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Should I stay or should I go? When and how to make your next finance move

Simon Gray considers a recent Any Answers discussion on how to best make the move from a tax trainee in practice to industry.

27th Feb 2020
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Worker facing Problems On Career Planning
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Many accountants’ have grappled with the difficult decision between a career in practice or industry.

This age-old question reared again on Any Answers recently, as a tax trainee contemplated leaving their role in a practice firm for a career in industry. With five ACA exams and CIMA exemptions on offer, the tax trainee is all set to throw away life in practice for industry pastures.

But the only trouble is they’re struggling to find a junior accounting role due to their lack of experience with accounts.

The AccountingWEB readers weighed in and advised the reader not to walk out of a job without lining up a new one. But, how should they proceed? Stay longer in practice to show commitment, or make a move now to gain industry experience?

And then of course, how to make such a move? Who to talk to and what to say? How to make yourself more attractive to employers and whether to use recruiters or some other route to find that next position?

There are certainly quite a few questions here, and I’m going to offer some high-level advice in three parts.

When to move

In my experience, many people drift from job to job and make the next move on the career ladder without ever stopping to consider what they really want to do. As an executive career coach, I regularly work with clients in their fifties that have never asked themselves this question and find themselves where they are today not through any conscious planning.

My view is always: if you know what you want you should go for it. Don’t wait, don’t dither. Put all of your energy and effort to work, in pursuit of what you want, and your passion will shine through.

Passion is infectious and is far more valuable (particularly in the early stages of a career) than skills or experience. Knowing what you want, being able to communicate why you want it, and having a willingness to learn and develop are all that’s needed.

Be specific

Making yourself attractive in the job market starts with knowing what you want.

The Law of Attraction (TLoA) is something you may or may not have heard of before, but trust me it works. In a nutshell TLoA says what you think about comes about. Being clear on what you want puts you in the right situations and in and around the right people who can help you.

When I was a recruiter the candidate who told me that they could do anything was very difficult to place. The candidate that was very specific in their requirement, in terms of role, sector and size of company, and geography, was much easier to place.

Because they knew what they wanted, I knew how to help them. Don’t be a generalist, don’t just be open to anything. Get focused, be specific and don’t compromise.

Get proactive

The majority of people are reactive in the job market. They produce a CV, send it out online and to a handful of recruiters, then sit and wait. This is what everyone else is doing, which makes it very difficult to stand out.

It’s not your skills and experience that will make you stand out (particularly if you’re in the early stages of your career). Your CV will look like everyone else’s, and CVs rarely get read in full anyway.

It’s not your CV you should be relying on or third parties who may or may not do something with it, it’s your approach that counts and that means getting proactive.

If you know what you want, and spend some time researching online, you’ll know pretty quickly which organisations in your geography you should be speaking to. Don’t wait for them to advertise, instead find a reason to get in touch that is much more than your need for a job.

Make your approach about them. What is it about their organisation that appeals? What have you seen, what have you read, and then, and only then – what value could you bring?

Businesses are always on the lookout for talent, and with the right approach you might just unlock the door to an opportunity yet to be advertised, or even create an opportunity that the business hadn’t previously anticipated they would be recruiting. At the very least, you’ll make yourself memorable when future opportunities crop up.

Don’t follow the crowd, take the lead. Be bold, brave and have fun in your approach.

The job you want is out there, but to find it you have to look in different places and be prepared to do different things to everyone else.

Simon Gray talks about all of the above in much more detail in his book Super Secrets of the Successful First-Time Jobseeker.

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Hallerud at Easter
By DJKL
27th Feb 2020 15:03

"Don’t be a generalist, don’t just be open to anything. Get focused, be specific and don’t compromise."

Catch is if you want to say work for a small/medium sized business in industry, where there are few employees, being a generalist is what that this type of business needs and wants and it takes a few years to acquire the range of skills required, this is where working for a smaller practice in the early years may, in some ways, have the edge.

I started with a decent sized national firm, audit, accounts, vat and a little tax,typical 1980s ICAS smaller office (about 20 in total staff/partners) apprenticeship, then moved to a three partner circa ten staff outfit where I gained tax experience, moved to a two partner/six staff do anything firm where I picked up a bit on back duties, share valuations, pensions and life products , raising debt finance and operating payrolls, and only then headed into industry when I was thirty with a small clothing chain with ten shops/fifty staff and I sat at the top table running all accounts, tax. payroll , dealing with our bank etc and then there gained experience actually running a business.

Whilst I next reverted back to practice for five years the next move after that, age 39 was an even smaller business re its staff numbers but my role expanded far more into property investment analysis, a lot of cashflows, some pretty large debt negotiation, HR issues, legals,insurance, procurement, contracts, leasing, business and asset sales- I really needed that earlier broad foundation to do my current role.

There is imho a role for the generalist, as the two of us who run the group agree, when we both need replaced (my colleague is a surveyor) which is not that long away as he is 68 and I will be 60 this year we may find it difficult to find individuals with a broad enough skillset, the professions are all becoming niche (just look at how Chartered Surveyors qualify these days, no breadth) larger firm trainees in accountancy do say tax or assurance so often lack breadth, smaller firms who might have offered that breadth are less likely to train these days.

So the key is , how many years of breadth in the early years makes a good hands on FD who can cover the breadth needed for an SME, not all of us ever wanted the structured specific tight role with a big company, some, like me, wanted hands on, fingers in everything, lets run an entire business.

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By C Bod
27th Feb 2020 19:11

It's really interesting that this article appeared in my inbox today, as just yesterday I emailed this very question to my mentor, asking which way I should go. I am just starting up, haven't even finished my qualifications yet, but her advice was "industry" so that you develop into more than a number cruncher. I know the trend is moving away from number crunching, but still, we are still a little way off from that - in a way. Moreover, from my experience looking for and applying to smaller firms, I can attest that they are not willing to train, not even so much someone who has completed all exams.
My personal opinion is that a person needs to know where his passion lies; mine's not in financial reporting at all (not that "practice" is only about financial reporting - but still.) My only question to my mentor was if I should get practice experience first with the long term view to switch to industry.
There's no one correct answer.

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avatar
By C Bod
27th Feb 2020 19:11

It's really interesting that this article appeared in my inbox today, as just yesterday I emailed this very question to my mentor, asking which way I should go. I am just starting up, haven't even finished my qualifications yet, but her advice was "industry" so that you develop into more than a number cruncher. I know the trend is moving away from number crunching, but still, we are still a little way off from that - in a way. Moreover, from my experience looking for and applying to smaller firms, I can attest that they are not willing to train, not even so much someone who has completed all exams.
My personal opinion is that a person needs to know where his passion lies; mine's not in financial reporting at all (not that "practice" is only about financial reporting - but still.) My only question to my mentor was if I should get practice experience first with the long term view to switch to industry.
There's no one correct answer.

Thanks (0)