Dangerous thing, qualification. Just when you expect life to become simpler,
you find yourself courted and flattered by an army of employers and recruiters
and bombarded with a bewildering number of opportunities.
Do you stay in the UK? Do you spend two sun-drenched years in Australia or
Dubai? Do you make your way to a dazzling career in an investment bank or do you
take that next step on the road to becoming the chief financial officer of a
FTSE 100 consumer goods giant? Decisions, decisions…
For the moment, enjoy it. Professionally speaking, you’ll never be more
desirable than you are right now. And that’s why it’s so important to use this
time to listen, consider and explore.
A surprising number of newly qualified accountants return to the market
within 12 months of stepping out of practice. This is usually because they moved
into a job that wasn’t suitable for them or because they didn’t consider all
aspects of the job carefully enough during the recruitment process. A mistake
like that can take many months or even years to rectify properly, and it’s a
very early blot on a CV.
There’s a general truth that it’s far easier to make a bad career decision at
this stage than it is to make a good one, so we’d like to share with you some of
the most common pitfalls.
‘One trick ponies’
Allowing your CV to be dominated by just one industry sector at such an early
stage in your development can be an issue. Not only does it restrict your
experience and exposure to key financial issues outside that industry, it
creates a big problem if you wake up in your mid-40s to find that the world of
oil and gas no longer holds such appeal. Employers in other industry sectors are
put off by those who have specialised too early in their careers, and you need
to be aware that you put yourself at the mercy of any industry downturns.
Moving from a big public practice firm to a smaller practice firm or to a
smaller company may bring some immediate benefits, but should only be done if
you’re happy to make that shift in scale permanent. I should say that the
reasons behind such a move are usually worthy (better work/life balance; more
time with the family; more time with the yacht in the Caribbean…), but you need
to be aware of the pitfalls. Moving from Coca-Cola to a small drinks company is
easy, but moving from a small drinks company to Coca-Cola is not. Is it really
worth moving to that smaller practice firm just because it will make you a
manager 12 months earlier than you would in your current firm?
Looking for the next job
For the sake of your CV, you should stay in your post-qualification role for
three to six years. As a result, you need to ensure there are enough
opportunities for growth to sustain your interest for that amount of time. Your
initial role in an organisation may be very good, but where will you move after
that? Will you have to change company to get the next step up? Why not ask for
the whereabouts of the last two people who held the job?
You’ll return from travelling in one or two years and everyone in the UK will
presume you’ve had it easy, and there’s no point trying to persuade anyone
otherwise. You’ll enjoy travelling, but don’t expect employers to appreciate the
Keeping up with the Joneses
I speak with many newly qualifieds who assume that the only logical move for
them is into the City. They see friends getting huge salaries there and
naturally there’s pressure to achieve a salary in the region of your
contemporaries. Now, it’s true that the City offers wonderful careers and huge
salaries, but it is really the right move for you in the long term? Many of the
newly qualifieds we speak to find the City is not for them. Many of these
problems can be avoided by making an honest appraisal of your skills and
personal qualities. Are you an operational, commercial or a technical guru? Are
you going to be happy spending hours poring over spreadsheets in a technical
reporting role, regardless of pay?
Lure of money
Beware of companies paying salaries above the market rate. Some companies are
forced to pay over the odds to attract people into a role. By way of
illustration, imagine that you are the finance director of a well-respected
company. You have a role in your team that requires certain expertise, but it
isn’t necessarily the most riveting job in the world and it doesn’t open doors
within the organisation. So how would you solve that problem?
Lies, damned lies and recruiters
Generally speaking, you shouldn’t allow recruiters to railroad you into
dealing with them on an exclusive basis. At the same time, treat recruiters with
respect. There are some bad ones out there, as there are bad accountants, and a
good relationship with a recruiter can be a rewarding partnership for many
In general, try to remember the old adage about a career being a marathon,
not a sprint and it takes time to develop a CV that can be considered for top
Budding chief financial officers, for example, need to assemble experience in
group reporting, operational finance, strategy and business planning and that
just doesn’t happen overnight. A career needs to be nurtured and cared for and
it doesn’t happen without proper planning. Generally, you’re allowed one, maybe
two mistakes on a CV, which, rather brutally, gives you fewer lifelines than
your usual game show, so proceed with care.
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