Navigating the three Cs: contracts, companies and counteroffers

Jan 13, 2021
As a soon-to-be newly qualified accountant, you might not fully understand how you go about taking the next step in your career. Sinead Smith guides you through the most asked-about aspects of job hunting.

Every year, I speak with hundreds of newly qualified Chartered Accountants who are trying to figure out what their next step looks like. The rare few know exactly what they want to do, but the majority are unsure, and many are looking for answers to help them figure it out. In my experience, most lines of questioning will be varied and largely influenced by individual interests but, within all conversations, some topics prove universal: contracts, companies and counteroffers.

Contract work

2020 was a year like no other and it follows that the current job market is not like anything we’ve seen before. While signs are very positive, it is worth remembering that the market is evolving and, in a time of great flux, there is a marked increase in the volume of contract roles to take advantage of.

Where traditionally contracts were largely considered inferior to getting a permanent role, they are now regarded as highly dynamic career opportunities that can offer a wider breadth of experience across some unique fields of interest. For instance, hard-to-find skills like systems implementation, commercial accounting, business intelligence tools and financial modelling are currently among the most requested in the market and contracts can provide the opportunity to quickly develop this experience, adding long term value to your CV.

It is also a misconception that contracts automatically mean that you are counting down the clock to being unemployed. Some companies, particularly larger PLCs and multinationals, have set a strong precedence for hiring ACAs to cover specified purpose contracts (projects, maternity leave, etc) and then keeping them on. Ultimately, by the end of 9 to 12 months, you will know the business inside and out, and will be a valued team member. It is a no-brainer for them to ask you to stay if they can.

Company size

We tend to gravitate towards what we know. Those who trained in large firms may find it hard to imagine themselves in a smaller environment whereas the opposite is often true for those who are used to being part of close-knit team. 

However, it is important to understand that company size often determines the scope of a role and that is why it is important to identify what you want from your new role, rather than basing it solely on what you think you know.

For instance, if you want to work “close to the business” by having a hand in everything, being privy to decision-making and seeing where you add value, you will likely only find this in small and mid-sized companies. Conversely, larger companies offer the security of knowing that you are one part of a process, that you have a wide network of support at your disposal and a clearly defined progression path.


You have identified that you want to leave your current company. You have gone through multiple rounds of interviews and, at the end of it all, you find yourself with an offer that you are excited to accept. Happy days! 

But, when you go to hand your notice in, your employer throws you a curveball. They offer you more money to stay. Or perhaps a promotion. Or maybe they let you know that they have shortlisted you for an upcoming secondment. Your head is spinning and you don’t know what to do.

Counteroffers are exceedingly common in a market where it is hard to get good staff but, it is important to remember that 50% of those who accept counteroffers leave within 12 months. Why? Because they were leaving for a reason and, likely, those reasons have not changed. 

While there is no right or wrong way to respond to a counteroffer, it is worthwhile being prepared for the upsell on staying and knowing how to handle it. 

It is important to hear them out. Likely what they are offering won’t have changed your motivations for leaving and you can politely explain to them that you are keen to pursue options outside your current firm. They will probably wish you well – you won’t be the first person to leave, nor will you be the last – and accept your notice letter.

However, if it is something you wish to consider, thank them for the offer and tell them you will discuss it at home and revert by a certain date. This gives you space to think. It can be hard, after working with someone for so long, to set loyalties aside but, it is advisable to ensure that the decision you make is motivated by your own preferences and not theirs (a good old pros and cons list can help!). Remove everything but the facts and figures and make the decision that feels right for you, rather than the one that feels easy.

Sinead Smith is Director of Newly Qualified Accountants at ACCPRO.