How to shift industries – but not careers

You’re happy working as an accountant or bookkeeper, but you fancy a change of scene. How many doors can your accountancy or bookkeeping qualifications open for you?

Move around

You could be working in an accountancy practice, surrounded by others with similar qualifications. There are many advantages in this scenario: you’ll be working in a team and your work will be as varied as the clients you have.

But maybe you fancy a move into industry, say, working as the in-house bookkeeper or accountant for a company. Long-term, if you’re keen to eventually move away from accountancy into other roles – maybe management – then a shift into industry would be ideal. However you may find yourself working more on your own and have to be more of a self-starter.

Moving industries could be just what you need to boost your career. And doing it early in your career would be advantageous, so you can get an idea of different sectors before you plump for the one you like best.

Dan Brown, senior manager at recruitment specialists Robert Walters says: “It’s very easy to move across industries. At the more junior level, getting a broader range of industries and departments helps experience”.

However Brown warns against too much moving around: “[The] higher up the chain in finance people go, specialising can be very beneficial for your career as certain industries or companies will look for a similar skill set in senior appointments. You may also be able to negotiate a better salary if you have a more industry specific CV versus one without”.

Move around and try new industries early in your career so you’ll have a wide range of experience on your CV

Enhance your skillset

Before you even consider moving industries, have you got the right skillset? Lee Owen, Director at recruitment firm Hays Accountancy and Finance, comments: “While technical expertise varies from role to role and will continue to evolve, there are certain skills which will enable accounting professionals to transfer smoothly between sectors. Strong communication, effective organisation and a willingness to learn are transferable skills for accountancy employees wishing to move sector”.

Getting some new qualifications in these areas and more will help you boost your marketability. You might well enjoy the intellectual challenge too. Have a look at our article on Lessons for lifelong learning and re-skilling for help with studying if you’ve been away for a while.

Recruitment agency Randstad says there are eight essential skills accountants must have: general business knowledge; numeracy; IT skills; communication skills; integrity and discretion; logical approach and problem solving; leadership and analytical skills.

Just being a brilliant bookkeeper or accountant will not help you persuade an interviewer to take a risk on you and your desire to swap industries.

Especially if you are moving from practice to business, you’ll need to put forward a convincing argument that you can manage the change. So, for example, you might have to give examples of how you are a self-starter and can work on your own initiative as well as part of a team.

Increase your skills to make yourself more transferable

Know your worth

Let’s say you fancy a job as an accountant in the travel industry. You’re not going to get it simply by saying you like going on holiday. You will need to do your homework first.

“Regardless of the role, a client will typically ask in interview why their company and industry appeal to you,” says Owen. “By making sure you have researched their business, competitors and products, you’ll demonstrate genuine interest and make your career transition go more smoothly”.

Having a demonstrable interest in the sector you want to move into is a good idea. If you’ve got a side hustle as the drummer in a band, you’re going to stand out from others going for a job in finance at a music company.

Think specifically about how you’re going to answer questions about your motivation: just saying you’re interested in the sector won’t cut it.

Think about what makes you stand out from others

Be bold

Fear of change could be holding you back (check out the 5 most common accountancy career fears to see if any of them ring true for you), but a move across industries could be just the boost your career needs.

“Your skills are just what companies and organisations are looking for,” Owen says. “Natural aptitude for numeracy and accuracy is particularly valuable to advising and operational roles which work closely with businesses. Stay up to date with trends in different industries through events, work experience and social media platforms to see how and where your skillset can best be utilised”.

A move from your current sector may not only get you out of a rut but can also help reinvent you. It’s a risk moving from a well-established firm to a smaller company, for example, but the chances of promotion are higher.

Remember that a lot of top chief executives started out as accountants – indeed a fifth of FTSE 100 companies have chief executives with accountancy backgrounds.

And while some of these top CEOs might have spent their lives in one particular industry, the chances are high that many have swapped around. The one constant they have is their invaluable accountancy skills.

Remember that you have a similar skillset which potential employers will covet – you just need the courage and a bit of background work to sector-swap successfully!

Your skills are just what top employers want, whatever type of business they are in

Accountancy or bookkeeping qualifications are highly valued across many industries, and so many of the skills you learn in these roles are transferrable, so your options are endless. If you’re feeling the urge to sector-swap, follow the advice above and make your shift a roaring success.

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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