Paul Gallagher is director – professional services for the finance & accountancy, HR and legal divisions at Kelly Services Hong Kong.
Accounting for all tastes: profession offers room to move
I am worried about my career path. I have been working in accounting since I graduated seven years ago. I cannot really see a future for me in the industry. I see myself becoming a partner and then senior partner, but I am not a sales-driven person, who enjoys handling lots of accounts, nor am I really leadership material. I love taking instructions and I excel best in such environments, but I am quite restless. If I do not progress, I will regress. Are there any alternatives out there?
First of all, this is not the first time that I have received such a query and I understand your predicament. I have been a finance and accountancy recruitment consultant for many years and this is a common problem for many in your field.
From your email, I presume that you are working for a certified public accountant (CPA) firm, where partners manage the sales side and "handle the accounts".
You mentioned that you graduated seven years ago, so I assume you have studied or at least know about the CPA/ACCA accountancy exams. If you have not passed them and like accounting, I would encourage you to take or finish the exams, regardless of whether you are staying in the accounting industry.
If you have passed them, I will assume you do like accounting work, and I encourage you to try to leave the accountancy sector and perhaps become a commercial accountant in an industry that you like or are more passionate about.
A role in commercial accounting would appeal to someone who enjoys taking instructions and enjoys being part of an accounting team. Although each company is different, broadly speaking, you will more likely have a smaller workload in a more focused environment. Finance departments in any medium to large organisation have a team-based structure and therefore need people to take instruction as well as give it.
From there it is important you find the right industry, so that you will be more passionate about what you are "accounting" for.
You can assess the companies within the industry, apply to them accordingly, and hopefully find a company, culture, team and boss you like. In fact, you may also look into the audit clients you serve, and see if there are opportunities there.
In some accounting firms, the partners may support some moves by their staff to become "clients".
Ultimately, if you become restless within a certain role in a company, but still like the industry, you will always be attractive to one of their competitors and can "progress" by joining them after a few years.
I wish you the best of luck, Penny.