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Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

 1st Nov 2023

This is a question that many newly qualified accountants in practice will start to ask themselves, and it’s a tough one! 

While some of you may have very set plans beyond qualification, most have only been focused on getting through exams and haven’t had a chance to consider your future until now. 

We have touched on the pros and cons of practice and industry in a previous blog – weighing up these can aid your decision making. However, what can be most helpful is to consider your long term career aspirations and work back from there.  

Generally speaking, people tend to have four themes of answer when asked about their aspirations - we have compiled some pointers to help you think this question through carefully: 

  1. “I want to become Partner”  

If you have ambitions to become a Partner, the best route is to stay in practice. It is much less common for a Partner to come from industry, even if they have initially trained in practice. Usually, becoming Partner is achieved by staying with your training firm or transferring to a competitor to get a step up to the next level.  

What is worth considering now is what area you want to become Partner in, for example, if you are really looking to transfer out of Audit into Advisory or Corporate Finance, you should plan to make this transition as early as possible after you qualify, making a move like that as a Director or a Partner is far less likely. 

  1. “I want to become a Financial Controller, and perhaps ultimately, a CFO or CEO”  

If you have the ambition to become a leader in industry, staying on in practice after your training contract is less likely to get you where you want to go. Why? 

The more years you spend in any discipline e.g. audit, the more specialised / knowledgeable you become in that area and the harder it becomes to demonstrate how transferrable your skills are into something new – particularly if other candidates have been building years of experience in the new discipline into which you would like to move. Therefore, staying on in practice to receive a bump in salary or Manager job title will make your move more difficult. 

  1. “I want a commercially focused career”  

Commercial is a word open to interpretation but what most will mean by this is a role that will offer the real ‘value add’ decisions and strategy to a business; or in other words – where accountancy overlaps with business acumen and removed from technical policy. If this is the case for you, you are best to move from practice before manager level as this is when you will be most transferrable as per above. 

  1. “I am not sure where I want my career to take me and want to keep my options open”  

 If you are not 100% sure on your end goal, consider the following questions: 

  • Enjoy the work you are doing? If yes, staying on for a little while until you feel more comfortable in your decision is not a bad thing – just don’t leave it too long!  

  • Not ready to leave but would like to do something new? It might be an idea to look internally and externally for different roles in practice like internal audit, consulting, project management or similar. This type of move can sometimes give you the best of both worlds and can open up alternative career opportunities down the line beyond finance teams! 

  • Torn because you feel a sense of loyalty to your team or Partner? You really need to put that to one side. You have given 3 or 4 years most likely working long hours and now is the time to put yourself and your future first.   

  • Scared you might not enjoy industry? Many people move from practice to industry and back again and this can even enhance your marketability in practice by having worked in the client side – there is nothing wrong with trying it out. 

  • Do I need to be fully committed to leaving before considering external roles? No. Ultimately understanding your options both internally and externally will help you form an opinion on what’s best for you – sometimes having explored the market externally you might decide to stay put. Think of each interesting role as an exploration. Often the grass is greener on the other side, but not always!  

In summary: 

The above only scratches the surface of our original question and the right answer for you might not be the right answer for the person sitting next to you! 

Seek out advice from knowledgeable sources (peers, your managers, former colleagues, knowledgeable / trustworthy recruiters etc.), align your aspirations for the future with the decisions you make today and make sure you do what’s best for you and your career.  

Coming out of your training contract in 2023 or 2024? Do you want to make sure you make the very best first step after qualifying?  

Reach out to one of the W&A team here for objective, personalised, confidential advice. 


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