By Shaf Asif
So, you’ve just graduated with an accounting degree and scoured through the available graduate programmes in the market. Still none the wiser about what your first move should be?
You’re not alone — I’ve been there! Albeit more than a decade ago. I’m still astonished to see just how clueless dozens of accounting graduates are today as I was at 21 as to what an ideal career pathway in accounting might look like.
The key is to identify your mid-term career goals (if not long-term at this stage) before choosing a graduate role which will act as a stepping stone towards that goal. Consider the below key points as a starting guide.
I want to own my own business someday
If you feel you’re naturally entrepreneurial and you want to use your knack for numbers to be a business owner in accountancy or something else, BAS (Business Advisory Services) in a chartered accounting environment might be a great starting point.
In a chartered accounting environment, your client’s will typically be SMEs. Here you’ll get to learn all about different industries and get first-hand exposure to good (and sometimes not so good) practices when it comes to running your finances. Not only that, but you’ll also have the option of a natural progression into a partnership with your employer.
Some of the most successful business people in Auckland I know have plied their trade in larger firms, before branching off into having their own CA practice later in their career.
I like to travel (also, don’t Kiwi accountants make megabucks in London on their OEs?)
Pick audit! You’ll work with listed and large organisations in the local market. And when you have that magic CA next to your name, hit Heathrow and there’ll be a raft of large multinationals queuing to snap you up. And guess what, £40-£50 an hour can pay for rent, cheap getaways to Prague or Amsterdam, and will help you slowly chip away at the deposit for that overpriced piece of land in Ranui for when you get back.
Do I have to work in a CA firm to become a CA?
No, you don’t! I wish someone debunked this myth for me when I was 21. To qualify to be a CA, you need to work in a team where a fully qualified CA is mentoring you. They need to have registered as an Approved Training Employer with the Institute (not hard to do, if they’re qualified).
If your mid-term goal is to work up the corporate ladder rather than work in client facing roles, start in a transactional accounting role (AP, AR, bank recs) and work your way up the ladder from there. One of my biggest clients is a dynamic CFO who started in healthcare receivables, worked in FMCG, and is now Head of Finance for a large US owned multinational IT organisation at the ripe old age of – wait for it – 35! He’s never stepped foot inside a CA firm in his life…
But Shaf, you didn’t cover tax, insolvency, corporate finance, deals, M&A, transfer pricing etc. etc. etc.
Each specialisation in accounting has its own merit. Do a bit of research and look up other accountants who’ve gone into the specialisation you’re looking at. How did their careers pan out? The key here is to identify what the logical next step is after three years. Ask yourself, do CAs specialising in tax get into the industry as management accountants after qualifying? If not, is this the right move for you?
But wait, I’ve already made a choice before realising it’s not right for me long term — HELP!
Don’t panic. Give me a call. A good recruiter can often get you an interview for a career change or coach you on how to get it. I’m currently working with a global firm who are looking for an experienced BAS accountant but are happy to look at candidates with a tax background. This is usually unheard of, but cases like this do exist. You just need to make sure you have a well-networked recruiter on your side.
Don’t just choose a stream based on what you enjoyed at university. Plan your career out before taking that first role. After all, failing to plan is planning to fail!
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