Is Bigger Always Better?
An article discussing the factors chartered accountants should consider when making their first move into industry.
As recruiters we are often asked for career advice on whether it is better to work for large blue chip organisations or for smaller businesses. This is often most pertinent for recently qualified ACAs who are looking for their first move into industry but are unsure of the sort of business they want to work for.
The truth is, there is no straight forward answer to this question and is very dependent on experience, personality type and an individual’s long term goals as well as the specific organisations’ ambitions for growth. This article will explore some of the factors you should consider before simply discounting roles on the basis of size alone!
What does big business have to offer?
Larger organisations will no doubt be offering newly qualified accountants roles that are more focused. These may be within financial control, reporting, management accounting or more planning and analysis roles but it will be rare to find a role that is a combination of all three.
Top employers overcome the ‘boredom’ factor by rotating their people even if an upwards move isn’t on the cards. Given that most ambitious individuals begin to get itchy feet after 18 months and will most likely start searching for a move after a couple of years in the same role, this is an essential part of large companies managing and retaining their top talent. As part of this, employees in this environment should expect regular reviews with their line manager and / or HR to understand career goals and how the business will help them achieve these.
Politics and self-promotion
Individuals working in large blue chips will often be faced with big personalities and internal politics; to get to the top in this sort of environment, you will need to master these. It is important to note, this doesn’t mean shouting about how good you are, stepping on people’s toes and fighting your way to the top. Inevitably, this sort of approach will mean you break more relationships than you make! The right approach is to network thoroughly, work hard and constantly strive to improve / achieve – gone are the days when just doing the day job well will be enough.
A career in a large company can be highly progressive and lucrative with excellent benefits but make sure you ask the right questions at interview. Don’t focus only on the role but look to understand career growth, talent planning and career development opportunities. A short time in a role that’s not perfect can be a worthwhile sacrifice for the right long term career.
What about smaller businesses?
Smaller organisations will often be offering opportunities that support a wider remit and so on paper often look more appealing, but it is much harder to guarantee career progression in the same way larger companies do.
There’s no place to hide
Whilst in some larger companies it is possible to forge a career out of being a good manager, delegator and politician, in a small company environment this sort of approach will quickly be exposed. From a positive standpoint, your achievements will be quickly recognised and rewarded and you will more likely have a greater impact on the bottom line!
Chemistry is key
If you are set on working for a smaller business make sure you have a good relationship with your potential boss and the team as the likelihood is you will be spending a lot of time with them and won’t always have a new one in the next couple of years.
Small doesn’t mean unknown
There is a perception that working for a small business is somehow less glamorous than working for a blue chip. I wonder if a finance director with an equity stake in a rapidly growing PE backed company that is preparing for floatation on the stock market would agree? The reality is working within a small business can be extremely rewarding, helping you to achieve not only you career ambitions but your financial ones! The trick is to be picky; do your research in order to make an informed decision.
What about banking / Financial Services?
As a recruitment business predominantly outside of London but very commutable to it, we have a lot of people wanting to make the move away from this sector. Long hours and mundane roles do not always make the big pay check worthwhile! From experience, making the move out into industry can also be challenging with a potential pay cut and a less competitive skill set for a regional job market where there are few financial services entities.
There is little doubt that some accountants enjoy process, structure and routine whilst others thrive on change, variety and being exposed to a wide remit. Big 4 auditors are by nature trained to be process driven and large companies like to recruit this sort of individual as they will most likely have a complex structure and controls driven environment. By the same token smaller entities will often have a preference for those with a smaller practice background or those with a mixed audit / accounts preparation skill set. Personality fit is often more about company culture as opposed to size so it is important to do your research on an organisation’s ethos and values. Use the tools available to you including LinkedIn to understand the sorts of people and backgrounds of those in the business. This can give you a really good picture of the people the business tends to recruit and whether you are likely to be a strong fit. As well as this you may find an ex-colleague or two who have made the move which will allow you to get an excellent informal reference on the business.
It’s clear that making your first move into industry is a hugely important one and one that can shape the rest of your career so there are a number of things to consider below which may be useful.
- Why am I leaving audit / practice, what do I like / not like about my current role?
- Do I have a strong preference for a large or small organisation and why?
- Is role or company more important to me at this stage of my career?
- What are my ultimate career ambitions?
- Ask for advice and speak to a specialist finance / accountancy recruiter you can trust.
As recruiters, we are often tarnished with the brush that we simply want the fee and don’t care where we place our candidates. This is a comment that I would strongly disagree with. A good recruiter’s job is to ensure we find not only the right skill-set, but equally a strong cultural fit as well as managing ambition and expectations from both a candidate and client perspective. If we get this wrong and have a string of unhappy individuals who feel we miss-sold them the opportunity, it is our reputation on the line and inevitably our client relationships will never last. Once a recruiter has a bad name it is very hard to re-build! The best recruiters are therefore the ones who are strong advocates of their clients and provide their candidates with honest, sound advice on a consistent basis.
Article Written by Rory McDermott
Senior Associate – Vitae Financial Recruitment
Image courtesy of -Marcus- FreeDigitalPhotos.net