I’ve limited work experience so how do I launch my new career in finance?


Your early career is a time for learning and experimentation so even if you know you may want to work in finance, there are lots of different types of roles and industries that could be right for you.

Work out what it is you actually enjoy or don’t like by trying out different things.  Undertake internships, do some voluntary work or temp jobs in different types of organisations. If there are a number of options that interest you, then go and talk to individuals working in those sectors to find out more. There is so much information online about different careers, career resources available via ACCA etc. You can even look at LinkedIn to find the profiles of people working in the types of roles you are interested in to discover the career path they took to get there.

1) Anticipate what employers looking for?

While there are differences between roles, employers tend to look for the following skills and personality traits when they are hiring first-jobbers for Finance roles. 

  • Appropriate qualifications and knowledge
  • Fast-learner
  • IT skills
  • Ability to follow procedures
  • Accuracy and attention to detail
  • Analytical and problem-solving capabilities
  • Ability to work to deadlines
  • Communication skills
  • Team working
  • Initiative
  • Commercial awareness
  • Hard-working and resilient

They will be interested to see if you can demonstrate that you either have a natural aptitude for these, or you can quickly develop them.

2) Use your work experience

Whatever your previous career experiences, you will have lots of transferable skills that you can use to get a foothold in your new career. You may have experience working in a particular sector and this could be very useful to a finance team whose company operates in a similar space. You will have developed lots of soft skills, whether these are dealing with customers, team working or handling difficult situations. You will have needed to follow procedures, worked under pressure to meet deadlines or targets which can help show your conscientiousness and reliability. These are all highly relevant for a career in Finance so don’t underestimate the value of the skills and experience you have already acquired.

3) Extra-curricular activities

Don’t forget about any other positions of responsibility or projects you have been involved with, such as being a student representative, running a university society or participating in entrepreneurial ventures or artistic endeavours. You can use these to demonstrate your leadership potential, organisational abilities or creativity. Voluntary activities such as fundraising, youth work, or conservation projects can be used to show your energy, work ethic and community spirit; all attributes that suggest to the employer that you will be a good team player.

4) Reality-check

It’s important to position yourself in the job market for roles that are at an appropriate level for you so that you maximise your chances of success, rather than aiming too high or for roles that are too junior. Research the particular types of jobs you are interested in by checking out adverts and job descriptions, as well as talking to agencies and people who work in this field. Many of the big recruitment agencies also provide annual research information and salary surveys about the job market for finance professionals in different regions and this will give some useful information about entry-level roles.

5) Tackle any gaps

You may not yet have enough experience to step directly into your ideal job.  In this case, look at ways to fill these gaps. This might be by looking for additional opportunities to learn in your current organisation, perhaps through taking on additional duties, work-shadowing or taking on side-projects outside of working hours. Also consider unpaid work experience such as a finance roles for a charity committee or consider a stepping stone role which is still linked to your current job but has more of a finance element or is in the industry you want to get into.

6) Reassure employers

Prospective employers will be impressed by your commitment to studying for ACCA but may be concerned about your lack of experience. Counter this by positioning your new career as a natural progression as you discovered more about the things you were good at and enjoyed. Focus on your transferable skills and try to show how even in unrelated roles, the seeds of your new career were already present.

7) Chronology 

When talking to employers, focus on your suitability for this new role rather than talking about your previous career first. Use a functional CV which uses the first page to outline your technical finance skills and capabilities in detail, along with any relevant experience before outlining your employment history on the second page. 

8) Inside track

Aim to come across as someone who is ‘in the know’ rather than a novice. Make sure you are up to speed with the challenges and trends in your new sector including how technology, impending regulation or political changes might impact on the role.

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9) CV and applications

These need to be tailored to each job and organisation. For instance, if you have been working in a mobile phone shop and are interested in applying for a finance role for a particular technology firm, then you could describe yourself in the profile on your CV as follows:

'ACCA qualified gradate used to dealing with cost calculations, payment processes and complying with strict financial procedures as a result of my experience working in retail sales for a mobile phone store. Enjoyed advising customers on the different cost models and the plan which would work best for them given their needs and budget.  Interested to use these financial and analytical business skills to further a career in accountancy'.

Include details of all your course modules if it is related to the jobs you are applying for, such as Audit or Tax. Also draw out elements from your course such as data analysis, original research, group project work, creativity and presentations along with your software skills as these are all directly transferable to the workplace.

You can include hobbies and interests but make sure they are genuine and be careful about what they say about you.

10) No room for error

The employer is judging not only the content of your CV or application but the way you go about applying for the role. Your application needs to be impeccably well presented with a covering letter to show your professionalism. Ask someone else to check your application before it is sent, to weed out any errors or clumsy phrasing. Errors in your CV are the fastest way to end up in the reject pile as the employer will assume rightly or wrongly that you have poor attention to detail and lack the conscientiousness to produce work of good quality.

11) Digital footprint

Keep your professional and personal on-line life separate. Make sure your privacy settings are tight on any personal social media pages and that there is nothing a potential employer can find out about you that might deter them.

12) Be proactive in your job search

Don’t rely only on advertised posts as you are likely to be competing with a high volume of other candidates who may have more experience than you. You should also try different methods of contacting employers. Network wherever you can, bringing in favours from family and friends. Write to those people you want to work for directly. Use Twitter and LinkedIn to follow and have dialogue with companies and individuals who you are interested in working for. You won’t get a response every time but the more energy you put into this the more likely you will find an opening. This initiative is precisely the kind of quality that employers look for in their new recruits. 

13) Action plan

It’s easy to get distracted so a structured project management approach to your career change is more likely to reap results than erratic fits and starts. It doesn’t mean this has to be rigid, your plan always needs to be open to change, but giving yourself targets and tasks can keep your energies focused.

Corinne Mills is Managing Director of Personal Career Management, the leading specialists in career management and outplacement services who are the official Career Management partners for the ACCA.

As part of ACCA Member benefits, Personal Career Management offer ACCA Members a free career conversation and a 10% discount off any career coaching or outplacement programme. 

If you are looking for help in reaching your career goals, or assistance with a practical job search strategy, then call Personal Career Management on +44 1753 888 995 for a confidential discussion or fill in their online contact form


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