds from the firms.

He says: ‘Rather than just falling out of practice, many are taking six or 12 months after qualifying to find the right job,’ a trend which he describes as very sensible.

He adds that many new-qualifieds, particularly in larger firms, have more chance of finding more ‘sexy’ work in their own firms.

‘People are looking to leave four or five years after starting with their firms, rather than just after their training contract expires. You are dealing with an intelligent workforce which has more options than previously, which is taking stock more carefully,’ he argues.

He says most newly-qualifieds can expect a significant hike in their salary whether they stay or go.

John Seear, head of the institute’s careers service, strongly recommends newly-qualifieds take time to consider when and where to move. ‘They have plenty of time to assess how much greener the grass really is elsewhere,’ he says.

He also argues that newly-qualifieds could start seeing their jobs from a new perspective. ‘The position of being qualified is a bit different from that of being a trainee when you do occasionally find yourself being a bit of a dogsbody,’ he argues.

Staying on for another six months or a year, he adds, will allow newly-qualifieds to consolidate their experience.

He advises those unsure of what they should do to sit down with their managers and partners and ask them what they can offer over the next few months.

Considering the vast array of alternatives, this might not be bad advice. The situation is confusing and any move, however well researched, will be something of a plunge into uncharted territory.

But newly-qualifieds should not lose any sleep over the situation. They have, after all, just acquired an extremely marketable and respected qualification which will act as something of a passport to a wide range of interesting and well-paid jobs.


Make sure you are earning the right salary for your qualifications.

Salary levels in commerce and industry vary considerably for newly-qualified accountants, according to Reed Accountancy Personnel Spring/Summer 1999 salary survey. The chart below will give you a good idea of what to expect.

 Size of business              Minimum     Maximum   City of London
 Under £25m turnover            £22.1k     £29.7k+            £40k+
 Turnovers £25m - £100m         £23.9k     £30.4k+            £40k+
 Turnovers more than £100m      £24.9k     £33.8k+            £50k+

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