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Exams completed 'Accounts Assistant' experience.

Professional exams completed by self-study. Two decades experience in Accounts Assistant roles.

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Good morning,

I am probably a salutary tale of lack of networking nous and fear of moving out of comfort zone.

'Older person'. A graduate of languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) along with English and my own native language. (Gaelic).

15 plus years of working in Accounts Assistant roles. 3 attempts to undertake further studies. (2005/2008/2014).

Finally got my stuff together and studied, sat and passed (2014-2019) AAT (equivalent) and subsequently CPA (practice-oriented) professional exams - so hamstrung anyway by lack of Chartered qualification (ACA).

Left a permanent Accounts Assistant role in 2016 due to lack of any further progression.

Due to lack of confidence as much as anything else [my permanent employers laughed at my attempts to sit ACCAs which I started in 2008 and aborted in early 2010]. This was a toxic environment in which I had to over-stay due to our great economic crash.

The 3rd and final plan was to study, sit and pass CPAs BEFORE approaching employers for 'hands-on' post-Trial Balance experience - not realising of course that I signed my death warrant there and then as to ever becoming an accountant at all.

I cold called about 50 practices/other small entities and got a response (probably too quickly).

First such role seemed a godsend (on paper).

Small Credit Union in the process of being merged with a bigger entity, where the central Banking authority dictated a segregation of roles between CEO and Finance professional. End result said CEO didn't wish to relinquish the finance function, so I was left sitting in an empty office watching webinars.

With 1 professional exam still to sit (the only one I had to repeat), I really had to leave for any hope of learning/progression.

Took a 25% pay cut and ended up in a lowly admin (admittedly in a Big 4 organisation) which nonetheless has inspired many an ooh and aah on my CV.

Second role:

Post exam, I cold-called practices in my region and almost immediately secured what seemed a dream job - composed of half a week doing client payroll [50 clients] and half a weeks of Accounts Preparation. I fell at the first hurdle. The partner handed me files on Day One and let me off. 

In my profound ignorance of practice life, I naively expected some introductory guidance/feedback/training input.

Week 5/6, I am floundering with the Accounts Preparation when I am put on a 'Time Budget'. This is effectively marking my card as to my prospects here as I know that my predecessor was sacked for 'failure to progress' with her files [she didn't have any payroll responsibilities].

Week 7 (beginning), I resign - before I am sacked.

Feedback from partners upon my humiliating exit at 10 am that Monday morning:

1: My expectations of support were off the scale of rationality (words to that effect?)

2: Nobody that had worked for their 30-year old practice had ever come in and made such  demands (training) previously; I flagged from Day One that I was new to this and just wanted some assistance; I repeated this over the following weeks.

3: I expected someone to hold my hand; I was behaving like a baby.

My ignorance of practice culture aside, I have worked for more than 15 years (including 12 years permanently) in a variety of settings, private and public sector, many where I was expected to 'hit the ground running' with no input from existing staff. ‘Flexibility’ and ‘Adaptability’ are my key words these days!

Third role:

I get out my (by now dangerously unwieldy CV and Cover Letter) and cold call another 70 practices.

Another almost instant response from a practice that assuredly knows well the practice from Role 2. I go along with my paperwork and submit to an interview, giving them 4 referees (that over-long CV by now) but omitting Role 2 due to their less than stellar assessment of me. A red flag for sure.

Anyway, I refrain from getting my hopes up. I am told firstly that I will get an answer the following working day. Then, I get a call to say that due to internal issues, the decision has been postponed to the following week. The end of the following week, I have heard nada, so I follow up. I duly get the Thanks but no thanks (by email).

Without being too paranoid, I can conclude that Role 2 were contacted (however informally on the grapevine) and put my interviewer straight as to my shortcomings - i.e. I am effectively blacklisted by practices now. [Role 2 partner is on the executive body of my Accounting body].

I suppose I just want confirmation of how massively I have messed up. That after 5 lonely (but intellectually rewarding) years of slog with my exams, I am being shortlisted for the same kinds of roles that I have always performed.

Replies (14)

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By Accountant A
05th Oct 2019 15:09

And breathe ....

If you are a "graduate of languages (French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) along with English and my own native language. (Gaelic)", is there not something more useful you could be doing that accountancy? I would have thought someone would be delighted to have those language skills in their organisation.

Thanks (1)
By James Green
05th Oct 2019 15:12

I think you are being too self critical and you lack confidence.

I bet you can actually do a lot more then you give yourself credit for and if you think about it, you often know what’s expected, but need the confirmation / validation of others.

If you’re based within travelling distance of north Manchester PM me.

Thanks (1)
By Tim Vane
05th Oct 2019 18:57

Gave up reading after third interminable paragraph. If you are trying to find a job, learn to précis and don’t waffle. That level of immaterial detail would certainly put me off employing you. I would worry that nobody would ever get any work done in my office.

Thanks (2)
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By Matrix
05th Oct 2019 22:08

To be frank, it doesn’t sound as if you are suited to practice or certainly in a role where you have to complete timesheets, I expect that is where it went wrong in Role 2. I very much doubt Role 3 spoke to Role 2.

I would look at roles in local industry, take your time and see if you like the fit of the place. Sell yourself, maybe being more mature and having funded your training will differentiate you.

Thanks (2)
By Moonbeam
06th Oct 2019 10:43

I agree with everything said by others. Your post and subsequent comment are a lot of waffle. Why not think of what the employer actually needs first. Put yourself firmly in their shoes and think like they would. At the moment you're sounding like a close relative of mine who felt that it was everyone else's fault that she had so many difficulties.
I agree you aren't suited to the practice world, where every penny counts. Most practices won't spend much time to train up people whatever they say at interview. You are seeking jobs that they can pay much younger people a pittance for doing.
That leaves the world of commerce and charities. Commercial businesses also need to make sure you are helping them make money, but have a bit of leeway in the training area. However, again they will be just as reluctant to take on people as juniors who are much more mature in age. So you've got to think a bit more creatively.
So how to get into commerce? Your language skills may be very helpful here. You need to sell something you already have. There are branches of overseas companies in the UK who would dearly love to take on someone with languages. Maybe they'd prefer you were a native speaker, but it's worth targeting these sorts of businesses.
And what about looking at the charity world? Many of them struggle to get and keep good staff admittedly. You could probably get a reasonable accounting role there and then learn gradually as you go along. Some of them will offer quite a bit of responsibility if you are up for this. Again, maybe thinking about how some of them could use your language skills.
And finally, it all comes down to confidence and personality. Even the most junior person in the accounts department in a well-run organisation is required to have a can do approach and the ability to get on with others. If those are your weak areas I wonder how long you'll survive anywhere in the finance function.

Thanks (1)
By paul.benny
07th Oct 2019 07:42

I have sympathy with your predicament - but as someone else has said, try to be more succinct. Shorten your CV - no one needs to know about abortive exam attempts - only the qualifications obtained.

(BTW - What's "AAT (equivalent)" and what do you mean by CPA? It's not a commonly recognised UK designation)

Thanks (1)
By Bob Loblaw
07th Oct 2019 09:29

"Without being too paranoid, I can conclude that Role 2 were contacted (however informally on the grapevine) and put my interviewer straight as to my shortcomings - i.e. I am effectively blacklisted by practices now. [Role 2 partner is on the executive body of my Accounting body]."

You do sound paranoid and I would be extremely surprised if you were in fact "blacklisted" by a partner if the only issues with that role were as you've stated above.

If I were an employer, the cold calling would put me right off. You say you've had success with it though so....

Thanks (1)
By Duggimon
07th Oct 2019 10:50

Your academic qualifications don't mean much if you're not able to do the jobs you're putting yourself forward for.

There are no academic study programs that will teach you how to work in an accountancy practice, they'll just give you underlying knowledge of the sector that will assist you, but that's it.

If you can't work at a level above basic trainee then that's the only role you can go in to without being a disappointment to yourself and to employers, if a basic trainee salary is too low for your needs then you're going to struggle to find the position to fit.

However, that said, I find it hard to see how you can have fifteen years as an "Accounts Assistant" but have been so at sea on the accounts preparation role you left after seven weeks, the two aren't really terribly far removed. It's hard to be more constructive without knowing really what your definitions of these roles actually mean and why one was well within your reach and the other so far out your comfort zone.

Thanks (1)
By djn24
11th Oct 2019 11:03

If you have passed the AAT then that's great as that is a well respected qualification.. The CPA- Never heard of it. I've been in practice for 20 years and a partner for 10. If a CV came in with CPA, i genuinely would have no idea what it was.

I think role 2 were a little unfair as training should have been given. Then again it does depend on what salary you were earning. If your salary was that of someone who could do the job then I can see why they were a little miffed.

Maybe accept a lower salary for now and see how it goes. 15 years experience will be looked upon favourably.

Thanks (1)
Replying to djn24:
By Rgab1947
11th Oct 2019 11:43

CPA is an American equivalent of the UK CA.

Also used in I think Australia and South Africa where the word CA is reserved.

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Replying to Rgab1947:
By Brend201
11th Oct 2019 13:34

There is a separate CPA organisation in Ireland, a relatively small body unconnected to the US outfit.

Thanks (1)
By [email protected]
11th Oct 2019 14:12

Seems to me that Practice isn't the right place for you
Sit down with yourself (and get friends to help) and list out your strengths, your achievements, your qualities.
Re build your CV using these things - tell perspective employers what you can do, and make it punchy.
Look at jobs in industry that use your other skills. An admin for an import/export co trading with the EU AND knows one end of a customs declaration from the other would love those languages...
Trouble with practice is (in my experience) if you don't fit in a certian box, they're not interested.
Go talk to agencies - they know their stuff, but like many practices a number will pidgeon hole you. Smaller agencies tend to be better in this regard.
Don't be fixated on the job title - the substance of the role is far more telling
Do some research are you asking a reasonable wage for your skillset
When you're in a post be willing to listen and learn from those around you. Volunteer for little projects that take you out of your comfort zone, but in the direction you want to go. The power of proving to yourself you can do it is huge.
Volunteer with a local charity that can give you some exposure to the areas you want to explore.
Good luck

Thanks (1)
By Nebs
11th Oct 2019 16:30

Have you considered applying to HMRC for a position as a Tax Inspector. You seem to have all the right qualities for that job.

Thanks (1)
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