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Career Advice please?

Looking for some career advice please

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Good evening fellow accountants. I am an ACCA qualified accountant, 3 years post qualified based in Birmingham. I have 9 years of experience in small accounting practice/outsourcing roles. The past two years have mainly been outsourcing roles, i.e. providing bookkeeping, management accounts, statutory accounts, tax compliance for small businesses (i have no audit experience). I feel that i have come to a 'standstill' in my career. I dont feel that i am progressing in my career. My ambition is to work within industry/commerce as a financial accountant/Finance manager within an SME as i feel my skills would suit this. However, it is becoming extremely difficult to land such roles considering my small practice backgroud and the competition in general. Can anybody please advise me on what i can do to enhance my career/skills, so that i can land an industry role please? Any advice would be much appreciated, i am quite stressed about the situation as i feel my career is being wasted. 30 years of age now. I also have regular contact with financial recruiters who i feel 'pressurise' me into taking unattractive roles. 

Thank you

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By tom123
17th Nov 2016 22:52

I don't like leaving these questions unanswered so:

30 is no age - masses of time for you to move in all sorts of directions.

Do you have interesting things, such as voluntary work, to put on your CV and make it stand out.

What is it that you think would be good about working in industry? (I do this, and it's generally great - but today was utter [***] :)

Try not to worry too much about the recruitment spivs - they are a necessary evil, nothing more.

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Replying to tom123:
By raj1234
18th Nov 2016 05:17

Hi Tom123,

Thank you for the comments, i will take them onboard. I feel that an industry role, ie financial accountant within an SME, will offer good progression, advanced skills in excel, and a more commercial minded approach. Do you agree with this? Also, having worked in public practice for the past 9 years, i feel as if i need a change in my career.

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Replying to raj1234:
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By tom123
18th Nov 2016 07:12

Now, here's the thing - in practice you are 'the product' and what earns the firm money.

In SME you are a necessary overhead - so it is possible to be overlooked, and not have much room for progression etc.

I have (and hope to continue to have) had a good career exclusively in industry (CIMA qual) but it is not without it's faults.

Try to speak to people in real life who do this work, maybe find branch events to attend.

There is overlap of skills - but bear in mind the work you tend to do all day (ie year ends or tax) is merely a one off trifle for me. My role is keeping the wheels turning and not dropping off on a daily basis.

Beware of thinking the grass is greener. But good luck all the same.

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By johngroganjga
18th Nov 2016 07:48

I can't add much to Tom's comments, especially as I am an accountant who has never worked in industry.

I will simply observe that most SMEs are too small to need or to be able to afford the full time services of a qualified accountant. There are of course always exceptions that prove the rule, and I suppose it depends on where you draw the line between SMEs and larger companies.

All I am trying to say is that your objectives might be best met in a larger company, perhaps one where you were not the only employed accountant.

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Replying to johngroganjga:
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By tom123
18th Nov 2016 08:48

@both - I started training for CIMA in a business with a £2m t/o as the only 'accountant'.

In order to have staff and a reasonable size department, and full time accountancy work you are looking at a business of around £5m t/o (as now).

Mind you - I still buy the tea and coffee and empty the bins in the office!

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By mrme89
18th Nov 2016 09:03

'30 years of age now'

I always laugh when I see comments like that.

You've barely started your working life. If you don't die before, you've got at least 35 years of working life left!

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By Mr_awol
18th Nov 2016 09:55

Its easy for us in practice to wonder what those in industry do with the remaining three days a week - particularly those that have staff to bash in the PL info, payroll, etc. This, combined with high salaries for the financial controllers of our audit clients, tends to lead us to think that we could kind of semi retire, with a payrise, if we flip over to industry.

In fact though, often the industry types responsible for hiring for these roles aren't as wowed by our practice background as we think they will be. They ask us if we are expert in excel and pivot tables and we stutter that we are sure we can pick it up as we use excel a lot for summarising stuff. This is why the recruitment agencies want you to take an 'unattractive' role. It is because you're unlikely to walk in and find it all a breeze - you are going to need a lot of training.

Take an 'unattractive' assistant management accountant role, learn for just under two years and then move on for a pay rise/more responsibility/better role. Keep doing that for 6-10 years and you will be where you want to be (probably).

In accountancy (practice or industry) there's little progression for loyal staff. Bouncing from one employer to another (whilst hiding you journeyman tactics as best you can) is the best way to move up quickly. Sad but true, and as much as they are a bunch of bloodthirsty arseholes, the recruitment agencies know this.

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By tom123
18th Nov 2016 10:24

I would also add that it is generally better if you can move upwards to a larger corporate department, prior to possibly moving back down to being a bigger fish in a slightly smaller pond - that way you bring skills that really pay off for the owner managed business.

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By Parmstrong83
24th Jan 2017 15:36


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By NeilRH
18th Nov 2016 10:41

For the past 15 years I’ve only worked in industry (with the exception of 2 years with one of the major tuition providers), but having got familiar with the recruitment market I’ve observed that there are more opportunities to move from practice to industry than it is from industry to practice. However, a lot of the movers from practice to industry I’ve encountered have been those who are newly qualified or qualified with a couple of years post qual experience.

For better or worse, recruitment agencies are going to be your main way forward, you’re still going to need to do some work to push yourself with them – they work for the client/employer and (with some exceptions) some only have a top-level insight into the profession and what the employers look for. There are many agents out there who will see your practice experience and pigeon hole you, more enlightened and proactive ones will look at the detail of your experience and potential roles and there are industry employers who favour a practice background and may even be looking for first movers from practice. Use a mix of agencies, the big players have great exposure but I’ve found the smaller independent ones can offer quality over quantity.

Don’t rely on the agencies alone, I was made redundant about a year ago and was out of work for 8 weeks, something I noticed this time around is that presence and visibility become more important and employers recruiting directly seems to be on the rise. LinkedIn is used to advertise positions with agencies but also direct from employers, it’s also used by agencies to “tout” for candidates. The Reed website is used by many recruitment agencies, and some employers, and is also used by agencies to find existing candidates. It’s easy and quick to set up an account with a profile and CV, and quick to make applications. Recruiters on Reed can see the frequency of activity for candidates – a trick I learnt was to log in every few days and reload my CV and update my cover letter, more frequent activity will put you in the recruiters sights.

johngroganjga wrote:

… most SMEs are too small to need or to be able to afford the full time services of a qualified accountant. There are of course always exceptions that prove the rule, and I suppose it depends on where you draw the line between SMEs and larger companies.

I think it depends on how you define SME, I’ve moved around more than average in the past 15 years and 75% of my time has been with the SME definition, I usually worked in a finance team of 4 or more (with 2 qualified). I’ve found it’s usually the complexity of the business operations that affect the finance department size, duties and complexity of the work. There may of course be progression issues in the longer-term (the ceiling is lower), but smaller businesses give you the chance to get behind where the numbers come from and put them in better context.

tom123 wrote:

Now, here's the thing - in practice you are 'the product' and what earns the firm money. In SME you are a necessary overhead - so it is possible to be overlooked, and not have much room for progression etc.

I think the “overhead” aspect has shifted in the time I’ve worked in accounting. In recent years, having worked in more modern and forward thinking businesses, the work I’ve been involved with has become more value focussed, particularly in areas of working capital, general returns and overall business processes, it used to be the case that the hands on work in these areas were carried out by more operational/front end departments and finance merely reported on them. Now I find myself more involved in what’s going on day-to-day with these aspects and even before moving to management level I found myself working with managers and staff in other areas. I hate to use buzz words, but I have witnessed an large shift towards finance being “business partners” to non-finance managers and staff.

In summary I would say, use agencies but be respectfully pushy, don’t rely on them or use them alone and be tactical in terms of your presence in the market. Be choosy not just about the work involved, but also the nature of the business – is it just looking for bean counters or can you really get involved in what the business is doing. Keep in mind that you’re moving sector, so you won’t be on par with someone in industry with the same number of years experience.

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Hallerud at Easter
18th Nov 2016 12:18

I took a slightly different route, practice from 1985 to 1990, then main finance role, with in essence an owner managed business ,where I came one step below the owner- retail clothing company with ten shops/50 odd staff.

The role was accounts/vat/paye/tax/etc, but also spread into admin/ staff issues/credit control etc, I even drove the van a few times and carried more than my fair share of boxes from large lorries into our warehouse-in effect in a small business (T/O circa 1.5m) I got to act like a director running a small business, not just an accountant- good fun but can possibly send career down a path of no return re what next.

In 1994 I briefly set up in practice before returning to a previous firm in practice where I stayed until 1999, I was then approached by a client to take the role I now do- that is certainly broader than an accountant, I spend a fair bit of time reviewing legal documents (titles/leases), dealing with nearly anything/and everything, a jack of all trades master of none.

The great part is the autonomy, working long but pretty flexible hours and it is really good fun seeing projects re development that started with a site acquisition and progressed through planning to end up as finished flats etc- certainly not reactive, input as we go and as I drive around Edinburgh I get to see buildings where I helped create them.

Along the way I have picked up a layman's knowledge re conveyancing, leasing, contracts, JV arrangements, rates, planning (Attended a daft number of planning meetings), insurance,construction methods (Understanding rafts/piles/and their cost implications etc), surveying, (contaminated land/Geo Tech etc) architects (definition- someone who wins awards using their client's money- my least favourite profession - the accountant's enemy) etc, a broad augment to original accounting, finance and tax skills.

The above is great but I do suspect that the independence enjoyed, and the lack of a particular focus, means I am now probably unsuited to ever again work in a more structured organisation.

I am possibly equipped to run a small owner managed business but not that many smaller employers want someone to run their operations-they tend to want to do it themselves.

So, the OP needs to think long and hard where they want to end up- I am pretty happy with the path I took, but it could well be a dead end re employment prospects in the long term, so what does the OP want to be, a cog in a finance team or the entire finance team/ admin function/quasi director of a much smaller business which possibly ruins you re returning to work with a larger organisation?

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