How did you find your first job? Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?
Job-hunting in finance can be confusing with thousands of jobs constantly on offer – so how do you find the right job for you?
F9 prizewinner Abigail Moore recognises this as an issue affecting many first time job-hunters: ‘I started a year after leaving university, and used large graduate recruiting websites, but I didn’t find them very useful as they can take a very broad approach. So I tailored my search to my local area, and finally found a job by responding to an advert in my local paper.’
Abigail still works for her first employer, Hardcastle Burton LLP, a multi-practice SMP based in the south of England. Looking back, she realised she should have been more focused from the start: ‘As soon as I changed my search strategy I found a lot of relevant opportunities.’
P7 prizewinner Andrew Symonds also found his first job (with Cornwall-based SMP Walker Moyle) through his local paper, and still works for the practice.
‘I was lucky – I was straight out of school with A-levels, and had no experience of accountancy or job hunting,’ says Andrew.
‘If I was starting now I would probably do more to stand out from the crowd as traineeships are becoming hotly contested. For example, I would volunteer to work in an accounts department in a charity, to gain some relevant experience.’
In common with thousands of ACCA students, Abigail and Andrew both found their first job with an SMP, but many others hope to start their career in the Big Four. This was the case for Silver Medal Winner Chan Wee Ho, who now works for Ernst & Young in Malaysia.
‘I was very eager to work for a Big Four firm and, in this context, I knew that my ACCA exams would really improve my CV,’ he explains. ‘ACCA has a global recognition which makes job hunting easy, especially when applying to the Big Four.’
Just outside the Big Four (ranked fifth in the world) is BDO LLP, where F5 prizewinner Samuel Grimmer found his first a job – and where he is still employed.
‘I joined BDO as a school leaver,’ says Samuel. ‘I had been applying to local employers and actually had not heard of BDO until I saw the office when out for lunch one day. I discovered that they accepted trainees straight from school and so applied directly through the company website – it was an approach that certainly worked for me.’
Stay or go?
Many of our prizewinner interviewees are still working for their first employer.
For Abigail Moore, Hardcastle Burton ‘provides good opportunities for training and personal development, and it’s an environment where I can build both my confidence and strong professional relationships with my colleagues. As a result, I can see my progress towards becoming a qualified accountant.’
Chan Wee Ho is equally as happy at EY: ‘The culture here is focused on people, to make sure we all bond and work together well, and to develop our own career pathways.’
Some prizewinners have moved on, however – often the result of hasty decision-making when accepting that all-important first position.
‘I went to the interview, was offered the job and accepted it – but probably without enough thought,’ says F6 prizewinner Gabriella Del Greco, who had decided to start her career in audit, and had gained a traineeship with a global firm.
‘A better opportunity may not have come along, but I think I rushed myself into the process and should have done more research on similar roles before accepting,’ she says. ‘As a result, I didn’t stay with my first employer for very long.’
P2 winner Anna Mauger had a similar experience.
‘I found my first full-time job by directly contacting local employers,’ she says, ‘but to be honest, I was just trying to find any form of paid employment. Looking back, I probably should have been more strategic and applied for posts in different areas to get more of an idea of what interested me.’
Anna has since changed jobs and now works in the Guernsey office of oil and gas exploration company Tethys Petroleum: ‘I wanted to gain more relevant accountancy experience, and also additional financial support for my studies.’
Key strategies for successful job-hunting
Finding the perfect job rarely happens straightaway – you need persistence and luck, but there are also strategies that can help improve your chances further.
Anna Mauger, for example, advises students to apply for a variety of roles and in a variety of industries: ‘This will help you narrow your search, and if you are offered an interview make sure to ask lots of questions about the organisation, the sector, and the role. If you’re moving on from your current employer, consider the experience you’ve gained and ask yourself if you want to build on this by staying in the same sector or discipline, or broaden your horizons and try something new.’
Samuel Grimmer reminds students to stay positive: ‘The job market can be very competitive so apply to lots of places and don’t be worried about rejection – finding a job can take time. If you’re moving on, make sure you know why, and define the benefits you hope to access in your new job – you may be attracted by a higher salary, for example, but what if you have to travel more or work in a role you won’t enjoy as much?
‘Also, make use of recruitment agencies – they have a solid understanding of the local job market, and can suggest opportunities you may not have considered.’ Chan Wee Ho agrees, also reminding students that ‘it’s the combination of ACCA and soft skills that will help you gain a job, together with the right attitude.’
Having already made a move, Gabriella Del Greco is aware of the difference a new job can make.
‘I now work with Capita, where the environment is much less competitive, and more fair; my performance is assessed and recognised by those who know my work, and additional training is encouraged. If you are looking to move on, then try different methods and spend time finding the right role – apply directly, sign up to recruitment agencies (especially for more specialised roles, but be clear about what you want), and try professional social media sites as well.
‘Be prepared to undergo multiple interviews, refuse a post if it is not right for you, and ask lots of questions – don’t forget, the employer has to impress you as well as you impress the employer.’