The model in Accountancy Ireland & Barden (Career Guide 2017)

The Barden Career Model is robust enough to be applied to any accounting professional at any level, from an aspiring graduate to an experienced CFO. Its application, however, is a personal journey as it has to be applied not only in the context of your experience, but also in the context of your hopes, dreams and aspirations and, of course, the reality of the external/internal market.

The relative size of your near environment is a defining factor. The earlier you’re in your career, the larger the area of your near environment and hence the easier it is to move between different roles. Why? Because the earlier you are in your career, the further down the value chain you are likely to be, the less of an investment/risk you are, the lower your competition and the higher the demand. As you gather experience, learn an industry and gain the ability to add more value (often in a specific way), the more your competitors (the other guy!) does as well. An FMCG business looking for a finance director will most likely look for a finance director from another FMCG business. An FMCG business looking for a trainee accountant could be as likely to hire a graduate engineer who wants to train as an accountant as they are to hire a B.Comm graduate.

Example 1 – Billy Barden

The recently qualified accountant: Billy Barden has just completed a training contract in the industry audit team of a Big 4 firm. Billy has good academics, is a first-time pass on the FAEs and has a ‘two’ performance rating in his training contract. Billy’s clients were composed of a variety of large indigenous companies, along with two large Irish plc group functions. His clients crossed many industries, but he did have three Irish food manufacturing clients throughout his training contract. Applying the Barden Career Model, Billy can discern the following:

  • Given his client exposure, he will most likely be perceived to add the greatest value in group (consolidation) or large Irish companies; food or consumer products; manufacturing or supply chain; IFRS or New Irish GAAP equivalent;
  • As he is coming from an audit team, he will find it easier to access financial accounting or internal audit type roles (rather than financial analysis type roles); and
  • Given his performance rating and academics, he will have a better chance of accessing larger, more demanding companies (the industry equivalent of Big 4/Top 10 Irish companies).

The above will define companies and roles within Billy’s near environment. Companies and roles that are likely to be in his far environment will include financial services companies, smaller Irish businesses and shared services centres; pharmaceutical or medical device companies; and retail, US GAAP environments. As Billy is coming from audit, he’ll be less likely to access pure financial analysis roles straight away. Why? Because his peers in other audit teams will have exposure to a more relevant client base or will be coming from non-audit teams in practice that are perceived to have a more applicable skillset to financial analysis roles.

Billy Barden

Billy can now use the Barden Career Model as a lens on the external market. The closer an opportunity is to his centre, the more he can expect to access the higher end of the salary scale for his level.

If Billy has a strong aspiration to move into a financial analysis role in a financial services company, he might compromise a little on salary, location or perhaps look at a contract role (which are known as ‘trading variables’) to access opportunities in his far environment.

Supply and demand for talent will skew the model for Billy, however. An increase in demand and a decrease in supply will enlarge the area of Billy’s near environment (and vice versa). These shifts in supply/demand can be seasonal (as a recently qualified accountant, Billy’s competition will be highest around October/November and May as large numbers of people will be coming out of training contracts) or can be the result of a trend in the market (boom/bust cycles).

Example 2 – Bridget Barden

The experienced financial controller: Already, we’ve made a mistake – what does financial controller mean? What industry? What structure? What hierarchy? What percentage split of activity? Let’s get specific.

Bridget Barden is a Top 10-trained accountant with 12 years’ post-qualified experience. Straight out of her training contract, Bridget moved into a large Irish fashion retail business (€150 million in revenue with 25 sites across ROI/UK) as an accountant in a small head office team. Bridget worked hard and was promoted twice as the company grew. She is now Group Financial Controller, leading a team of 10 qualified accountants. The company has expanded to over 200 sites, over €1 billion in revenue, and has recently gone through an IPO process. Bridget has enjoyed the journey, but the company has changed and she has hit a glass ceiling (the CFO is going nowhere). Bridget wants to step back into a smaller company as the head of finance to get back into the business and closer to the action. Applying the Barden Career Model, Bridget can discern the following:

  • Given her current role, she will most likely be perceived to add the greatest value in group (consolidation) in an Irish plc or similar; consumer products or similar; retail; IFRS or New Irish GAAP equivalent; and
  • As she is leading a financial accounting team in a consolidations environment, she will also be perceived to add the most value externally in a financial accounting-heavy role.

The above is the easy part. Bridget will be a strong competitor for a role with the above context. The challenge is that Bridget specifically does not want a large company or a consolidation environment. She wants to move back into a smaller company. The first step for Bridget is to think creatively about what other companies might be in her near environment. Then, she’ll need to identify the characteristics of alternative roles in her near environment. Company and role types might include the following:


  • Other B2C (direct retail) companies or companies that supply into retail companies (wholesale retail) with a different product but similar margins – low volume, high margin retail – will be more applicable;
  • Companies that depend heavily on property and facilities and where lease agreements and similar bring a key competitive advantage;
  • Small, rapidly-growing companies in any industry that will be going through the type of change Bridget has seen with her current company; and
  • Privately owned smaller companies that want a professional manager to join and help professionalise (or bring in-house) the finance team.


  • Roles that have a heavy leaning towards financial accounting but give Bridget a chance to get involved in some financial analysis and similar activity. 80/20 accounting/analysis will sit within her near environment, but 20/80 accounting/analysis will sit in her far environment; and
  • Roles with strong project, change, system implementation and similar components.

Bridget Barden

Bridget now has a lens that helps her understand how likely she is to win particular roles; a way to tailor her application/CV to give herself the best chance of getting an interview for the role she wants; and an understanding of why she might send an application but not hear anything back. Bridget can also use this thinking to help define herself and her aspirations when talking to recruitment consultants.

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