Over 1000 accountants due to finish their training contracts in 2021 attended our CASSI & Barden Finance Leader events in 2020. Inspiring leaders from companies, such as Kerry Group, Paddy Power Betfair, CRH, Revolt and Icon Plc, shared their stories and gave their career, CV and interview advice. They answered a lot of questions, but you had more. We put your questions to our resident experts and here’s what they said:
QUESTIONS ON MOVING FROM PRACTICE TO INDUSTRY (AND VISA VERSA)
Q: Is it better to stay on in a Big 4 firm after qualification or go out into industry? Is it better to get your Post Qualification Experience (PQE) within a training firm or in industry?
A: It’s hard to get objective advice on this one. A partner will always want you to stay on. A recruiter will more than likely advise you to move. Let’s try to get an objective opinion by looking at the question through different lenses.
You should seriously consider staying on to become a manager post-contract if:
- You wish to become partner;
- You’ll gain exposure to a different client base;
- You get to move into another department that will help you move your centre.
You should not consider staying on to become a manager post-contract if:
- You don’t wish to become partner;
- You plan to move to the client-side or to industry in the long-term;
- You weren’t fulfilled by the work you did in your training contract.
We hear advice on a regular basis that goes along the lines of: “You should stay on to become an audit manager and then you’ll be able to move to the client-side or industry at a higher level when you do make the move.”
This statement is fundamentally incorrect.
Here’s why: if a company is looking for a financial controller or finance manager, for example, they will (99 times out of 100) look for a qualified accountant with ‘x’ years of post-qualified experience outside practice because their first choice will always be someone with practical experience as a financial controller.
For the vast majority of hiring managers, there’s no contest. Practical industry or financial services experience post-contract wins. You’ll move up in salary and benefits as time goes by in practice. You’ll become increasingly valuable in practice but you won’t be appreciating the same value for client-side roles – your peers that moved straight out of training contact will. As a first or second year manager in external audit, you’ll still be well-able to compete for internal audit, technical external reporting and project-based transformation positions. Broader financial accounting or analysis will likely become increasingly difficult to access.
Q: What experience would you look for in a recently qualified accountant? (i.e. leading projects, were asked to stay on in practice, etc.)?
A: The answer depends on who’s looking.
Relevant exposure to similar companies and organisational structures is typically #1 on the list though (they might also look to see if you got a chance to work with the firm’s more prestigious clients… if you have don’t be shy about that).
From there hiring managers do look to performance rating, FAE results and general academic background. From there they typically look to see if you took on any special projects or secondments or if you were involved in any extracurricular activity for your firm (grad training etc..).
For niche roles they will of course look to niche experience (technical exposure to a particular IFRS for example).
Any/all of the above should be clearly stated on your CV.
Q: Would you have any tips on moving from a small practice straight to corporate finance after qualifying? (is a diploma in Corporate finance a prerequisite?)
A: To be honest this is not a move that typically happens in a single step. Like with like matters. You are more likely to access a role that has something in common with your current or most recent role.
If you’re small practice trained you’ve likely had small company exposure. Most corporate finance (CF) activity takes place through larger companies. Getting some exposure to larger companies (be that in audit, restructuring or similar) is likely a good first step. Then you look in 18mths to make a move internally to a CF or related team.
A diploma in CF is not a prerequisite but it can’t hurt; it also does not guarantee you anything. If you’re serious about CF then look to get into a larger firm first, become an expert with Excel and financial modelling and push internally then to get into CF (or a related area like transaction services (TS), valuations etc..).
A lot of people look to move to CF after their training contract, but few make the transition immediately. It’s not impossible…it’s just less likely.
Q: I work in industry and don’t have the knowledge of practice. I think this may undermine my career potential. Would you say I should get practice experience?
A: Ultimately it should not matter if you trained in practice or in industry. What matters is the calibre of the people you trained with and the calibre of the training you received.
A KPMG trained accountant and a Kerry Group trained accountant will have an equal shot at a mutually relevant role. Some jobs specs will say “Big 4 trained” on them…that’s not really what it says on the tin. What it really means is “big company trained”. If however, you have trained in a small company and want to work in a larger corporate, a stint in a big practice will stand you in good stead.
Q: For recently qualified accountants looking for a move into industry, is age a factor?
A: Broadly speaking it is not – a newly qualified accountant is a newly qualified accountant and, as long as your salary, expectations and attitude are aligned with being a newly qualified accountant then the vast majority of employers will look at you as such.
Q: Would you have any tips moving from Tax to Corporate Finance?
A: Not dissimilar to the above Coprorate Finance (CF) question. Be the best in your intake with Excel, look to move into a related department, if not directly into CF as a first step, expect to be paid less to do a job you don’t know how to do yet (you’ll definitely be paid more initially if you stay in tax), be flexible to short term/contract work to help you build experience, try to move internally rather than externally (easier). And last but not least… please manage your expectations as many try but few ultimately make the transition (only the very smartest, most articulate, most numerate and most committed typically do).
QUESTIONS ON WORKING ABROAD
Q: What is your view on working abroad after your training contract and what would be the best way to go about trying to get work abroad?
A: Big fan of that – world/life experience is hugely valuable (and the earlier you do it the better for lots of reasons). Maybe take a contract in industry locally for 12 months before you go (just to get you a shot at the better jobs when you move), but working abroad in your first couple of years PQE (assuming it’s with a good company/role) is never a bad thing.
Best to connect with a local recruiter in the target country to get a feel for things on the ground before you go (Barden can get you some names and emails of people pretty much anywhere in the world). Other alternatives might be to work with an Irish company and move internationally with them in time or work in Internal Audit (IA) and travel the world while still remaining anchored in Ireland.
Q: In relation to your tax exams, I’d be very interested in how useful they are as you move abroad? I understood the exams to be very ROI specific and that they don’t translate abroad i.e. you need to do additional exams – what would be your take be on this?
A: Yes, the tax exams are specific to Irish Tax legislation but many tax professionals secure roles abroad in jurisdictions with similar rules (e.g. UK and Australia) and some tax qualifications in Ireland have international recognition through affiliate networks).
Of course, some Tax Consultants who move abroad do choose to also complete the relevant tax qualification in the country they are working but it’s not always a requirement.
QUESTIONS OF CVS AND TRYING TO STAND OUT
Q: How could recently qualified accountants stand out when applying for jobs? Especially given that there are so many “Big 4” qualified accountants coming out of contract in April?
A: It’s hard to stand out in a great crowd. Check out our CV advice section here >>> for some detail on how to do your best to get noticed.
Q: Could you advise what are the most standout characteristics/skills/interests sought after in industry? Please let me know if there are things I can do now that would help my CV.
A: Ultimately it’s about exposure to relevant organisational structures (for example group functions), relevant activity on the supply chain (example manufacturing vs retail), and relevant industry exposure (FMCG vs pharma). If you know you want to work in a particular company/industry then you should do your very best to get exposure to similar clients.
Q: Would you have a CA qualified CV template?
A: Why of course – drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org OR check out our guide here >>>.
We’ll even do one better for you… if you want one of our recently qualified accountant recruitment team (all of which are big 4 trained Chartered Accountants themselves) to cast an eye over your CV just let us know at email@example.com. We’d be happy to help.
QUESTIONS ON FINDING JOBS AND RECRUITERS
Q: Where’s the best place to find job opportunities?
A: A good expert recruiter in a reputable firm should always be your first port of call (of course we’d say that!!). Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or ask around to get referrals; a good recruiter, who specialises in accounting, who is an accountant themselves and who is interested in giving advice is WAY better than any Big 4 Partner, auntie in HR or friend that moved jobs recently, for advice on getting the right job and access to the right job.
LinkedIn, Irish Jobs (and similar) and your own network (your manager from 2 years ago that has left etc.) are all other very credible sources.
Q: Is it possible you could provide a bit of an assessment on recruiters. Could you potentially explain are recruiters the best way of finding a job in industry?
QUESTIONS ON SETBACKS
Q: For newly qualified accountants that struggled to get the exams, and took 6 or 7 years to pass their exams, can they be affected by that when they go to an interview or apply for a job?
A: In reality, this can be a challenge and can make it much harder for you to access some larger, corporate teams.
Sometimes there are mitigating personal circumstances and if this is the case you should make that clear. However, flexibility on the nature of the role to get you into the right company and make a fresh start can make all the difference. The further PQE you are the less relevant this becomes.
Q: What is the best way to present setbacks in your career thus far like exam repeats, training contract terminations etc.? Do you try to gloss over them or try to dissect the situation?
A: Setbacks are an opportunity to show how you have overcome them, learned from them, and are stronger/wiser as a result of them. Overcoming adversity is an asset. I’d not shy away from talking about setbacks if they do come up in an interview. In fact, some hiring managers will specifically ask for an example of a setback, how you dealt with it and what you learned as a result.
Q: What’s the best way to find out if a company culture is a good fit for you?
A: The simple answer is to meet the people there. Company culture is defined by the people that work in the company, not by some set of values on a website. Find people you like, admire and respect and you’ll be on the right track.
Q: What advice would you give someone on the flexible route who is not in a practice/training contract?
A: To be honest I’d give the very same advice as I would to people in practice. Our Newly Qualified Career Guide here >>> covers lots of those basics and the advice/tools apply regardless of where you worked when you completed your exams.
The like with like concept however does mean that you will have only gained exposure to one (or two) types of companies/structures rather than to many types as you would in practice. That said your practical accounts prep experience could well give you an edge. If you want specific, granular advice on this relevant to your experience/circumstances drop us a line at email@example.com and one of team can give you a call to discuss.
And that’s a wrap! For more detail on any of these questions and for expert advice, bespoke to you and your future, just drop an email to any of the Barden team or to firstname.lastname@example.org and Barden will look after you from there. Easy.