- The Big Four professional services firms have shed positions due to the coronavirus crash.
- CAs with Big Four experience are well regarded and may find work in SMEs and smaller practices.
- During the coronavirus recession, the time taken to land a new position has stretched to about 10 weeks.
With almost 1500 redundancies across Australia’s Big Four accounting firms in the wake of the COVID-related economic crash, recruiters are advising chartered accountants to rethink their career paths and to seek employment in smaller firms.
“There are still good jobs out there, but we have definitely seen a 30% drop in job opportunities in the current marketplace,” says Alan Duggan, Brisbane-based accounting and finance partner at recruitment company u&u.
“A year ago, if someone had moved on from their job, it might have taken two or three weeks to move into a new role. Now, it’s taking around 10 weeks – and that extra time out of work is significant for a candidate.”
Picture: Alan Duggan.
“A year ago, if someone had moved on from their job, it might have taken two or three weeks to move into a new role. Now, it’s taking around 10 weeks.”
Financial recruiter Richard Holmes of HPR Consulting says there needs to be a reality check between career aspirations and the current work landscape during a recession. He believes this could be the time when a shift to a second-tier accounting firm or into a small-medium enterprise (SME) would prove a smart move.
“People with Big Four experience are always in big demand as those accounting firms train them so well,” he says. “In terms of the skills, development and training they’ve had, we have many clients asking for people with a Big Four background.”
“People with Big Four experience are always in big demand as those accounting firms train them so well.”
Holmes advises anyone on the job market to get busy in four significant areas – a polished resume, professional online presence, sign with an effective recruiter and adopt a robust approach to networking.
“We are placing people in these companies all the time, and with the range of new experiences that can be had it might prove to be the best move in the long run,” he says.
“You might find yourself working across accounts and undertaking tasks you might have had to wait years to do at a Big Four firm,” he adds. “In a few years’ time when you are ready to go back to the Big Four, you will be better qualified and might return in a far higher role.”
Pandemic derails a Big Four career path
In the past six months, about 1300 employees have been made redundant from PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY.
Robert [not his real name], who landed a job with one of the Big Four just on 18 months ago, had assumed he had his career neatly mapped out.
“It had always been my dream to work with this company, and there were so many avenues to pursue, so I planned to stay for a long time,” he says.
But that dream came crashing down in July when Robert’s position was made redundant. Qualified as an accountant, the 27-year-old had been working in a strategy division but planned to eventually move into audit and financial reporting, with an aspiration to one day make partner.
“My ultimate goal was to work overseas with them, and I had joked I probably wouldn’t need a resume again for a long time as I didn’t plan on leaving.”
Career opportunities at smaller businesses
A silver lining for Robert was that only weeks later, he was offered a new job by a former client. As it would not constitute a conflict of interest with his former employer, he accepted the offer, and the new role proved to be a major eye-opener.
“I’m now earning twice the money for half the amount of work,” he says. “At the Big Four company, I was often putting in 16-hour days, with no overtime or any time off in lieu. That was the job and I figured it was an investment in my long-term future.”
Professor Rahat Munir, who heads the Accounting and Corporate Governance department at Macquarie Business School in Sydney, has noted a move to SMEs by a significant number of his former students.
“The bigger players are struggling, so it’s the smaller companies that will survive because they need less resources to operate – and that’s where many job vacancies are,” he says.
“It’s a matter of making the most of current times, and a good job is a good job right now. If the dream is to work with a big player, then keep this in mind – once the market opens up again, it will be a highly competitive market and those people who have developed the best skills during this time will be in high demand.”
“It’s a matter of making the most of current times, and a good job is a good job right now.”
How to stay employable in a pandemic
For those out of work, u&u’s Duggan says making a commitment to upskill in fast-developing areas could be the smartest move to increase your employability.
“It’s always good to be up to date with your CPD, and we have seen a shift with clients wanting to recruit candidates with the latest knowledge of contemporary technology and reporting systems, like Power BI,” he says. “Having a sound understanding of all the new systems definitely increases a candidate’s chances.”
New guide for CAs seeking to plan changes to their career
The Career Transition toolkit provides the information, advice and support that chartered accountants need to make a smooth transition to different stages of their career.Find out more on career transition