Whenever exam results come out and ‘passed’ lists are released, whether it’s ACCA, ACA or CTA, we definitely see an increase in the amount of candidates exploring their options. We know that when you qualify, your boss is going to sit you down and congratulate you on all your hard work and reward you with a new salary and most likely, a new job title. These either blow you away and secure your future with the firm for at least another 12 months, or you walk out feeling a little deflated and begin mentally updating your CV.
Meanwhile, many firms, up and down the country, are busy writing job descriptions for newly qualified auditors, tax advisors and accountants, hoping to be one of the lucky few that attract a newly qualified professional in through their doors. Let’s face it, they’re all hiring.
So you’re sitting there, results on the screen, you’ve passed and you post excitedly about it on LinkedIn and then all of a sudden, 3-4 recruiters message you congratulations. What should you do? Now that you’re qualified, the world is pretty much your oyster. I mean it. Almost all firms will meet you for coffee and you can anticipate multiple offers, as well as a counter offer from your current employer.
So, what is there to think about?
Inevitably you’ve had that chat with your boss now and they’ve given you your pay rise (for many reaching qualification this can be quite a jump). Many of the top firms can sometimes give up to £10k more, whereas at other firms, this may look more like a £5k increase. Either way, what you should be considering, is if you are at market rate? This varies depending on location, size of firm, specialism and other qualifications you might hold, but I’m happy to talk this through with you if you’re not sure. For a super rough guide, newly qualified ACA/ACCA/CTA should be approx £38-44k outside of London and £42-48k inside London.
A lot of newly qualified practice candidates use this as an opportunity to move into commercial finance. Although there are a few myths surrounding this move, including the fact that you get more money, if you’re going to do it - now’s the time! Waiting until you’re a Manager in practice can seem like a good idea, and in certain specialisms it definitely pays off, but you’re more moldable when you’re newly qualified. Also, becoming too specialist can sometimes develop your skill set into something quite irrelevant for an internal finance department. Another thing to consider is moving to a top firm. Moving into industry is extremely competitive and quite often it is the Big 4/Top 10 professionals that are the first choice. Joining a top firm can do yourself favours in the long term. Alex Baxter Smith would be happy to discuss your first move to industry with you.
I often have conversations about job titles following on from results and my advice here is to not get too hung up on it. Titles vary firm to firm. Senior Accountant, Accounts Senior, Assistant Manager, Supervisor and Manager can all be the same level depending on the structure of where you work. It’s not your title that determines your level, it’s your skill set and responsibilities.
Are you doing the same role but now you’ve got letters after your name? Studying for an accountancy or tax qualification is hard work! The salary and role you get given after you’ve qualified is something you’ve earnt and deserve, in recognition of all your effort. If you find that your responsibilities haven’t changed and you’re still being expected to do the exact same level of work, then I would question whether your experience is really being valued. Are you getting exposure to more challenging work? Bigger clients? More advisory and less compliance? Managing/supervising staff?
Area of Specialism
If you’re already thinking about changing areas of specialism, e.g. leaving audit (you’re not alone), then now is the time! Working your way up and getting too specialist means that moving out of that area is going to be very tricky and nearly impossible if you’re not happy to take a pay cut. Don’t get too senior, too expensive and too specialist or you’ll get stuck. Making a move from accounts to tax or from mainstream accountancy into forensics or transactional services is best done as a newly qualified. At the same time, take into account the advantages of joining a top firm again. Many will hire you as an auditor and then within 12 months, let you embark on a secondment in the area of the business you’re actually keen on. This opportunity is not often a possibility in smaller firms.
This is probably what I hear most when having conversations with newly qualified professionals. “What do I do about the £1500 I’ll owe my firm if I leave?” I get it, it can be often be a big sum of money and it’s daunting but the majority of firms will help you out with these. Whether it’s paying it for you as a joining bonus, or helping you out with an interest free loan, they’ll help you cover it. And for bigger amounts, it’s always at least worth a conversation. Don’t let fees be the reason you don’t consider a move.
Other things to consider are the environment you’re in, wider benefits, long term career goals, etc. If you want to be a general practitioner, staying at BDO isn’t going to help - if you want to be a specialist in mergers & acquisitions, staying at Smith & Co won’t help. Be practical and think about your longer term goals. If you want to be Partner, do you want to be 1 of 4 partners, or 1 of 400? If you’re planning children in the next 5 years, how is your firm with flexible working? This is the time to think about your priorities and focus on what is going to get you to your goals but keep you happy at the same time.
Whatever it is on your mind, we all would be happy to have a conversation with you and hear out your thought process. I recommend at least establishing what options you have, alongside what your firm has to offer.
David Waddell is Managing Director at Harvey John.
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