Changing jobs while studying

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Most student accountants expect to move jobs in order to build their careers – perhaps to expand their skill set, gain new responsibilities, or to experience a different industry sector. But what does moving jobs mean for your ACCA studies?

Two recent ACCA prize winners tell us how they managed to change jobs while also progressing through their ACCA exams.

Michael Foster – Advanced Performance Management prize winner, December 2019

  • Current role: Assistant accountant, Dechert LLP
  • Reason for moving: To gain new skills and more workplace recognition for ACCA exam success
  • Membership status: Achieved April 2020

Michael Foster went into accounting straight from school, having enjoyed studying accountancy at A-level.

‘I could see that every accountant plays a crucial role within an organisation, which also makes it a very interesting job and one that puts you at the heart of any business,’ he says.

Michael started his career as an AAT apprentice with a London-based firm, where he also began his ACCA studies.

‘I was attracted by the route to a professional qualification without needing a degree,’ he says, ‘and also because ACCA offers a wide range of modules, giving you knowledge of many different aspects of accountancy. I also wanted a qualification with international recognition as this can really make you stand out, especially if you want to work for a multinational organisation.’

When Michael began to prepare for the Strategic Professional exams, however, he realised that it was time to look for a new job: ‘I decided I needed a more diverse role that offered more opportunities to develop my skills. I also felt that, despite my good progress though the ACCA exams, I wasn’t being rewarded with greater workplace responsibility. In fact, the lack of opportunity to use the skills I was learning was actually becoming demotivating.’

Michael now works as an assistant accountant in the London office of global law firm Dechert LLP.

‘I work on meeting tax requirements, both here in London and for a number of our European offices,’ he says, ‘and I also work on monthly balance sheet reconciliations and payroll, and help with year-end audit and journal calculations.’

So how did Michael manage the move while part way through his exams?

‘I had to take a short break from my ACCA studies while I completed my probationary period with Dechert,’ he explains, ‘which meant that my progress through the Strategic Professional exams took longer than planned. Overall, however, the transition between employers was smooth, and before I left my old job I made sure to get all my completed PER signed off.’

For Michael the move has definitely been a success, and something he would recommend to other ACCA students in a similar position.

‘It’s definitely worth considering a move if you feel that your current role no longer offers opportunities for career progression, especially as you move through your ACCA studies,’ he says. ‘For the same reason, if you want to find a new job, it’s important to find an employer who can support your studies with more opportunities to develop your skills, not just with financial support. I have certainly found that my current workplace progression has made my ACCA studies much more rewarding, and certainly increased my motivation, both at work and when preparing for my next ACCA exam.’

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Alex Milligan – Tax prize winner, December 2019

  • Current role: Trainee accountant, Russells WBHO Ltd
  • Reason for moving: Career development and the chance to work in a different industry sector
  • Membership status: Aiming for end 2021

Alex Milligan began his career after completing a maths degree. His first job was with a teacher recruitment company in his home town of Blackpool, UK, where he gained experience of a range of accounting processes, as well as developing advanced Excel techniques.

However, despite being in line for a potential promotion, Alex decided to leave his job and move to Manchester – mainly to join his girlfriend but also to develop his career.

‘Manchester is a much bigger city than Blackpool, and with a growing economy, so I thought it would be an opportunity to try something new and to build on the accounting knowledge I had gained so far. I was also keen to work in a different industry sector and with new people, as I consider this to be one of the best ways to learn.’

As Alex was already part way through his ACCA studies (‘I was attracted by ACCA’s flexibility,’ he says, ‘and by the wide range of knowledge covered by the syllabus’) it was ‘a priority’ that any a new employer could provide ACCA study support.

‘I didn’t want to find myself struggling to finish the qualification,’ he says, ‘but with good exam results on my CV I was confident that any prospective employer would see I was worth the investment.’

Alex’s job hunt quickly proved successful and he joined construction company Russells WBHO in January 2020. He started working in the sub-contractor team, and supporting weekly payroll, before moving into accounts receivables and working as part of the management accounts team. Alex’s ACCA studies were paused while he completed his six-month probationary period, but ‘I expected study to be easier when I began again,’ he says, ‘if only because I was continuing to learn with Kaplan Manchester – my existing tuition provider – and no longer had to commute from Blackpool for my studies.’

Alex plans to gain ACCA membership in 2021, and hopes this will enable him to realise his longer term ambition of moving into a senior role.

‘From what I can see,’ he says, ‘I need to work in a number of different positions in order to gain the experience required – and ACCA will help me do this.’

Having made a successful career move, Alex advises other students to ‘do your research’ before taking any decisions: ‘Compare your potential career route with your current role and assess how long it could take you to get to ACCA membership, and the level of study support on offer.’

But he also knows that students will have other motivations to move.

‘Having worked at my previous employer for four years I was ready to experience something new,’ he admits, ‘but if you know what you want, and are passing your ACCA exams first time, then other employers will want to hire you. Have confidence and take time to find the ideal fit.’

This article was first published in Student Accountant

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