Planning your career strategically

content maps career plan

It’s a cruel fact that some of the most important decisions of our working life happen right at the start when we have the least experience and for accountants, one of the biggest is choosing a specialism.

The good thing is, although you might not have a great deal of experience, it’s still possible to make a smart, well-informed choice that will set you up in a sector that suits your broader skillset and interests. The key is taking the time to research which one will be a good fit for you, as well as what you can do to make yourself most attractive to the right employers.

Consider your career

The first step, before delving into the minutiae of how various specialisations or firms stack up against each other, it’s worth taking a step back and considering your long-term career goals as these will help you make a host of important choices further down the line. Start by clearly defining your ambitions and mapping out some desirable career paths. There is no one-size-fits-all approach here, but some useful questions include:

  • Where do I see myself in five years or 10 years?
  • Do I want to work longer hours to get ahead quickly, or is work-life balance more important to me at this stage of my career?
  • What sort of company culture am I looking for?
  • Am I open to working remotely, either permanently or for the near term?

Asking these questions now gives you a much clearer picture of what ‘good’ looks like. This helps guide a host of big decisions further down the line, and ultimately hopefully sets you up for an excellent career in accountancy. 

Choosing a specialism

For many people, the first of these big decisions is which specialisation to go for. Depending on how you’ve qualified, your exposure to various types of specialism may vary significantly. Those who’ve trained within industry generally have a solid grounding across most aspects of transactional finance, as well as areas like financial reporting, financial analysis and month end accounting. On the other hand, those who trained with the Big Four or an accounting practise often have a good background in sectors like audit and assurance but may not have ticked the hands on, general accounting experience box just yet.

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However, a lack of familiarity with a given specialism need not be a barrier. Speaking to people within that discipline can give a good overview of how it differs from other areas of accountancy, as well as the unique skills needed to flourish. For example, specialisations such as forensic accounting or tax usually involves working alongside legal professionals. You will spend a lot of time dealing with litigation and legislation, so an interest in the law is hugely advantageous. On the other hand, for people going into audit and assurance, the emphasis is far more on risk analysis and management, working with everyone from struggling companies that are going through tough times, to firms which are stellar examples of best practice and leaders in their field. Handling so many varied situations and stakeholders at senior levels demands excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Every specialisation has its own pros and cons but taking the time to research the broader skills needed is vital in ensuring you find a role which inspires you, rather finding out too late that your choice doesn’t match your personality or interests.

Appealing to employers

Finally, after you’ve looked into specialisms and found one that suits you, the next step is picking the right employer and making yourself as appealing a prospect as possible. Again, research is essential. Above all, it ensures you’re targeting practices which are well-suited to your ambitions, but it also allows you to demonstrate your interest in them specifically during a job interview. Make sure you think about key questions they might ask and prepare answers ahead of time. Do they have a strong vision or ethos that guides them as a practice, or are there noteworthy case studies of theirs that you can discuss? 

Beyond that, ensuring that you’re staying up to date with goings on in the market and expanding your professional network through events or virtual conferences are excellent ways to demonstrate your dedication to potential employers. In many cases, particularly for junior roles, employers are looking for determination and a strong work ethic more than first rate qualifications. 

Finding your own path

Forging a rewarding career is almost never straight-forward. Most interesting careers take several unexpected twists and turns along the way, and so it’s important not to feel that there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ direction to take your professional life. However, a little planning early on around your long-term career goals, as well as the broader skills you want to develop and use on a daily basis, makes all the difference in finding that fulfilling role as soon as possible.

Author: Jermaine Lynch, Division Manager at Robert Half

Jermaine Lynch is a Division Manager with Robert Half International and works in the UKs’ flagship Shard office. His primary focus is servicing junior transactional professionals, part qualified and newly qualified accountants and assisting them find opportunities within commerce and industry.

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