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Leaving Your Chartered Accounting Firm – You probably don’t know what you don’t know.

  • Posted 25 Oct 2017
  • Richard Holmes
  • Article

In speaking with talented finance leaders who started life in a chartered accounting firm and now in commercial and industrial businesses, there is a common thread. What they experience and can potentially achieve after leaving life in chartered accounting is never completely what they expected.

The range of responses range dramatically depending on the individual and what they were hoping to achieve in industry, however, there are some common themes;

Consistent feedback after the “first move” – The Positives

Most value and appreciate the opportunity to recapture some “work-life” balance or harmony, faster access to financial rewards and growth (especially in the short term) and the ability to take on a broader range of work in time.

What is over or underestimated?

Some underestimate or overestimate the features of the new environment, often on the back of ideas generated through guesswork or listening only to a few perspectives. Also, without the chance to “test drive” it can be hard to understand reality. Often the feedback that is raised includes:

1.    “I need to regularly “lead” without managing people, and it is valuable to influence and collaborate.”

2.    “I need to drive my own career and the path may not be linear. In fact, there is less support and clarity to what I’m used to.”

3.    “I might need to get into the detail more than I expected, which is part of laying the foundations, but what is normal?”

4.    “My management skills play out differently with a range of functions and people in my team. These skills are adaptable, but there I have a very different audience.”

5.    “There is far more (or less) exposure to the business than I thought. Is this normal or should I do something about it?”

6.    “I wanted to do “analytical” or “commercial” work, but I didn’t expect it to be this.”

Given the range of experiences any first mover can have are so broad, and your career, values and preferences are unique to you, it is worth doing some preparation and work to explore a potential career move to industry to avoid shock, confusion or really getting it wrong.

Where to go to prepare and consider your future?

Your clients

The best part about any professionals’ services role is the exposure you can gain to a range of organisations and their people. They hold a great deal of knowledge about what happens on the inside of an organisation including roles, challenges, opportunities, projects and the definition of titles like “Analyst”, “Manager” “Commercial”. Learning how these things really play out is sometimes a case of spending some time off the record or where appropriate to ask for some advice and show some curiosity.

If you get the chance, it is also worth a secondment into a client’s organisation for a project. When you do this, take advantage of the opportunity and really learn about the business in addition to doing the work.


If you don’t have a mentor in industry and that is a path you are seriously considering, then you are not doing your career justice. Someone that has made the time to get to know you, understands your motivations and has the perspective to offer some honest and valuable insights. There are many ways you can do this, including leveraging clients, your network or mentor introduction services.

Ex Colleagues

Given the pyramid nature of most chartered accounting firms, especially the Big 4, staff attrition is a part of life. Team members are regularly going into industry and doing work you may or may not enjoy. Stay in touch and learn about their experiences. Avoid taking a subjective view, as their experience is always relative to their personal goals and preferences. Try to think about why things happen in their business, how they interface with other departments, what is involved in their function and what “success” looks like in their role.

Recruiters or Career Advisors

Let’s face it, most accounting and finance professionals are bombarded by recruiters “selling” jobs and opportunities. Not all recruiters are a place for honest advice, but as some of the better recruiters appreciate; taking a long-term view on the relationships with their clients usually has a better result. They know and see careers evolve and the ways organisations hire and arrange their teams. This knowledge and exposure is very valuable.

With the emergence of independent career advisory services, we are also seeing more talented professionals engage a coach to give them an edge as they approach the market and try to stand out in their career.

If you are thinking about the move from your chartered accounting firm and want to make a more educated decision, feel free to reach out and book a career conversation. This is a chance to talk in a safe environment, not to be presented with jobs, but to educate yourself.

Check out this website we created.


Richard Holmes is Co-Founder & Director of HPR Consulting, a leading Accounting & Finance recruitment business in Sydney, Australia.

He has been in the Executive Search & Selection Industry since 2003 and has developed a track record of recruiting senior Accounting, Finance and Commercial professionals into leading ASX listed, private and multinational organisations. Passionate about talent, he has an in-depth knowledge of the Sydney market and brings a significant amount of intellectual property to his clients and candidates.


Check out this website we created.


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