As a bit of a back ground, prior to working for Ford Peterson, I recruited extensively for ASX Top 200 businesses from qualified level through to GM of Finance.
Approximately 30% of these positions were first movers from professional services.
Since moving to Ford Peterson I’ve focused heavily on professional services recruitment and one of the most common questions I get from candidates is:
How do I move to commerce?
So thought it worthwhile covering the main points relating to that question.
There are, broadly speaking, two types of candidates in professional services:
Those that want to stay in professional services and progress to partner within a
Those that want to move into commerce as soon as possible;
If you are the latter, the questions you need to consider are:
- When is the best time to move to commerce?
- What positions should you be targeting?
- What is the typical profile of the person who is getting the job you want?
The simple answer to all of those questions is, there is no simple answer.
When is the best time to move to commerce?
As a general rule, if your primary goal is to move into commerce as soon as possible, you should wait until you have completed your CA.
The only real exception to this is if you get offered a position that is too good to turn down.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
Hiring managers view the CA sort of like they view a university degree and feel that the training you get working in professional services in the first 3 years of your career helps you form an excellent knowledge base in accounting and business;
It takes 3 years, with practical experience, to complete your CA, so waiting until you complete your CA shows to future employers that you are able to stick it out until the end of a project;
Moving out sooner than this can often mean ending up in a very transactional level type role and you could find it difficult to progress;
If you think that you would like to stay within technical reporting then you really should try and stay in professional services until you get to Manager or Senior Manager level and in a perfect world you will have spent 2 of those years in a technical advisory team.
What positions should you be targeting?
As a rule, you should always be targeting positions that will utilise your experience to date while providing you with enough challenges to move forward in your career.
The positions you target really depend on your medium to long term goals.
If you want to be a Group FC then it is a no brainer, you should be going for group financial accounting positions, ideally within a large ASX listed business.
If however you are like most people we meet and want to move into a Commercial Manager position then it is a little more complicated.
The path of least resistance out of audit for example is:
- Financial Accountant / Internal Audit
- Commercial Analyst
- Senior Commercial Analyst
- Commercial Manager
The fact is that some businesses are happy to take someone straight out of professional services into a Commercial Analyst position because people who have excelled in the Big 4 for example, are generally high calibre and the business is hiring you on your potential.
So if you can get one of those positions then brilliant.
That said, most businesses won’t hire someone straight from audit or business services into a Commercial Analyst position because learning a completely different job as well as all the other challenges that come with working in commerce can be overwhelming.
Moving into a Financial Accounting or an Internal Audit position however can be a softer landing because you should already have a very good base knowledge in both, making all the other challenges of moving into commerce far more manageable.
If you hold out for a Commercial Analyst position you may not get it for 1 or 2 years, if ever, and if your goal is to eventually become a Commercial Manager, taking a Financial Accountant or Internal Audit position is moving you towards that goal.
Equally, if you are working with smaller clients, as an intermediary step you should seriously consider moving to another professional services firm that will offer you the experience you need to get the job you want.
What is the typical profile of the person who is getting the jobs you want?
The typical profile of the people that are securing the move from professional services to commerce is:
- 3-7 years Big 4, usually audit;
- CA qualified, first time passes;
- UAI 90+;
That is the honest truth.
There are a few reasons for this, however the main ones are:
- If it is a technical reporting role, Big 4 audit is almost always essential because you need to have a base knowledge of the accounting issues effecting larger businesses you just don’t get in business services;
- The Big 4 have excellent training and development;
- If you are working with large businesses, you will have experienced working with, and influencing, a broad range of stakeholders;
At the end of the day there are no hard and fast rules and lots of people successfully move from professional services to commerce that do not fit the above profile.
Additionally there are lots of examples of excellent 2 and 3 partners firms that do some very interesting consulting work that will set you up for a successful career in commerce, if that is what you want.That said, if you aren’t working in the Big 4 or a Top 10 firm the questions you need to be asking yourself are:
- What experience
- am I currently getting that is making the job I want more accessible to me?
- Are there any examples of people who have worked where I am that are in the job I want
- What intermediary steps can I take now that will get me closer to having the ideal candidate profile for the job I want?
Taking the time to consider those questions regularly will go a long way to helping ensure you stay on the right path.
The take away message from all of this is:
- There are lots of different paths to the job you want in 10 years, if you take the time now to decide what that job is you will give yourself the best chance of getting it.
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