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Should I stay or should I go?

Jan 13, 2020

Deciding where you want to be post-qualification might seem like an overwhelming decision, but it doesn’t have to be. Sinead Smith explains.

In the eight plus years that I have been in recruitment, my work has centred around people like you: Chartered Accountants Ireland students who are about to make the first big decision of their professional careers. This is always a time that is peppered with conflicting emotions. For some, apprehension over the exams is at the fore, while for others, it is the excitement of the finish line finally coming into view. 

Regardless of which feeling is most prominent for you, a common thread that unites all soon-to-be-qualified Chartered Accountants is an understanding that whatever move is made at the end of a training contract will play a significant part in shaping career trajectory, progression opportunities and earning potential.

This is apparent in the conversations that I have every exam season. Sure, these chats may start off tinged with a mild degree of panic but they quickly become about something much more important – taking control. You see, it is something of a misconception that the first big decision you will face as a Chartered Accountant will be about which role to accept. Rather, it is about what move makes the most sense for you, your interests and your ambitions. 

Knowledge is power

The first and, oftentimes, most important question a newly qualified Chartered Accountant will have to ask themselves is whether they should stay with their training firm or make an external move. Some of you will know instinctively what makes sense for your career but most report feeling torn – whether that is out of a sense of loyalty, a fear of the unknown or a hesitancy to make the wrong decision.

The easiest way to answer this dilemma is to arm yourself with knowledge. Briefly set any loyalties aside and consider what you want your career to look like in 10 years’ time and how you can achieve this. Look at potential career paths internally, read job specs for external roles, seek the counsel of trusted senior accountants who have been through this before or, indeed, recruitment consultants and the careers advisors within Chartered Accountants Ireland. You will likely find that the answer is clear after considering all angles and approaching the process methodically. 

Whatever you decide, remember that there’s no shame in staying and there’s no disloyalty in leaving.

Managing stress

Chartered Accountants are some of the most sought after professionals in Ireland and, as a newly qualified ACA, you will be entering into a market that is very much weighted towards you with a large number of roles across a variety of disciplines and sectors available at the click of a mouse. 

However, looking for a new role can become a full-time job in and of itself, and the failure to take full control of your recruitment process from the get-go can quickly begin to feel overwhelming. Get ahead of this by keeping close control of who has your CV and where and when it has been sent. 

  • Start an Excel spreadsheet to track job applications, CV submissions and set follow-up reminders.
  • Avoid registering with too many recruitment agencies initially. Limiting your involvement to two or three reputed agencies in the early stages ensures that you are covered on the market without losing track of your CV’s location.
  • Get the most from those agencies that you do choose to work with – leverage them for market knowledge, ask for CV advice, offload the administrative/scheduling work.
  • Begin with an open mind – you will find that you naturally gravitate towards some roles, companies and sectors more than others, and this will allow you to streamline your search and focus only on those opportunities that are viable. 

Leveraging the knowledge pool

Question everything. It might sound simplistic but asking questions of your peers and mentors, potential employers and recruitment consultants is the best way to feel like you are making a well-informed decision. Some good questions to ask your recruitment consultant or a potential employer include:

  • Is there a policy of training and mentorship?
  • How would you describe the corporate culture?
  • Is there a strong precedence for progression? Do you have examples of people who have progressed?
  • What could I expect from my first three months here?

Similarly, you likely spend every day surrounded by more experienced accountants. Turn to them as impartial sources of advice and a means of gaining a good understanding of the market and what a potential move could mean for your career.

Get ahead

Whether you stay with your training firm or decide to take the leap, get ahead of yourself by getting into the right mindset from early on. Being able to identify and explain your motivations goes a long way towards seamlessly managing the transition from trainee accountant to newly qualified and will ensure that you are following the path best suited to you and your priorities.

Sinead Smith is a Director of Newly Qualified Accountants at ACCPRO.