Five things you can do now to accelerate your career once you qualify

Mar 01, 2019
There are many routes through your training that you can take, but they all lead to very specific paths once you qualify. Here are five things you can do now to ensure you get the best opportunities later.

By Neil Murphy ACA

Your time as a trainee accountant is finite. Assuming the exams and training go according to plan, at some stage, perhaps even in the not-too-distant future, you’ll have your FAEs in the rear-view mirror, your letters after your name and you’ll begin charting your course as a qualified accountant. 

As a qualified accountant, some paths will be more likely and some less so. This depends on the context of your exposure during your training contract and a few other things that are within your sphere of influence today. There are five things that will matter the most in terms of job opportunities when you qualify. Here’s a guide on what they are and, more importantly, what you can do about them starting today:

Pillar of activity

Broadly speaking, your client base will either be within financial services (any company with a financial product or service) or industry (any company with a non-financial product or service). If your client base is solely in one pillar, you’re going to find yourself pointed towards roles in that pillar in the future. Do you have lots of experience in the asset management aspect of the financial services pillar? Guess what! Asset management companies will be the place that’s most relevant due to your specific experience.

Barden tip:
Try to avoid having an overly niche client base. Only having funds audit experience will not do you any favours in the future unless you see that future in funds. Push, volunteer, cajole and lend a hand wherever you can to diversify your exposure within or between the two pillars. 

Organisational structure

Often overlooked but of fundamental importance is business structure – group function, shared services centre (SSC), strategic business units (SBU) and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME). The like-with-like concept also applies here. Is the majority of your exposure to smaller SMEs? Guess what? SMEs will continue to be the most appropriate place for you to start your career, and you will be pulled in that direction when you qualify. 

Barden tip: Look beyond company type and towards company structure. Focus on where you can diversify your experience by looking at the nature of the entity which you are exposed to, rather than just where it sits.


Size does matter and, like it or not, it’s easier to move from a large company to a smaller one than it is to move the other way around. There are many reasons for this but, in our experience, this rule consistently holds true. The larger your company exposure (in terms of revenue and headcount, not just “assets under management”), the more options you are going to have once you qualify. 

Barden tip: No surprises here – make sure to get a few big company assignments under your belt. Simple.

Performance rating

Your performance rating really does matter, especially the bigger and more prestigious ones. If we applied the Barden Scale (1 = top performer, 3 = meets expectations, 5 = you’re out the door) then you really have to consistently hit a 2 or higher if you want to make the grade for some of the bigger Irish Plcs, etc. Otherwise, it’s highly unlikely you’ll make the shortlist come time for recruitment.

Barden tip: You’ll get a 2+ if you come to work every day looking to do the job you want and not the job you have. Having asked hundreds of 2+ rated accountants over the years, this is the most consistent response. You’re in control of how you work, not your boss.


Any non-standard exposure you get during your contract is going to help you stand out. Be it an internal move for a few months over the summer or an external secondment to cover a less than glamorous project; any morsel of extra experience is going to help you stand out from the crowd. More than 1,300 accountants qualify every year, so the smallest of edges can make all the difference. 

Barden tip: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Make sure to position yourself correctly within the company and industry to increase the chance of being asked to take career-changing opportunities.