Your Risk Career Questions Answered
Carol McLachlan, theaccountantscoach, is a qualified accountant, NLP Practitioner and professionally qualified coach. Her 18 year career at Ernst and Young as a chartered accountant and a Director of Resources has equipped her with a real understanding of the professional and personal issues that accountants face. Here Carol answers your career questions as our very own Risk Careers Advisor.
If you have any careers, skills development or promotion questions, please send them to Carol, who will endeavour to answer them.
There may be the odd occasion that Carol cannot answer due high demand for her time, but you can post your question on the CareersinAudit Group Facebook Page or in our LinkedIn Group where you can discuss current issues with other Risk professionals and Risk jobseekers from across the world.
Your Risk Career Questions Answered:
"I am currently at a crossroads and I am unsure as to the path I want to take! I am currently due to qualify this September from a top 6 audit firm (doing FS audit), and I have been offered a place in the banking division (FS) of a top 4 firm, at the assistant manager level, however I also have an equities product control role offer from a top bank.
My interests actually lie in Treasury and risk management, however I have found my audit time very useful, and it has not been possible to get into the this area as of yet.
My dilemma is that both careers offer in my opinion relatively equal pros and cons stability higher in audit and I am having trouble deciding.
Pros of Audit:
- Will be able to manage others
- Diverse client base and experiences
- Career progression more certain and stable
- Once I have spent >2 years PQ, I am concerned I will be stuck in audit and will not be able to move into industry
- Can be dull work at times and longer hours
- Lack of recognition for hard work (no overtime/minimal bonus)
Pros of PC:
- Higher salary and opportunity for bonus
- More interesting work on a day to day basis
- Less stable and investment banking is not very profitable anymore
- Career progression is uncertain
- May not be able to return to audit/elsewhere if I do not
- Will be at the bottom of the ladder again (no management opps)
I was wondering if you could provide some commentary on whether my pros and cons of audit are reasonable, and any advice you would give.
Thanks so much for your help, it is greatly appreciated."
It's great to see such a methodical and analytical approach to decision making. You've pipped me to the post here, as this is typically the process I would recommend as a starting point!
You've nailed the pros and cons pretty well but I will throw in a few challenges as well as some further considerations.
First up, remember that no career route is for life nowadays. In the twenty first century we would typically expect more of a zigzag pathway (as opposed to a linear progression) with moves sideways as well as upwards. So if you did choose to stay in audit beyond two years post qualification you wouldn't be stuck there for life and, similarly, dipping into investment banking doesn't preclude you from returning to audit in due course.
What stands out for me the most is how the investment banking fits with your overall career strategy if, even at the outset, you are not seeing it as a potential longer career pathway. I'm not sensing any passion for it. While it's not disastrous as a first post-qualified move, (even a short term one,) I think you would have to highly value the pros (new type of work and extra money) to really compensate for the cons. One way you can do this is to further appraise the options by applying a 'weighting' to each of the pros and cons and see how the two choices fare against one another.
The third option is, of course, to stay where you are and maybe wait it out for a suitable Treasury and Risk Management opportunity. You may like to evaluate the pros and cons of this too, similarly applying weightings.
As a final point, I think your Big 4 offer of financial services audit potentially offers you the middle ground here. It will provide another great brand for your CV, with some new specific sector experience, as well as the experience of a change of culture and a new network. It is also less of a sharp initial zigzag than the investment banking move and gives you a more circumspect taste of life after qualification.
Overall though, the decision has to be yours. I totally commend you on your approach and recommend that you continue to think strategically rather than being seduced by some of the shorter term benefits (like the money!) which may be on offer.
"I have been in HR recruitment for about 18 years, recently I had some exposure to recruiting Accounting Professionals. There is one aspect of Accounting that has caught my interest, Risk & Assurance. I would like to get your advice about which is the best route to pursue a career in Risk & Assurance. I am considering going to graduate school to get my Masters of Accounting because it opens up the possibility of getting on with a Big 4. I also know recruiters who work for a couple of the Big 4 organizations, I was wondering if I could approach the recruiters about possibly having a discussion with one of their managers about the possibility of bringing someone in with little to no accounting experience. I have been told this has happened before.
Which route would you consider the best route. I realize I will have to take a substantial pay cut either way. I am okay with this, but wanted to make sure I am putting myself in a situation that I can be successful."
Thanks for getting in touch and for raising this interesting question about transitioning to a career in Risk & Assurance.
As an in house big four recruiter, I did, on a fairly regular basis, encounter mature candidates seeking training contracts for the more traditional graduate entry positions. And I did indeed recruit them, and while I would say their search for a position was no easier than conventional entry into the big four, I would not say it was necessarily any harder either.
As with graduate entry, the big four will be looking for a very strong academic record (particularly at A level, 280 UCAS points being typical). While they may be prepared to relax slightly, the number of points for a mature candidate, you'd still be expected to demonstrate robust educational attainment.
Beyond academics, you will need to vigorously justify your career move, demonstrating that you've done your due diligence and really understand the demands of a role in Risk & Assurance. Be prepared to map across transferable skills and experience from your recruitment career to your proposed career in accountancy. Competencies such as communication, relationship building skills, team work and working under pressure are all highly convertible but you'll need to find a way of demonstrating, through practical anecdote, what you will bring to the new job. In fact, I would say that the latter is probably more important that taking a post graduate programme. Indeed, a master's in accountancy would indicate a strong commitment to the career change but it is a pretty costly investment with no guarantee that you'd meet the big four entry criteria.
And of course, the big four are not the only purveyors of a career in assurance. You'd be wise to consider mid tier firms as well as internal, as opposed to external, audit careers and qualifications in the public sector and/or industry. So, as I'm ever wont to say, you need to get your story straight and be able to articulate robustly why you have chosen to change careers, what you expect to get from your new career and what you are bringing to a new potential employer.
I think you are on the right lines by using your current network to do some due diligence and also build some relationships in assurance. While not openly acknowledged, targeted in house relationship building can sometimes be a method of short circuiting the traditional recruitment process, and if not, it will at least add to your invaluable sources of background knowledge.
“With homeworking now an option, many of my team members are now working from home more frequently which has left me picking up the additional work as I’ve become the go to person. Beyond the extra work, effectively communicating with them has become increasingly time consuming. With an already intense workload, do you have any advice to best navigate this situation?”
Effective communication is imperative.
Openly communicating your frustrations with your line manager is your first point of call. Highlighting the differences in responsibilities and expectations for those working at home to those office based needs to be formally acknowledged. From here you should discuss the rewards and recognition for these differences, consider discussing a pay rise, bonus, promotion or other benefits. If you feel you require it, additional support or compensatory change in an aspect of your role could be a further option.
By flagging your concerns with management, it will highlight the need for a more robust homeworking strategy. The practical differences of the two alternate working locations may have been overlooked by management and by flagging them, management will be able to implement better strategies to tackle the issues. For example, management may question:
- Is homeworking realistically a viable option for this particular role and team?
- Is there a better way to approach problem-solving issues and sort any non-routine problems for those who are homeworking?
- Should further resources be added to the department to address the problems?
Ironing out communication can be the best starting point for you in the meantime. Implementing a communication strategy which is answered, circulated and on hand by all team members is important. This strategy should include the following information:
- Best time to be contact
- Best method of communication - whether that be email, mobile, instant message or other
- Aimed response time
- Contact information if an ‘urgent’ situation arises and what constitutes as an urgent situation
- Alternate individuals to contact for specific projects or if unreachable
“For three days a week I work from home, and on my days off my boss continues to contact me. Initially this contact didn’t bother me as it was only five minutes every now and again, however it has now escalated and become a regular occurrence. It is getting to the point that I can no longer juggle my additional commitments. I don’t want to put my job at risk, but I can’t continue to be contacted this frequently on my time off. Any advice?”
Whilst undoubtably an annoying situation, if viewed from your boss’s perspective, or even the company, then the challenge is likely to be even more exciting. With the switching from the traditional full-time Monday to Friday roles to the myriad of flexible situations, I can appreciate that your boss may simply not understand your working flexible arrangement.
It’s important to educate and communicate this. You could either approach your boss directly or enlist the help of the HR department. I have listed some points of agreement below:
- Is your boss aware of your exact working days and hours? Implementing aide-memoirs, like emails and phone alerts, would be a way flag this with the use of appropriate phone and email alerts.
- If an ‘urgent’ situation arises, criteria surrounding appropriate contact on days off needs to be agreed upon and the definition of what constitutes as an ‘urgent situation’ needs to be discussed.
- A first port-of-call for your boss on your days off should be assigned. Whether this be a designated support staff who is available to debrief you or a team member or peer. This ‘back-up’ provides piece of mind that there will be someone available to answer queries or pass information onto you on your next working day. Essentially, it ensures nothing is falling through the cracks.
When approaching these discussions, a constructive approach to your communication is above all. Framing your discussions as a method of implementing ‘best practice’ approaches for your organisation and as a way to ensure individual expectations are being met is an advisable approach.
“I am looking to relocate my risk career from the USA. I have experience both with a Big Four and other large practices with 7 years of specific risk experience. Whilst I enjoy my current work, I am looking to move to either Australia or New Zealand. I’m entering my late 40s and would need sponsorship for the move. I am looking at consultancy work yet want to avoid being stuck with 15-hour days. Whilst I am ready to move now, I’m not wanting to move without having a position secured, do you have any advice on how to find the best possible position?”
Moving both career and location is a huge decision and clearly one you are taking seriously. I think a starting point is identifying what is driving this move? Why are you looking for such major change? Is working and living abroad the major factor? If it’s about the living abroad experience that is the work itself overly important? Would any reasonable position within a reasonable salary range be acceptable? Or, did you have a specific career path in mind? And what about location? What about Australia or New Zealand makes them your top choice? Are there other locations that are also on the list?
Understanding your motivation is vital for two reasons. First, a grasp on your motivation ensures the direction you take meets your aspirations. Secondly, sponsorship can be an intensive process so having a watertight game plan is necessary to convince potential employers that you are worth investing in.
Once you understand what your motivators are, researching could begin by looking at the Big Four. Whilst it may not necessarily be the end game to work for a Big Four, it is more about accessing the international client base they serve. You can deepen your search by making contact directly from the USA through their international desks, accessing online discussion groups or setting up job alerts through CareersinRisk.com. A possible vacation to Australia or New Zealand would also allow you to experience the lifestyle that these locations offer whilst also developing a network of contacts.
Whichever avenue to choose, it is vital that you have your story straight before you begin applying for roles. Being able to clearly articulate what you are looking will reassure any potential employer that you aren’t a risky investment.
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