Advice for newly qualified ACA/ICAS accountants

7 mins
Sellick  Partnership

By Sellick Partnership

Deciding what to do after becoming a newly qualified ACA/ICAS accountant can be daunting. With a huge array of businesses and options to choose from, making the right decision for your future career within the Finance & Accountancy sector can be incredibly difficult.

Here are some of the questions newly qualified ACA/ICAS accountants regularly ask us and our advice for starting out on your journey as a chartered accountant.

Being ACA/ICAS qualified opens up a substantial number of career opportunities, so it is essential for you to seek out the best career advice at this crucial time. Businesses of all shapes and sizes are already seeking and employing the best talent on the market, which means it is important that you are well informed and not left behind.

At this time of year, we are often inundated with questions seeking advice on market conditions, job opportunities, guidance on short, medium and long-term career paths as well as interview techniques offering suggestions on how to secure the right role and career of choice. With that in mind we spoke at length to our experienced and knowledgeable Finance & Accountancy recruitment team and have compiled the most frequently asked questions, which should help in your decision making process when it comes to your career options.

I’ve just qualified/I'm about to qualify but I’m worried about making the wrong career choices

Every year we meet with newly qualified chartered accountants who are concerned that their first move post qualification will dictate where their career takes them, but this is simply not the case. Your first few years are all about getting as much experience under your belt as possible until you have a clearer idea of the direction you want to take, broadening the career opportunities available to you in the process.

We would therefore advise you to try and get as much post-qualified experience in the first few years as you possibly can. This experience will make your transition as a newly qualified accountant easier and will make you more attractive to employers for both practice and industry roles.

During this time, you may also want to seek out some specialist sector career advice. There will be finance professionals that work at your firm, or sector experts that will be happy to discuss different career paths and offer you advice on what route might be best suited to you.

I recently qualified in a practice firm, should I move to industry straight away or bide my time and gain some more experience?

Generally speaking you should move into a role that you see yourself staying in long-term, which is sometimes easier said than done. Jumping between industry and practice multiple times will not look good on your CV, however we understand that sometimes newly qualified chartered accountants do make the wrong choice initially.

If you do feel that you have made the wrong decision, it is important not to panic. The crucial thing here is to ensure that you get as much experience as possible and try to make the right decision moving forward.

Newly qualified accountants are sought after in the market and, with a reasonable explanation, clients should understand, but you need to be sure that the move is right for you.

The firm I qualified with wasn’t a 'Big Four' firm. How will this affect my job prospects?

It shouldn’t impact your job prospects massively. All qualified chartered accountants are in high demand, no matter what background you have. The only thing that it may impact is the type of business you will end up working at. For example, if you are looking to go into a large listed business it may be easier for you to make this move if you have worked within a 'Big Four' accountancy firm (PwC, Deloitte, EY and KPMG) as you are more likely to have worked with similar sized businesses.

On the flip side, smaller practice firms often allow you to develop a broader skillset and an understanding of management accounts and tax – among other skills. This experience could give you the winning edge over a 'Big Four' candidate who has only done audit.

Are ACA/ICAS qualified accountants in short supply?

Be assured that as a chartered accountant you will always be in high demand no matter what sector or type of organisation you choose to work for. We regularly assist candidates that work for a variety of businesses and sectors and generally are able to find them the right roles very quickly.

For newly qualified ACA and ICAS candidates it is no different. If you are unsure of how to go about securing a role, or have any questions around securing a job in a particular sector or business, please feel free to get in touch for a confidential chat with one of our specialist Finance & Accountancy Consultants.

I’ve only ever had one interview and I haven’t updated my CV, can Sellick Partnership help me prepare?

Absolutely we can! Interviews can be daunting for everyone, regardless of how much practice you have had. But rest assured, we have been working with ACA candidates for many years and as a result know exactly what organisations are looking for on your CV as a newly qualified accountant. Businesses want to get a feeling for why you are right for the role, so while writing your CV it is important to think about why you are including every bit of information.

Ask yourself if what you are writing adds value to your application, and be ready to explain why it makes you the right candidate for the job. If you do not think something is relevant, leave it out.

We can also offer you specialist knowledge on tailoring your CV for a particular sector or business.

Practice or industry… what should I choose?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question. This is totally dependent on where you see yourself working in the future or the type of work you want to be doing. For example, if you are looking for a purely technical role, staying in practice at an accounting firm can increase your knowledge of technical reporting such as the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), local Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAPS) and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX).

Practice also offers the ability to work with multiple clients and become a specialist within certain areas including tax, audit and insolvency.

If you are looking to help one business and see the results of the work you put in, industry may be a good choice for you. Taking on an industry role allows you to work on on-going projects and really help to grow a business.

Here is a very brief summary of both paths that may help you with making your decision.

Practice: within practice you will likely follow a very specific career path with a tailored training and development programme. Generally, you will get to choose from a number of areas including audit, tax, corporate finance, outsourced accounts, forensics or insolvency for a range of clients, dependant on the type of practice firm you work for.

Working within a 'Big Four' accountancy practice firm will give you exposure to working with a variety of clients including large multinational companies and PLCs, whereas working for a top 10 or 15 firm will give you more varied experience working for a mix of SMEs alongside the odd multinational firm.

Practice also allows you to work with like-minded individuals who can keep you up-to-date with new legislation and develop your advisory skills, allowing you to continually improve your knowledge and skills throughout your career.

Industry: if you decide to go into industry you will enjoy a varied career, which can offer you exposure to multiple areas of Finance & Accountancy with the opportunity to explore different roles and add real value to a specific business.

You would manage the company’s finances and be responsible for things like budgeting, cost control and accounting systems. You could also end up forming part of the management team.

This route is especially suited to candidates that want to work within a singular business and progress quickly. Industry gives you the choice of which size of business you work with from SMEs, large blue-chip and Listed Businesses to Private Equity backed firms and Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 businesses.

Within industry there is no set career progression, so you will get out of the role what you put in. This gives you a real opportunity to parachute through the ranks, but could also mean that you stagnate if you are not career hungry and put the work in. Some of the roles you will be able to choose from include commercial analyst, financial accountant and management accountant.

If you are still struggling to choose between practice and industry, you can check out our blog on the different career options for a chartered accountant here

I recently made the move to industry but it’s not what I was expecting. Can I move back to practice without looking bad?

Generally yes, as long as you do not wait too long before making the move. In our experience, the longer you stay in either practice or industry, the harder it is to move out and the more limited your career options will be.

If you have made the move and want to go back to practice, we advise that you talk to a specialist Consultant that will be able to speak with their clients and make introductions on your behalf.

You should start to think of how you can leverage the experience you have built up when it comes to making the transition. For example, you might develop a deeper understanding of business ‘know how’, have a higher appreciation of quality service or be able to grasp clients’ needs easier.

I am ACA/ICAS qualified and from overseas/want to work overseas, what are my options?

As a chartered accountant you have the recognised skills to work worldwide, which opens up so many doors, but it is important to know what to expect. Organisations are taking on global approaches and geographical borders aren’t the barrier they once were, however, each country has their own Visa process, as does the UK, so it is vitally important to look into the specific requirements for the country you are hoping to work within prior to applying for any vacancies.

For example, it is hard to find a role in industry that will offer sponsorship, but practice firms are able to fund international candidates looking to secure a role here in the UK.

Experience of working internationally can sometimes be seen as critical career experience for reaching the senior management levels, which is something to take into consideration when weighing up your career options.

Where should I be looking for a job now I am qualified?

The best advice we can give to any newly qualified accountants is to speak to an experienced recruiter who knows the market well. At Sellick Partnership we get to know both our clients and candidates on a professional and personal level and can offer career advice on the best companies to move to both in terms of team fit as well as professional development.

We would also advise you to use your recruitment consultant to talk through career options and don’t just rely on them to find you a new job. Most recruiters will be experts in their field and will have unrivalled market knowledge when it comes to career opportunities, so keeping in touch with them and asking for advice will be hugely beneficial.

Recruiters can help you with everything from developing your online brand and interview preparation right through to advice on career paths, the training and development you should be receiving and average salaries.

What next?

With a combined experience of over 30 years, our Finance & Accountancy Consultants have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to placing newly qualified ACA candidates with a range of businesses across the UK. If you would like their help feel free to get in touch today for some tailored career advice.

Alternatively, you can check out more tips on securing your next role in our Candidate section or browse our latest Finance & Accountancy jobs here.