What does it take to succeed and make it as an accountancy and finance professional in Public Practice?

Lee Shepherd Sales & Marketing Director at Sheridan Maine challenges his colleague Emma Groves over ice and a slice as to the benefits of a career in this niche sector and the tips and hints to make it to the top.

Emma Groves – Recruitment consultant joined Sheridan Maine in December 2018 having previously worked in Recruitment in London within industries such as Marketing, PR, Media and Fashion. Emma now heads up the specialist area of Public Practice within Sheridan Maine covering the South Coast of England and London regions working with senior finance professionals (many on an exclusive basis) and practice firms.

LS – “How’s it been going so far? Why Sheridan Maine?”

EG – “I joined Sheridan Maine as I was keen to specialise in one market, become an industry expert but also to work for a specialist agency itself. It’s been a great experience so far, great to totally submerge myself within the world of practice and since the merger of the two businesses (Sheridan Maine South/South West and the London operations) it has been fantastic being able to bring the geographical regions together which will only add further value to the clients and clients I have been working with.”

LS – “What level of experience can you expect to obtain while working in practice?”

EG – “In short, a lot! There can be plenty of exposure to different industries with a varied client base that you can be working with. There are a lot of avenues the career can lead you down…but it is also worth noting the softer skills you can pick up to complement the technical elements – those being people skills. So whether it be leading teams or communicating to senior stakeholders and clients.”

LS – “What skills, education and experience do your clients look for at a post qualified level?”

EG – “Candidates that are degree educated normally to start…but can demonstrate attributes that they are commercially minded, to sometimes think beyond what is directly in front of them. I have found it is not just about number crunching at this level…clients are looking for candidates that can push back and have dialogue on how to get the job done, with the ability to look at the bigger picture rather than just process.”

LS – “If I didn’t want to go into Audit what other areas or fields could I gain experience whilst working in practice?”

EG – “There is quite a lot to experience from Corporate Finance to Business Advisory…Tax is another big area for some as well as Insolvency.”

LS – “BIG 4, Top Ten or a smaller practice. What would be your advice on which one to choose to enhance my career?”

EG – “It comes down to what feels right for you. Granted in a bigger practice (Top Ten) there could be more internal exposure to opportunities as they will have more ‘departments’ and the potential for a wider career ladder to climb, not limiting progression. But the exposure you can get to a wider variety of industries in a smaller practice can be more interesting for some. Regardless of size of practice it is important to get the right personality and cultural fit for yourself. But let’s also be honest; the ability to earn a significantly bigger salary in some bigger practices is also a major draw.”

LS – “Why do you think someone should start their accountancy and finance career in Practice as supposed to Commerce & Industry?”

EG – “I would suggest there are many options available to you once you qualify as an accountant. Having picked up a very strong skills base there is potential to go beyond what perhaps someone in industry could be earning on the equivalent employment timeline – by that I mean that some senior partners in practice can be earning between £200 - £300k per annum.”

LS – “How long therefore does it take for someone to qualify or climb the career ladder within a Public Practice firm?”

EG – “It really depends on you. On one side once you qualify typically you can be a Senior Auditor/Audit Manager for 18 months – 2 years and then a Senior Manager 3-5 years and a Director for 5 years. It has in my experience taken longer to be a Partner with Equity. By your mid 40’s you could be a senior partner. But as they say the cream rises to the top if you are passionate and add value.”

LS – “As a job seeker what would be your top 3 interview tips when meeting with a potential new employer?”

EG – “Ha ha, we see these a lot on-line don’t we. First one would be to do your research, not just on the firm but also the person/s you are meeting. Use LinkedIn!! It is not just the answers but the questions you ask that can get you the job. So be prepared with questions about a typical day, the work life and the work loads with the potential new employer and then back these up with tangible examples of what you have been doing/done with details of how you have added value to complement. Be confident and learn your CV!!”

LS – “As a job seeker what would be your advice to get the most out of a recruitment agency?”

EG – “Only use and work with a specialist accountancy agency and one that also focuses on practice! Be open and honest about what you are looking for, but also be open to other ideas and opportunities; as often the consultant knows more about the firm than you might and how your career could develop. But also ensure the agency has your best interests at heart. Stick to a joint agreed recruitment plan with your consultant on how you are going to ‘attack the market’ and above all…if you have agreed to interview; turn up!”

LS – “In your opinion what does a recruitment consultant look for on a CV?”

EG - “For me it is a strong and engaging profile. If looking for permanent contracts, then stability in the past or current career history is key. Clear and concise information but forget the old ‘must fit on two pages rule’ which is very old fashioned. Promote your achievements but explain how and when you did them. Don’t hide gaps or any anomalies on the CV as they will get picked up – as consultants we only ask the questions our clients will.”

LS – “What do you think Sheridan Maine can do to enhance my career prospects?”

EG – “Where do we start?! We are specialists in this field, we work with Big 4, TOP 10 and some very impressive independent firms across the UK. We are very well connected and have strong relationships in place with our clients. With Sheridan Maine you get full exposure to every opportunity which is not always the case with other agencies.
Sheridan Maine is transparent & honest – we would rather have the relationship with the candidate than just a recruitment fee! By that I mean if we can add value, offer advice or help your career; that means you will continue to work with us as a candidate, client or simply refer colleagues to us. Then that is more important than placing a bum on a seat. It is about building long standing relationships.”

LS – “How do you see the modern-day accountancy professional’s role changing in the future?”

EG – “Over the next 10 years the employment of accountants is expected to grow by 10% - faster than any other occupation according to research company Gartner. But I also see the implementation of AI (artificial intelligence) will be driving some of the processes and hence accounting will become more reliant on technology to drive efficiencies. But you will still need the human element – I think this can create more jobs rather than take them away – the integration of accounting with operations will see finance departments taking a less traditional support function that maybe we saw previously. Gone are the days of the traditional bean counter…which is exciting?”

LS – “I’m sold Emma!! So what advice would you give to anyone considering a career move in Public Practice?”

EG – “Don’t always look at the tangible facts, consider the intangible elements. Consider the work life balance, consider what is important to you apart from the salary? How can the next employer get the best out of you? Consider the long-term opportunities of where you could be in 5 years’ time not just the next 3 or 6 months. The opportunities and potential to stay within practice can be vast, so if you have just qualified, don’t feel you have to move into C&I as you feel you have had enough with audit for example…come and talk to me!

Emma was drinking G&T & Lee, Beavertown Beer; at the Square Pig in Holborn, London.

Emma and her team are busy!!!
Get in contact today in order to consider opportunities within Public Practice. Please reach out to Emma at egroves@sheridanmaine.com or contact Sara Hegarty shegarty@sheridanmaine.com