As a developing accountant on the way to qualifying within an accountancy firm, you are about to face a tough career decision. Do you remain in the familiar surroundings of an accounting firm, juggling competing client demands but with a clear and financially attractive path set out to achieving partnership? Or, do you make the potentially irreversible transition into industry to explore new challenges and opportunities?
One thing to bear in mind, is that there is no right or wrong move; it really depends on your end goal and what elements of being an accountant you really enjoy. This can often be the first major decision in a finance professional’s career – you go to university because you enjoyed accounts at school - you obtained a training contract at an accountancy firm and now, after dedicating time and hard work, you are entering the unknown. This might be the first time you have had the chance to take stock and think about where you want to be in your career in 5 to 10 years time.
People – Whether it’s tax, accounts, audit, corporate finance or another finance specialisms, you have the opportunity to interact with and learn from a wide variety of different and interesting internal and external stakeholders. Building long term working relationships with your clients can be extremely rewarding and satisfying.
Variety – Each day will often be very different, you have the opportunity to work with businesses and leaders across an array of sectors, locations and growth stages. Each have their unique goals and strategies which means that your day to day conversations and your ability to access privileged information will uncover all sorts of challenges and conundrums.
Career Progression – As accountancy practice is primarily relationship and service driven, retaining accomplished professionals who know their clients inside out is crucial to the success of firms. You therefore have a clear route to partnership.
Flexibility – Remaining in an accountancy firm keeps your options open. In practical terms, if you are keen to keep your options open until you decide which career path is the right one to take it is perhaps best to stay in a firm for a few years rather than move into industry straight away and then try to make the much more difficult move back into practice.
And the Lows….
Client Demands – With the variety of client work, comes the varying and time critical demands of each client business. You may find that managing these competing demands can be pressured, particularly where various deadlines hit at once, as with tax filing dates or reporting.
Work-life Balance – Some client’s demands can be unrealistic which can lead to some crazy hours and stressful times. This is especially prevalent in areas such as corporate finance where it’s very much feast and famine.
Focus – Working within a business means you have more time to dedicate your energy and expertise to that business and its particular commercial and financial challenges, rather than being spread across and juggling the demands of a number of client organisations.
Work-Life Balance – Yes, there will be busy times at month/year end, for instance in audit, but these are very much forecasted and so you can plan and prepare for what’s to come.
Developing Commercial Skills – Working within industry can help you to broaden your horizons and develop your business skills. This is especially relevant in small businesses that are evolving quickly, you will have the chance to work closely with senior internal stakeholders and get involved with business strategy. These skills are vital in your career journey towards a board level position.
Remuneration – Excluding partner roles within accountancy firms, companies tend to offer a higher salary which you may find attractive. Salary isn’t everything though; it’s important to weigh-up all the information to hand.
And the Challenges....
Inflexibility – Whilst it is by no means unheard of to return from industry into an accountancy firm, once you have moved away it certainly leaves the door more closed than open. This can be quite a gamble to take if you are at an early stage in your career and when you might not actually be sure about what you want to achieve to support your future career goals.
Culture – Moving into an environment where finance is perhaps a ‘quiet voice’ within the business could be difficult for you to adjust to. Working with non-finance professionals and leadership on a regular basis as opposed to working alongside other accounting professionals will need some adjustment.
Making the Right Career Choice
There is no right answer here. It comes down to what’s important to you and where you want to be in the future. Without a doubt, it’s a very difficult decision and perhaps the most crucial one that you will make as you travel along your career path.
It is important to keep an open mind and not underestimate the power of meeting and listening to different people and perspectives. Don’t let a vacancy description or a particular perception of a role or company put you off. It’s your life and your choice, so make sure it’s your decision too.
Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your next move confidentially, I am here to provide an independent perspective:
Gareth Spowart, iMultiply Consultant; email@example.com; 0131 603 7747