How to know when it is time to look for a new Job

Searching for a new job that you feel is right for you can feel like it takes forever, and it’s easy to become complacent in a role that is not fulfilling. Staying in a comfortable yet repetitive position can seem much easier than trying to look for a new role, but often a change can give you the motivation to increase your efforts, and in turn increase your happiness within your chosen profession.

It can be incredibly refreshing to change to a new company and experience new practices and clients. This post is intended to give you an idea of some of the signs that will tell you it’s time to move on, and how to go about it.

The Signs

No route for progression

This is a popular reason people tend to move on from a job, however it is often overlooked when starting your career for the first time. As you develop your experience and progress within a firm you may reach a ceiling where future progression can become very difficult.

Lack of progression can be that there is no room to advance your position (promotions) or that the level of work will no longer differ from what you have already done, meaning that your professional development can stagnate (I will cover this point later).

The size and type of firm you work for can have an impact on what level of progression opportunities exist. Some examples include;

  • Firms can be ‘top heavy’ meaning that there are already several Senior Management level employees in position which can result in there being no room for further positions at a Senior Management level.
  • Promotions are not meritocratic, meaning that career progression is not based on being the best person for the role at the time.
  • Those in the more senior management positions are ‘lifers’ within the firm. Meaning this individual is unlikely to ever leave the firm/position as they have everything they need from their career within their role. This can block your career progression.
  • In some smaller firms there may be limited opportunities to progress purely due to the size of the team. For instance, there is no need for 2 managers to manage a team of 4 when one manager is enough.

You’ve reached a ceiling in your professional development

After you’ve been in a role for a significant amount of time it can be easy to slip into a routine of taking on the same clients and assignments. They can become easy and monotonous, but for some this is their preference. However, if you’re looking to challenge yourself and want to progress in your chosen field, you won’t do this by undertaking the same work over and over again.

In order to find more complex and challenging work you’ll inevitably have to move on to a different job. If this is your driving factor of finding a new job, then make sure you search intelligently. Look for opportunities that are going to stretch your abilities and establish what the role would involve longer term.

For some, the initial learning curve of a new job can often be the best bit.

Looking for a more challenging role might make your job search a little narrower, however if you are looking to make move to better your career it’s important to find the right opportunity that can help you in achieving your short, medium- and long-term career aspirations.

The workplace culture doesn’t fit

The culture and office environment can differ greatly between firms and offices. This might seem like a trivial reason to look for a new job, but considering how much time we spend at work you should be able to enjoy the environment you work in.

Perhaps you’re a dynamic, outgoing type working in an old-fashioned firm that’s stuck in their ways. You may feel that your ideas are slightly more progressive than your current employer. It may be beneficial to join a more forward-thinking firm.

One of the best things about the accountancy and insolvency profession is that there is no shortage of firms, so it shouldn’t be hard to find one that suits your career outlook.

Work/Life balance (lack of it!)

When starting out in your career it can be quite common for employers to put lots of work on you. Additionally, if you’re still trying to gain experience in the industry, it can be tempting to take on extra hours or work overtime not just for the experience, but to gain favour with your employer too. While giving extra can seem like the right thing to do, it can soon become expected of you.

When beginning your career, your life can be significantly different to where you are in 5 years.

Things change in our lives that may need us to redirect some of our attention elsewhere other than just work. You may have fallen in love, had a child, there may be an illness in your family or simply had a refocus of your life/career aspirations.

Finding a good balance between work and home life is necessary not just for our personal relationships, but for our mental health too. We need time away from the office to balance our thoughts and refresh our energy for work.

Having a fair work/life balance does not mean you are work shy.

Lack of study support

When starting a career within Accountancy Practice you will typically commence with an accountancy qualification immediately. In some cases where you may have started out with the AAT you may find that your firm are not able to put you through the ACA or ACCA straight after completing your AAT. Another issue may be that your firm only provides support for the ACCA when you want to undertake the ACA (or vice versa). The industy I typically find the biggest issue with lack of study support is Insolvency.

Studying for further qualifications can be a great way of increasing your salary and is sometimes required if you want to move up the career ladder. Some firms are happy to support further education on the basis that you continue working for them after gaining the new qualifications but will tie you in for a period of time post qualification.

If you’re thinking of gaining some more qualifications, whether this is to gain more experience in your current field or to switch to a different one, you may want to join a firm that has a track record of providing their staff with study support for further qualifications.

However, we often find that new employers will not immediately offer new employees study support as part of an offer so before making a move for future study ensure the role is also going to enhance your professional experience.

You are not being fairly rewarded

This is probably the most common reason I hear as to why someone wants to find a new job.

It is important to be paid fairly in your industry for your level of experience and the position you hold in comparison to your peers. It is worth noting that salaries from firm to firm can differ by a couple of thousand for the same position and a difference of £1k-£2k shouldn’t really be considered a deal breaker.

However, if you feel you are being significantly underpaid, then it may be wise to explore your options in the market. You may have had an annual pay increase every year for the last 4 years let’s say, however if you are still paid £4k less than your peers in the industry then you are being severely undervalued.

I do consider this reason to be the biggest risk of them all for making a career move if it is purely down to salary. For example, you could earn less in the long run of your career if you make a move for an extra £3k+ now but the role does not offer you the chance to develop your experience.

Other things worth considering are your overall package and holiday entitlement. Benefits can differ greatly within the industry; some benefits packages can be worth as much as £5k in monetary terms. Additionally, some firms will have provided 20 days standard holidays whilst others as many as 27 days per annum.

Is it time to start looking?

The above are only a few of the signs that may make you think it is time to explore your career options. If you are unhappy or feel unfulfilled in your current role then it’s probably time to do something about it.

That being said, I advise you take a step back to evaluate why you are unhappy or what the issue is. The first port of call should be to assess whether it can be resolved without the need to move jobs. If it can, then resolve them.

If not, establish what a role would need to be to be better than the one you are currently in. Once you understand your ideal role it will become easier to identify suitable opportunities in the market.

The main thing to remember when searching for a new job is you should make sure this new role will be beneficial to your short, medium- and long-term career and personal aspirations. You may be able to solve one of the issues outlined above by moving jobs but be careful not sacrifice one of the others in doing so. For instance, it can be tempting to choose a job because it’s got a higher salary but if the level of work is step backwards or you must work 12 hours days, you may find yourself looking for another role in the not too distant future.

Scott Lowes, Managing Director, Levitate Recruitment

Apprenticeship Levy myth busting

There has been a lot of developments around training and apprenticeships in recent

years and has left some employers unsure of what training they can access, the suspected complexes and what they are and can be used for.

I hope in the following article to give the background, the context and explain what you can use this training for the myths that are surround them.

Myth 1

Apprenticeships are for 16-18 year olds and for entry level training.

Apprenticeships were traditionally used for young people entering the job market, however this was when the job market and roles were more traditional, jobs were for life and change was gradual. In recent times with the fast pace of change and the need for life- long learning apprenticeships have been developed to address these changes organisation.

Standards were developed with employers to reflect the skills that were required for each job role and these go from entry level 2 up to MBA level.

The vast majority of people now undertaking apprenticeship programs are now staff that where already employed by their Employer. The most popular standards are for team leading and management qualifications.

Myth 2

I will be paid apprenticeship wage.

The minimum an apprentice can be paid is set annually by the Government however there is no maximum and for those already in a role will continue on their current salary.

Myth 3

I will have to attend college 1 day a week

For some apprenticeship and with some providers the training has an element of attending off site training.

There is now a requirement for all apprenticeship training program to have an element of 20% off the job, which in itself is a misnomer (see below of what the 20% covers)

However this can include inductions, workshops, site visits, shadowing etc.

The training can be untaken using distance, e-learning as well as workshops and 121’s.

Myth 4

I won’t learn anything new, apprenticeships are just assessment only of skills I already have.

The new standards and apprenticeships were introduced to ensure that apprenticeships are to develop skills as well and formalising, recognising and building on current skills.

To ensure the right level of skill is reached the new apprenticeships have end point assessments which are carried out by independent organisation.

Myth 5

The levy is a tax -so I have to pay it -don’t have to use it.

VAT is also a tax organisations pay, but I bet you don’t know anyone that don’t claim every penny back they can?

The levy is the only ring- fenced tax in England, it can only be used for apprenticeship training and goes into a pot that on a rolling basis,that has to be used or lost if not used after 24 months.

Myth 6

The levy and apprenticeships have lots of very complicated rules and administration.

There are compliance requirements as with all funded initiatives, but a good provider will shoulder the majority of these and make it user friendly for the organisation.

Myth 7

Apprenticeships are all the same and don’t incorporate work place training.

The new standards are more flexible and allow a greater ability to incorporate more specific and bespoke training as long as it can be used as part of the final outcome they are admissible.

The Facts    

Background

Several reports have been commissioned in recent years by successive governments to make the UK better able to compete with the rest of the world with the pressure for increasing levels of educational and skills attainment.

Doug Richards was asked to review and write another report published in 2012

In his independent report called on the government to improve the quality of apprenticeships and make them more focused on the needs of employers across all age ranges.

His recommendations include:

    • Redefining apprenticeships as training for a new job or role, rather than improving the skills of a worker who has been in the job for some time
    • Focusing on what an apprentice can do when they complete their training, and freeing up the process by which they get there. Trusted independent assessment is key.
    • Recognised industry standards should form the basis of every apprenticeship
    • All apprentices should reach a good level of English and maths before they can complete their apprenticeship.
    • Government funding must create the right incentives for apprenticeship training.
    • The power to invest in apprenticeships should lie with the employer.
  • Greater diversity and innovation in training – with employers and government safeguarding quality.

These broader aims resulted to wholesale changes in Apprenticeships that came into force in April 2017.

Funding

In April 2017 the Government changed how apprenticeships would be funded, at this point there where 3 different categories, small under 50 employees who had their apprenticeships fully funded, small to  medium sized organisations who had their apprenticeships funded to 90% with a 10% employer contribution , organisations with a pay role of more than £3m pay 0.5% of there pay role into a ring fenced account which can only be spent on apprenticeship training and has a life span of 18 months.

In August 2018, the category for those under 50 staff changed and they also have to pay the 10% contribution to the 90% Government funded part.   

Standards

The Standards which is what are the elements of the new apprenticeship scheme and these have been developed with groups of employers, professional bodies and trade organisations to ensure that people completing the apprenticeship will have reached the required skill level for that role. This is further ensured by the End Point Assessment which is assessed by an independent organisation using several different ways, test, interview, portfolio etc.

Judith Jackson, Apprenticeship Levy Specialist, Genius People

Recruitment advice

As a specialist recruiter with nearly 15 years’ experience of working with accountants I have had many a conversation with accounting professionals at all levels and across different disciplines about their careers and plans for the future. This includes working for a few years as an industry specialist before moving across to specialise in working with accountancy practice firms and professionals.

During this time, I have always found that biggest crossroad tends to be when people are approaching qualification to become a newly qualified chartered accountant. Having entered the profession as a graduate, trainee accountants tend to be on what could be classed as a pretty straight forward path for the first 3-4 years of their career. Within the larger firms, they generally tend to specialise within a specific accountancy discipline such as audit and as the year’s progress and they pass further exams, the level of responsibility they take on increases.

I have found that during this time there is a real split in how people approach and think about their future careers. Whilst some have very set plans beyond qualification, the majority tend to focus on what they are doing now as the workload and exam pressure can become quite consuming. Once they have a chance to lift their head and look to the future, the natural tendency when thinking about career progression and change is to move away from what they are currently doing with a ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ approach rather than trying to embrace what they have achieved and where it can take them internally or within another accountancy practice firm in the same discipline.

As a specialist recruiter and career consultant, it is key for me to understand not just what skills they have obtained but to dig deeper and try to gain a better understanding of their personality, what motivates them and where they would like to progress in their career. This then allows me to offer advice and assist them to plan effectively to achieve their short, medium and long term objectives.

“I want to be more commercial!”

Most conversations and meetings I have with potential candidates normally start with:

Candidate: “I want to get out of audit” or “I’m not sure what I want to do but it needs to be something more commercial”

Me: “OK, why do you feel you need to move away from audit and what would you class as more commercial?”

At this point, I normally receive a blank stare before a few job titles thrown at me such as corporate finance executive or working in industry as an analyst or a Financial accountant. When I ask them why they feel those areas would be more commercial? I often receive some great answers but often, an answer that hasn’t been considered and one that has no real evidence of why it would be the right move for them in seeking out something ‘more commercial’

I can see why people may initially believe these disciplines are more commercial, they are certainly different to audit but it’s fundamental that people research both areas to gain knowledge of the different types of opportunities that are available, what the day to day duties will be and how the move will improve their CV and develop their skill set further. Once you have done this then you will have a better idea if it really is more commercial than a progressive audit role and if it is in fact the right move for you.

It is also important to understand if a certain move is available at this stage of your career and if not, what do you need to do to improve your chances. This is one of the many reasons why experienced consultants that have worked in accountancy recruitment can be invaluable when people are looking to make the next step. Many newly qualified accountants choose to apply for lots of roles directly and whilst this can be a good way to secure a new role, there is no harm in at least having a conversation with an experienced recruiter that understands the current market as this can not only provide useful insight but also remove the risk of you applying for roles that you will not be considered for at this stage. If it turns out that the move isn’t possible just now then they will be able to assist you in working towards this move within your current role or providing a stepping stone move that will get you closer.

“I made a mistake!”

Whilst many jump ship into industry to get an extra few thousand pounds and a move out of audit, I often receive calls from the same people 6 months later to state that the move wasn’t all they thought it would be and whilst they are working for an industry company, the role is anything but commercial. Some will move as analysts and find themselves looking at spreadsheets with no real communication with business leaders and some will move as management or financial accountants and find themselves working on the same accounts every month in a role that has very little impact on business strategy.

Another key factor for people coming back to me to reconsider a career in practice is that they miss the client interaction they were once accustomed to and they often miss the opportunity to work across different sectors and with a whole range of different business sizes that operate in a totally different way. I will often hear “I didn’t think that working in audit was that commercial or interesting, but I now realise that I learned so much more about different businesses when I was working on-site and interacting with my clients”

This is of course not the same for everyone and many people do make immediate moves into industry that work for them. Below I have provided a few points to consider that may assist you to make the decision to further your career within practice first.

Legacy & Time invested within your current firm

You have worked long hours and developed good will within your current firm – Try to take advantage of this and sit down with your managers and directors to discuss a career plan that will take you further – They will more likely be open to investing in you than a new person joining and as someone that is more senior, they can hopefully educate on the different options that will also work for the firm. One of the hardest parts of running a successful business is to attract and retain good staff that are motivated to assist the business to move forward. Why not try to utilise your commitment and loyalty as a strength to either push on within your current specialism or move across to another area of the business to gain further skills.

Change Specialism

There is the obvious choice to push on within your current specialism but if this is something you really don’t wish to do then why not ask about other areas of the firm that you can work in. It is important to do your research first. This should include looking at all areas of the business and taking the opportunity to speak with people in these departments to understand what they do and what they enjoy about their roles. Once you have done this then ask the question! If it isn’t available then perhaps another great accountancy practice down the road can make it available?

Further training and a structured career path

It is well known that the accountancy firms can offer further training and a structured career path. This is not often the case when moving into industry as many firms do not embrace or feel there is a need for further training. Dependant on the size of the firm, there may only also be a few steps up that you can take and you therefore see yourself sat in the same role for quite a long time which means you then need to make another move to push forward. Accountancy departments are just one part of their business and as a cost to the business, rather than revenue generator, it is often the area that receives less investment in training and development. We also find that there can be a big gap between the newly qualified roles and FC/FD roles which normally means they recruit someone more experienced into the business above you.

Same firm – New Opportunity 

Working as a newly qualified accountant within practice also means that you have now dropped the exam pressure that was hanging over your head. You are most likely about to receive a promotion and pay rise where your role will gradually begin to change and your responsibilities will give you more feeling of importance and value to the firm. Try to embrace this chance as a new start in the business where you can build on your knowledge and focus on the next step. Setting timelines and objectives for promotion are certainly more manageable within a practice structure and most firms will provide 2 years programmes for you to take the next step up. You can make slightly more money stepping into industry at newly qualified level but the rise in salary and opportunity to push to manager will generally happen quicker in a practice firm due to the structure and 2 yearly promotion cycle. Once this does happen, you will see the salary level jump up much quicker each time. We also find that those that have had further training and decide to move into industry at manager level are more than likely going in at a higher level than their peers that may have left at NQ level.

Candidate Pool & Competition for jobs

As external audit is a specialist area, accountancy firms are unable to hire just any qualified accountant. They need people that have relevant experience in audit within certain sectors and people that have years of experience in working with a range of reporting standards. Since the day I started recruiting in practice (over 10 years ago) there has always been a shortage of experienced auditors both in the UK & overseas, which means there is a great opportunity for you to capitalise on this and push on into a more senior role.

Within industry, this is a totally different scenario! Yes, there are roles available for NQs to secure but the competition for these roles is extremely high. You will be up against people from all different backgrounds that have worked in different firm environments and within different sectors. Many of the larger FTSE firms will have some criteria based on the career path they have followed and will generally seek out Big 4 trained professionals or those with a specific sector background.

You will also find you are not only up against newly qualified individuals from practice but a much larger candidate pool of people that have either trained in industry or those that have already made the move and now have industry experience. As an employer looking to make the best hire, it is much easier to take a safer bet and employ someone that already has industry experience and is settled in that environment rather that a practice first time mover who hasn’t had this experience and may require some further on the job training.

I also want to go back to a point I touched on above: Remaining with your current employer where you have built a legacy and proven loyalty will generally be respected and rewarded. If you are making a move into industry with a new employer then building loyalty and trust is back to the start.

Moving to another practice firm

For some of the people we speak with about their next step, it needs to be totally different. They need a change as they really do not enjoy the area of accountancy they are working in. Some leave accountancy all together as they realised early on that it wasn’t for them but didn’t wish to lose the time they had invested in working towards the qualification. Others that need a change will often work out that it’s not the work that is making them unhappy and clambering for change but the environment they are working in or the people they are surrounded by. Some are unable to work this out for themselves so it is important that you take time to consider the pros and cons of your role so that you can understand what it is that makes you unsettled. If you are struggling with this then speak with a specialist recruiter who can assist you to break down what you do and don’t enjoy.

A move to a new firm and role provides a new start and is often viewed as an opportunity for you to shine and progress. As an experienced consultant, I will always advise everyone I speak with to sit down and speak with their current firm about their career path and what is on offer as it’s impossible to make an educated decision if this hasn’t been explored. If I am being totally honest, it’s also a way of protecting my time as firms do not wish to lose employees and 9 times out of 10 will sit down with their employee after they have tendered resignation to work out what they can do keep them before providing a counter offer to keep them. It is always the first place to start when considering options but I will also advise people to at least consider speaking with other firms at the same time so that they can get a better view of what else is on offer and how this compares to what is available within their current firm. Those that do this can then confidently move forward in their career knowing they have researched and considered all options before making a commitment.

Working Overseas

Achieving ACA or ACCA status means you can literally work anywhere in the world that recruit’s accountants. Most of the major International cities will have the same Top accountancy firms you would expect to see in the UK. If they don’t then there will most certainly be some kind of affiliation to one that you know. As in the UK, qualified accountants from a practice background are always in high demand and there is no better time to make an international move than at newly qualified stage as this is when you are viewed as being ‘the most flexible’. Moving at a later stage in your career is still possible but there will always be less opportunities to consider. We also find that the older someone gets then the less likely an International move will be as their situation changes and can sometimes dictate available options.

Making an International move in industry is possible but is less likely if you do not have prior industry experience. As a recruiter that has assisted people to move all over the world to places such as Australia, New Zealand, The Caribbean, Canada, Luxembourg, Switzerland and South Africa, I have never once spoken with a newly qualified accountant from practice that has successfully made this international move without travelling over to work in a practice firm first. My advice is to make a move for a minimum of 12 months in a similar practice role and then make the move into industry. This way, you will have more locations & opportunities to consider, the move will be smoother as you are doing something you know and you will also have a chance to gain understanding of any differences there are in accounting rules and processes whilst working with a wide range of specialist accountants.

As a specialist recruiter for practice roles, I will of course lean towards remaining in practice as a great option. I have seen the benefits of further training and career progression and witnessed people progress from newly qualified to Director and Partner level. Whilst this is the case, Industry also offers people great opportunities and I have also seen many people make great moves where they have progressed to FD and even CEO.

If you are unsure about your next step then I am always here to assist and provide advice. It may be that you want to consider both options and if this is the case then the best option is to also speak with recruiters that specialist in industry roles and try to meet with several firms that can offer you a different outlook on how your career can progress and develop. If you do your research and take your time then hopefully whichever way you go will be the right direction for you.

Kevin Elvin, Director Numero Recruitment

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