There’s no doubt about it. Beginning your career in Accounting & Audit can build a fantastic foundation to your future, and your career potential. However, at the same time, if you don’t play your cards right, it can be the poison chalice you forever regret taking on in your career.
When you’re looking for jobs, you’re going to have a whole host of options once you fully qualify as an accountant, especially if you have Big 4 experience! Your time achieving your qualification can show grit and determination, and a level of knowledge far superior to many other people in the finance industry.
Over your first three years (assuming you pass all your exams first time), you will build some great on-the-job experience, and really learn about yourself and what makes your brain tick during your exams. I put my exams down as the key element of growth for me in my life to date. I really learnt what I enjoyed, how my brain worked, and how to know when “enough was enough” when it came to a work-life-balance.
Despite all this, it is essential that you take your experience and skills, and run as soon as possible…
Because you have worked in Audit, you will have a very broad look at the world of finance. You will likely have worked on various clients in different areas. The problem arises when you stick around for too long. You will compartmentalise yourself as “The Auditor” and not “The Accountant”. The longer you stay in Audit, the harder it is to get into the interesting jobs in finance with high potential.
Let’s be frank….I doubt there are many Audit Directors who have managed to move their career into a CFO role, or a head of finance role.
The Benefits of an Accounting Career
- Experience – working in Accounting/Audit for a few years will give you that solid foundation to expand your horizons in the financial industry. You will work on a large variety of clients, meet new challenges and see different ways of doing things which other’s in the financial world will not see. Employers know this when you hand your CV in and they see three years of experience at a Big 4 or top Accounting firm.
- Knowledge – The knowledge you obtain during your Accounting Exams is priceless. Once you obtain that certificate, it is effectively the key to being paid a salary far beyond the local average for the rest of your life, and even has the potential to give you the stepping stone to achieve really high positions within a firm (and really high pay-cheques…)
- Prestige – The firm you train at does matter to some extent. Being able to put “Big 4 Accountant” on your CV or your LinkedIn will really benefit you in the process of landing your next job. If you’re up against another person who has impressed in the interview process just as much, but they’re not Big 4….you’re likely to get the job over them. It won’t make up for poor interview skills, or a lack of knowledge. However, the prestige that training at a Big 4 firm brings is worth its weight in gold.
- Versatility – I always urge young accountants to get a broad level of experience during their time in audit. The more you can work on, the better of an idea you will get of what you enjoy. Sure, once you realise you LOVE a certain area, then try and focus onto that. For example, I really enjoyed investment funds, so my focus was on Hedge Funds while I worked at my Big 4 firm. Now I work at a Hedge Fund! Your versatility will really lend itself as a skill later on in your finance career as well, as it allows you to chop and change roles, and be easily ‘mouldable’ as difference requirements arise.
How To Leave Your Accounting Career Behind!
Right, we’ve spoken about why an accounting career is great, but how do you get out of it? You first need to question yourself on exactly what you want to do. I have trained alongside people who become qualified accountants, and then finance is the last thing they want to do. For example, someone I worked with ended up becoming a Personal Trainer a year after they qualified because during their studying they had grown a love for fitness.
What I would recommend is sitting down and writing a list. What do you enjoy doing? Were there areas during your role in accounting that you LOVED, and were there areas you HATED? Are there any other studying requirements for the roles you may really be interested in? For example, I questioned the possibility of a move into Investment Management at one point. However, that meant I had to complete the CISI exams to become a qualified Investment Advisor. After three years of intense Accounting Exams….that was the last thing I wanted on my plate.
Once you have your list, you need to start researching and finding out more about the different positions you might like to take on. I would always recommend trying to network with people in your local area who may be in those roles already. They may be the gatekeeper to your future job! Or they may be able to advise and point you in the right direction for your perfect job.
I also recommend talking to various job recruiters. I say various because recruiters are a little like car salesman, in that they have a tendency to not be 100% honest, and are only there to get a commission on a ‘sale’. There are good car salesman out there, and bad car salesman. This is the same for job recruiters. I spoke to maybe 8-10 different recruiters when I was beginning my plan to leave the Big 4. 90% of them wouldn’t listen to what I wanted and kept trying to convince me that a career in Fund Accounting is what I wanted to do. The reason being is that there is an abundance of Fund Accounting roles in my area. Therefore, it is the ‘easy’ pay-day for them if they can convince me to go for it. As opposed to finding the very specific niche of job I would have liked, and risking me losing out to fierce competition (which means work for them, without pay.
You will eventually find a recruiter who you get a good ‘vibe’ from. Once you find a recruiter who’s good, they’re a big like a hairdresser…you’ll keep going back and trust them.
You’ve Found the Perfect Job? Great!
Now, you need to get that job, and this all comes down to your skill in an interview process. Everyone is different here. For example, I am very naturally good at thinking of good answers on the spot in an interview, while others need to prepare for every eventuality of question.
I like to create a little booklet of facts and information about the company and role I’m applying for. Being able to casually (and naturally!) litter little bits of information in your responses to questions about the firm will really impress interviewers. For example, let’s say the company pulled off a huge takeover bid last year, you could be talking about your interest in mergers and acquisitions, and then drop a comment about how interesting you found their takeover (and could even ask them questions about it).
Interviews can unfortunately take practice. Therefore, it might be worth still going to interviews that your recruiter recommends, but you may not necessarily like the sound of the job. I had 3 interviews (and 2 offers!) before I interviewed at the place I now work. I just knew they weren’t right for me, even though they gave me a convincing offer. Now, I’m very glad I stuck to my gut, and those three interviews really helped me get into the groove of the interviewing process (it had been 3.5 years since my last interview!)
Watch the video below for some tips, and also start trying to research potential common interview questions. Quite often the questions you will get are variations of the same common questions:
I hope you’ve found this breakdown helpful, and I will strive to answer any questions you may have in the comment section below (I answer them all!). I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you in your interview process, and hope you find your dream job!
You need to “tailor” your answer for, “tell me about yourself,” for their job description and their needs. Try to talk about experiences and qualifications that are relevant for this job you’ve applied for.