How to get back into accounting after a career break

It is not unusual to take a career break or to change your work focus entirely.

Reasons can range from wanting to take on a fresh challenge, focusing on family life or re-assessing your priorities.

The benefit of solid experience in accountancy, as well as holding a recognised accounting qualification is that your skills will always be in demand. Whilst shifting your career direction away from accounting and attempting to return to it is not easy, if you are determined there is always a route back in.

Family commitments

Julie Murphy gained eight years of accounting related experience working in the finance department of a solicitors firm. During this time she had no formal accountancy training.

She says, “I learnt everything on the job – parrot fashion.”

When her youngest child started school she rearranged her working commitments, taking on a flexible part time job at a local school as a teaching assistant and meals supervisor.

Her path back to accountancy happened almost by chance. As her children grew older, she continued to work in education, as an apprenticeship advisor at a sixth for form college.

This role required a small element of bookkeeping work, which resulted in Julie having the opportunity to enrol in a number of AAT courses as part of training offered by her employer.

She has recently started working at health and safety company, performing a role in HR finance and payroll.

Julie was not actively seeking a new role, and the opportunity came around unplanned, when she became aware of it at a careers event she had to attend as part of her apprenticeship role.

Previously she had tried applying for accounting roles without much luck. However, she attributes her AAT accreditation as being pivotal in helping her be accepted for her current role.

The advice she has for people wanting to return to accounting is to be confident and to try and achieve a relevant qualification.

“Go for it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Age isn’t a barrier – qualifications are.”

Redundancy

Sometimes circumstances beyond your own control can lead you to change your career direction.

Having your role made redundant is never easy, and is unfortunately becoming more common. However, it is possible to react positively and move onto better things.

When Gary Watson’s job in residential conveyancing was made redundant during the 2009 downturn in the housing market he made the decision to refocus his career in accounting.

Prior to his five years in conveyancing he had worked for a period of time performing accounting roles related to sales and purchase ledgers, as well as legal accounts.

In order to find a full time position he first undertook a number of short term finance contract roles.

He says, “I found myself in a string of long term temporary assignments after leaving residential conveyancing and found it difficult to obtain a suitable permanent role which I found to be a sufficient challenge to suit my experience.”

His persistence eventually led to a full time role at the NHS, where he works currently.

Recently Gary commenced studying with AAT in order to enhance his future career prospects, as well as giving him a better level of understanding of how his role impacts on the wider finance department in the NHS.

He recommends that those wanting to return to accounting should never give up.

“There are opportunities out there at all levels and I feel that either looking to or actually pursuing a professional accounting qualification demonstrates to a potential employer that you are career minded.”

Alex Laurent, a finance recruiter Talent Edge, believes that companies are being increasingly more understanding of candidates who have taken time out from accounting roles.

He says, “You will be competing with candidates currently in [accounting roles], so being up to speed with any changes in industry, accounting regulations or legislation will do you in good stead.”

Resilience is key

When I first qualified as an accountant I changed my career focus by working in commercial roles in industry. Whilst I greatly enjoyed this experience, and learnt a lot, after two years I was keen to get back into accounting so that I could make the most of my qualification and seek to use it in a direction which appealed specifically to me.

In order to find a new accounting role I had to take a very pragmatic and resilient approach. Being out of accounting for two years meant that I had to work very hard on convincing people why I wanted to return to it.

As well as applying for advertised vacancies, I cold contacted accounting firms listed on the directories of cloud accounting software companies. The latter resulted in me contracting for a short period of time at a local firm. This then made it easier for me to market myself to full time roles in industries which were more of interest to me.

Currently I am the European finance manager for a large San Francisco based technology company. It is great to be back working in accounting and in a dream role.

My advice is to focus your job search as widely as possible. It is a numbers game. Get your CV into the hands of recruiters, apply directly and have the confidence to contact companies and apply for open positions.

Photo: Jessica Leyland MAAT, was already in an accounting role when she decided to formalise her knowledge and experience with AAT.

Nick Levine is a chartered accountant and freelance journalist, with a background in fin-tech who has written for Accounting Technician magazine.

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