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Career path: From small practise to bigger firms

career path for newly qualified accountant from a small practise

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Hi,

I have recently qualified in a very small practise (8-10 staffs), most of our clients are micro-small companies/sole traders. I have got quite a lot experience in account prep, VAT returns, bookkeeping, tax returns, payroll etc. The salary I'm currently on is not meeting what I expected (26k-28k in Birmingham), so I'm planning to move to a bigger firm as I really want to get more experience with bigger clients in different sectors etc.

There's nothing wrong with the current place that im working which is also why I have worked there for 4 years and I've never thought about leaving. Its just the pay and the client portfolio that bothers me a bit. Since I started my career in accountancy quite late (I am 36 years old already), so I'm starting to worry about my career path. I can see that my boss wouldn't really give me a lot of pay rise in the coming years (maybe 1k a year), he is the kind of person that kept saying he's broke but receiving 100k dividend a year. Also, most of our clients are in the same industry so I did not have much exposure to other industries/bigger clients.

I was hoping to set up my own practise eventually, but I always thought I should get some experience working in a bigger firm.

What are the best ways to apply for jobs in bigger firms? Since this is my first accountancy job, I have no idea how I could get a job in bigger firms. When I look at their job advert, the job descriptions seem to be quite specific and technical, which are not what I usually do in my current role. As far as I know, I probably need to choose the area that I would have most experience in eg. tax, consulting, audit etc. however, my current role is quite a well-rounded role (except audit), so im not sure what I could really do

Am I too old to move to bigger firms? Given that I am 36 already, is it too late to make the change?

Or should I just keep working in the same place for 1-2 years and get a practising certificate and start my own journey?

Replies (30)

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By David Ex
22nd Jul 2021 00:23

I suspect that the work, and working practices, of a small practice are so different from a large firm that it would be quite difficult to adapt and for you to get a role in the first place. You appear to acknowledge this in your question.

You don’t currently seem to have a convincing story to tell a recruiter about the move you want. You’d need to be able to demonstrate what you can offer them and why this is a logical career move that you have been working towards as a progression from your current job.

If your ultimate aim is your own practice, I’m not sure big firm experience will be of any great benefit. Focus on getting good all round experience and a practising certificate.

Good luck.

Thanks (2)
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By rmillaree
22nd Jul 2021 08:31

At the end of the day know your own worth. Have you thought about discussing with your current employer what you want for your career? If other offers do present themselves - at that time have yourhave your "no risk" chance to present case to your current boss that you are the person to help drive that business forward and should be upscaled accordingly in time or you will leave to meet your reasonable goals. When you have alternative employment lined up is always a good time to do that !

Now is about the time it should be reasonably obvious to your business owner how good you are and what you bring to the table - albeit you may not have been given an opportunity to show your full potential. If you are as good as you think you are and are happy to put in the hard graft and take responsibility then your boss would be stupid to lose you if you bring soemthing to the table that others in your organisation do not and the business is well enough run that in genaral it is growing each year. If its a stale business and not growing and your current owner is the reason make them aware that you think you could grow the business and make an offer that well rewards you for growth but doesn't inconvenience the current cheque book of the owner too much.

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Replying to rmillaree:
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By smallfish
22nd Jul 2021 23:03

Thanks for your comment. Apart from usual duties, I have been involved a lot and taking responsibilities in every aspect of the business, eg. dealing with half of the clients we have, brought a lot of new clients to the practice (no commission paid for referral in our company policy) etc. There are quite a lot of stuff that I usually deal with but no other staffs do apart from my boss. The company doubled/tripled the turnover since I joined the practice (with same number of staffs), however the pay rise we get wasn't in line with the turnover (1k pay rise a year). Every staff in the practice has mentioned the same concern with the boss but it seems nothing is gonna change.

I personally would love to get some experience in a bigger firm, even it means that I have to pick one specific area be specialised in (which is a tough question as i have no idea what role i should do/apply for). Do you think i should speak to one of the local recruitment agencies?

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Replying to smallfish:
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By rmillaree
23rd Jul 2021 08:49

It sounds like you are perfect for making a go of it yourself at some stage - when the time is right and when you have other offers on the table you probably need to tell the current owner exactly what you would like (if you would stay with decent offer) and then simply say offer me something half decent along these lines ort i am out the door. If its staged fairly so they dont lose a penny instantly (or long term if they keep working) they would be pretty stupid to not offer you something that is fair and reasonable. Some bods simply never offer a penny more than they have to - for those type of bods you have to put them straight and say that doesnt wash with me please change you attitute (without saying that to their face exactly). Most staff probably can't be bothered with the hassle of having to take any extra responsibilty - ref other staff -staff will [***] for [***] sake ignore them completely and concentrate on what you bring to the table and what you want.

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By sonoftwosheds
22nd Jul 2021 09:22

small point, but it's "practice", might make a difference to whoever is reading your CV or introductory letter.

Good luck

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Replying to sonoftwosheds:
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By I'msorryIhaven'taclue
22nd Jul 2021 12:16

Although "practising certificate" was correct, OP:

practice is the noun;
practise is the verb (unless you're American, that is).

None of which is likely to matter much with a recruiter, but when you make it through to the short-list a grown-up might become involved.

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
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By gphemy
23rd Jul 2021 09:22

You surely mean:

practise is the verb;
practice is the noun (unless you're American, that is).

And if your name isn't Shirley, my apologies!

And while on the "correct use of English" topic, Smallfish, "staff" has no plural. You can't say "staffs", you should say "members of staff".

I can't remember which IASB pronouncement covers either of these points, sorry.

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Replying to I'msorryIhaven'taclue:
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By Brend201
23rd Jul 2021 10:49

Some years ago, the accounting regulatory body in Ireland issued a big profile of the profession and referred throughout to "accountancy practises". I complained and got this reply: "an error during our proofing process led to a number of inadvertent ‘corrections’ of the spelling of the noun. This has been addressed by our printers, and an amended version of the document has now been published."

A recent decision that they published was/is littered with errors - spelling, grammar and more, obviously not proofread at all - and this time the answer that I received (several times) was: "I confirm that the matter has been appropriately considered." The document has not been amended and remains unchanged on their website. And they have power to impose fines of up to €125,000.

They are "responsible for adopting the standards applicable to the conduct of statutory audits in Ireland, including standards on professional ethics and internal quality control of audit firms" - a standards body with minimal standards itself. Scandalous.

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By paul.benny
22nd Jul 2021 09:24

From where you are, almost every firm is a big one. Are you thinking Big4/Top10 or the large and varied layer below that?

I'm guessing you've done lots of accounts prep and basic tax compliance for small traders/small limited. What do you want from your new job.

If you want to avoid recruitment agencies - and there are bad and good, try networking. Specifically events that your professional body runs locally. Get chatting to people about their work, seek their perspective on your situation.

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Replying to paul.benny:
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By smallfish
22nd Jul 2021 23:13

Thanks for your advice.
I am thinking of any firms bigger than the one I'm working. I have always wanted to join Big4/top10 but it seems pretty hard to join due to my age and the experience I have.

I have done lots of accounts prep and corp tax returns for small limited in my current job, I don't mind specialising in one aspect in my new job but the problem is that I don't know I should be specialising in. I guess this is the downside of being in a all-rounded role...

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By Mr_awol
22nd Jul 2021 10:26

To be honest, if you eventually want to run your own firm, you are probably in a good place to get a full experience of the varied services you will need to provide. If you go to a firm too big, you'll get departmentalised and may then struggle to get relevant experience in every area - meaning you'll be less capable when you do decide to run your own practice.

I suspect you'd also struggle to get a place in a 'very' large firm. Most people tend to go the other way.

Perhaps a 3 partner firm with 20-30 staff might well be interested in you, and be bog enough to give you a bit more exposure but small enough to keep you in the loop on all services.

Or, have you tried speaking to your current employer about your (and their) career aims. Could you take on more and more responsibility, become their natural successor - or future partner, if they are still reasonably young and the two of you are able to work together to grow the business

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By petersaxton
22nd Jul 2021 10:43

If you want to start your own practice then you would be better of staying where you are and getting your practice certificate. If you want to put up with the upheaval for a couple of years then move to a firm that would prepare you best for your own practice.

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Red Leader
By Red Leader
22nd Jul 2021 11:56

Can you explain why you want to move to a larger/less small practice? Is it mainly for a pay rise? If not, what area interests you the most?

The move to your own practice would be easier from where you are.

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Replying to Red Leader:
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By smallfish
22nd Jul 2021 23:21

Thanks for your comment.

Yes, pay rise is one of the main concerns when the company doubled/tripled the turnover with same number of staffs but the pay rise was just 1k a year.

Being in such a all-rounded role, its hard to say what area interests me the most...I'd say tax

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By JD
22nd Jul 2021 20:23

Why? With a smaller practice you will have a wider range of work and closer relationship with the clients. In a larger company you will just be a cog in a wheel.

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Replying to JD:
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By smallfish
22nd Jul 2021 23:23

It was all about the pay rise and the fact that I've never worked in other firms before.
I guess bigger firms pay their staff relatively more? please correct me if i am wrong

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Replying to smallfish:
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By Mr_awol
23rd Jul 2021 07:04

smallfish wrote:

I guess bigger firms pay their staff relatively more? please correct me if i am wrong

You are wrong.

Or at least sometimes. I don’t think there is an automatic correlation. Larger firms often take a dozen graduates/A level juniors a year (my previous firm did this, and kept salaries low accepting that many would leave once qualified but most would stick it out for 5 years, sometimes 10, hoping the firm would ‘come good’. When people finally woke up and left, they’d be replaced by those coming through from below)

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Replying to smallfish:
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By gphemy
23rd Jul 2021 10:16

Yes, you are wrong. When looking at CVs applying for jobs with a Big 4 firm (although not for audit work) I would always have looked at current salary, and have in mind the increment needed to persuade the candidate to move. There was not a fixed salary for the vacancy, but a band, and the lower the current salary, the lower the offer. The underlying rationale is that we had to "sell" the candidate to the client at the charge-out rate for the grade, and the salary was only the lesser half of it - the skills (prrofessional/presentational) were a more significant part of the equation. And, conversely, if the current salary was too high ... you can guess!

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Replying to JD:
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By JD
23rd Jul 2021 09:04

As noted, no correlation. If you chase apparent better money in a bigger firm, you will end up no better off, board to tears from completing yet another tax return (or whatever narrow box you get put in) for another client whom you do not know, or care about, under pressure from mangers who will make you the fall guy. All that glitters is not gold.

Given that choice again, I would definitely make the same one and concentrate on being the best that you can be (the money will come), completing the whole job (not just one part of it) for clients who matter. Result, I now run my own practice (because I gained the relevant wide ranging skills), employ people I like, and can choose which clients I act for.

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Replying to JD:
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By gphemy
23rd Jul 2021 10:17

Well said, JD, in all respects. I speak from similar (but different) experience.

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@enanen
By enanen
23rd Jul 2021 10:19

The culture shock will be an issue.

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By NewACA
23rd Jul 2021 11:47

I know loads of accountants that moved from small practices on qualification, to a top 4 firm - it is a right of passage for many. A think a lot of other posters just hate larger firms, ignore their snide and unhelpful comments. I understand the top 4 really appreciate rounded individuals that have real varied experience, unlike their own inhouse trained staff. You shouldn't find it difficult to find a top 4 job, though you probably won't be doing a Sainsburys audit, but rather a set of accounts for a £5m turnover business, or a small group of companies which is probabably more on the larger side of the client base you are used to - and the industries would be more varied I'd expect. If applying, go direct, but also try recruitment agents. Recruitment agents will definitely be able to get you into BDO, Grant Thornton's, if you cannot get into a top 4 firm, which I would find unusual.

However, if you really want to start your own practice, I would say stay at the size firm you are at, but move firm, but not because you'll get bigger clients, but because you'll get more experience of how to run a firm, having seen at least a couple of different ways of doing things and different software too.

My story: I worked in two small firms I qualified with (started late too: at age 28 I got my first apprenticeship), I then worked in a third small firm for 2 years post qualification, and opened up my practice after that.

As I knew a year before I qualified I wanted to start my own practice, I rightly ignored the feeling inside (and advice of others) to work in a top 4 firm. I also got the CTA while I didn't have much by way of clients in the first year, getting the whole qualification done and dusted in 12 months - that paid dividends in getting multi-million pounds clients that need advice: property developers, international businesses, R& D claim clients, family investment companies etc etc. After five years of running the firm (starting 2012), I was taking dividends well inexcess of your £100k dividend boss :-) I do think I'm broke as well though, but that would be the 5 kids, £15k annual Italian villa holidays etc (£1.5k was just on covid tests there and back). I always was a spend-thrift. The only pension I have is from when I was a teacher before being an accountant. But hey, my business is my pension!

Best of luck,

Peter

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Replying to NewACA:
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By Mr_awol
23rd Jul 2021 12:08

NewACA wrote:

A think a lot of other posters just hate larger firms, ignore their snide and unhelpful comments.

Care to quote any? I wouldn't have said anyone has been as you describe them (well hardly anyone in any case, and there's a certain irony there perhaps).

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By Husbandofstinky
23rd Jul 2021 13:49

I haven't got a clue what you have qualified as? (AAT given the salary???) Perhaps I'm wrong.

The ultimate goal is your own practice. If it was just about money you could probably get a dead end job earning more than you do now. It isn't what you want.

The route is qualify - experience - practising certificate.

You have two choices:

- stay where you are and put up with it for a year or two,
- or make a side ways move (3 partner type set up or less)

A year or so down the line get the ball rolling on the practice .

If money is that much of a concern then possibly don't go down this route as for the first few years you may have less disposable income than you have today. It just doesn't happen over night.

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Replying to Husbandofstinky:
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By smallfish
24th Jul 2021 21:06

ACCA, not AAT
any idea how much a newly qualified ACCA should earn in the real world?
whenever i google about this, it seems to be much higher than what im getting

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
24th Jul 2021 17:12

Well done for getting as far as you have done already. Given what you say about the limited range of experience you have had to date, I would absolutely agree you should look to move to a larger firm.

You will have lots to offer them, in terms of enthusiasm, commitment and a degree of maturity and life experience that your contemporaries may lack.

I also think it's a good idea to have a broader range of experience before trying to start up your own practice. Indeed, you might decide you are happy to work in the right environment rather than risk everything with trying to start and build your own practice.

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
24th Jul 2021 17:16

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
24th Jul 2021 17:15

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
24th Jul 2021 17:15

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Mark Lee 2017
By Mark Lee
24th Jul 2021 17:15

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