Conquering career doubts

At some point during your studies you may question whether accountancy was the right career choice. Iwona Tokc-Wilde offers some advice on how to overcome the jitters

Maybe you have failed a couple of exams, maybe you are bored or burned out. But before you throw in the towel, consider if your confusion is just a temporary affliction that can be easily cured.

‘Those first three years of an accounting career can be challenging,’ says Sarah McIlroy, director of undergraduate programmes at BPP University. ‘Studying hard while also working hard and trying to build a career can be very tough, so it’s no surprise that, during this time, some people get cold feet or think that the profession is not for them.’

The jitters

You may experience doubts as soon as you start your studies simply because you do not know enough about the many career paths that are available to you within the profession.

‘If you want a career in accountancy, it helps to know in advance which of the many paths you want to follow,’ says McIlroy. ‘At BPP, we work very closely with employers so that students get every opportunity to engage with them and find out what an accountant’s life is really like, what would be expected of them and what they could expect if they worked there.’

John Lees is a careers strategist and author of How To Get A Job You Love. When exploring the path options available to you, he suggests you dig deep and spend as much time finding out as much as you would if you were researching the viability of investing your money in a new business venture.

‘Talk to people in training, just out of training, and those five years down the line. Ask “what will I be doing most of the time?” Look at the upsides and the downsides, and do your research as carefully and objectively as you would if you'd been contracted to find out for somebody else,’ he says.

Also, its common for people to experience doubts shortly after they have started their first job (or any new job).

‘I often see young people enter their first job totally enthused, only to have them contact us shortly after to say they are now feeling very unsure about it and think that they want to leave,’ says Angela Middleton, chief executive of recruitment company MiddletonMurray and author of How To Get Your First Job and Build the Career You Want.

Feeling like this is completely normal. ‘Once you get over the excitement of getting a new job, you start to find you are pushed out of your comfort zone and there are a number of things that might cause this,’ says Middleton.

‘It might be that you don’t know the people or you find interacting with them difficult. Or it could be that what you have been tasked with is difficult and unfamiliar and that you don’t fully understand it. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable or awkward asking questions too.’

Lack of experience and being plunged into a new, unfamiliar environment are the two main causes of career jitters.

Hannah Clements, head of career development and coaching at GSM London, says: ‘When starting a new job, there are so many things you have to pay attention to: what your job actually is and what is required of you, fitting in with the culture of the new team, the department and the organisation as a whole, and finding some space to put your own stamp on the role.’      

Settling in always takes time, but how long it will take depends on how you handle the situation. First of all, ‘don’t be put off if it’s not what you had expected it to be like – it rarely ever is,’ says Clements.

‘Speak to people around you to get a feel for who you are working with as well as what you should be doing. Your primary relationships should be with your colleagues, so find out how your role helps them too.’

Understanding as much as you can about your role and where it fits within the bigger picture should be your top priority. ‘This will give you a framework in which to work, and a commitment to the reason that you are there,’ adds Clements. ‘Don’t forget what you decided to go there for – what goals do you have and how is this role helping you get there?’

Hold fire

Still having doubts?

‘It’s vitally important to hold fire and work through any issues you may be having,’ says Middleton. ‘It’s very common for the same people who have contacted us to say they don’t like their job to then contact us again a few weeks later to say they are now loving it and finding it fulfilling.’

Besides, jumping ship soon after you start a new job will not look good on your CV.

‘I would caution young people to never do a job for less than one year,’ warns Middleton. ‘If you end up with two or three companies on your CV where you have worked for less than a year, you can start looking like a job hopper, which can put potential future employers off.’

But if the feelings of doom persist and you don’t know if the problem is accountancy, the company or the environment, you may need help – either from within or from outside your organisation.

‘Talk to someone further along in their career about how they dealt with this kind of situation themselves, and perhaps even ask them to mentor you if you need longer term advice,’ Clements advises.

If you feel you need someone impartial to discuss this with, then find yourself a careers adviser or coach – they shouldn’t tell you what to do, but will support you in exploring your situation.

Keep immersing yourself in accountancy and network with like-minded people.

‘Going to events can make you feel more connected to your career choice,’ says Clements. Think about your future, rather than only about where you are now.

‘Be proactive and persistent in searching out opportunities to grow and develop, and work towards the role you might like to move into in the future.’

Finally, remind yourself why accountancy is a rewarding and fulfilling career sought by many.

‘For those who do get through those first three years, the opportunities that open up beyond that period are endless. Every industry needs accountants and, with some career paths now involving greater use of data and analysis, the skills of an accountant are more in demand than ever,’ says McIlroy.

But accountancy is no longer just about crunching numbers and analysing data in some back office, as Clements says: ‘Working in this profession can also enable you to make strategic decisions, which offers a great deal of personal satisfaction, and you will have an opportunity to specialise in a particular area of accountancy when you are ready.’

"When starting a new job, there are so many things you have to pay attention to… Speak to people around you to get a feel for who you are working with as well as what you should be doing. Your primary relationships should be with your colleagues, so find out how your role helps them too"

Hannah Clements - GSM London