Accounting is a great profession, but it’s not for everyone. BVOH Finance & Accounting Search often hears from candidates who are burned out from public accounting and want to transition to finance. I understand where they’re coming from because I made the switch myself.
I worked in public accounting for two years at the start of my career, but I found that the field wasn’t right for me. Fortunately, I had developed a strong relationship with one of my clients, who hired me onto their finance team. Because I knew the company’s financials well and was already familiar with my colleagues, the move was fairly seamless. I was also young and in an early stage of my career, so it wasn’t difficult to go in a different direction.
My path was smoother than most because I was a known entity; the client-turned-employer already knew that I would work well in the organization. But you can move from accounting to finance even without a pre-existing relationship.
Most people who switch careers have spent two to four years in public accounting, only to realize that they don’t love the field. The audit lifestyle doesn’t suit them, and they think financial planning and analysis (FP&A) holds more promise.
While I empathize with them, I also encourage them to reflect on the decision and plan before they act. It is easier to change careers when you’re young than when you’ve worked in the same field for 10 years, but it still deserves the appropriate consideration.
Here’s how to do it right:
1. Make sure you want to leave accounting.
The first thing I say when someone tells me they want to leave accounting is this: “Describe to me what you think FP&A is.” People often dislike what they’re currently doing and view finance as an escape. But they’ll be disappointed if FP&A isn’t what they expected. If you’ve already earned your CPA, you want to be sure of your decision before leaving.
The second question I’ll ask is whether accounting is really the problem. Are there other factors ― the audit lifestyle, client service, long hours, compliance requirements — that are making you unhappy? Auditors sometimes become disheartened because they feel that they’re not impacting the company, but rather looking back on what other people have done and checking boxes. It’s easy to become disengaged with this mentality.
One reason I went into FP&A was that I wanted to look at the future rather than analyze what had already happened. The opportunity to create financial models that could propel my company forward appealed to me. When a candidate gives a similar reason for wanting to leave accounting, I know they understand the difference and what their new job will entail.
However, if someone is simply craving more technical work, they might be able to find the right position within accounting. They may be able to shift into a different role within the company, rather than making a transition to finance.
2. Know whether the transition is workable.
If you’re only a few years into your accounting career, you can transition to FP&A without taking a significant pay cut. But the longer you’ve been in the field, the more significant a sacrifice you’ll make. You’ll need to take a step back to take a step forward, meaning that you may need to accept lower pay or invest in training before you land the job you want. Both of those may impact the lifestyle to which you’ve grown accustomed. This reality intensifies as your income level rises, especially in the Bay Area.
3. Brush up on your Excel skills.
The public accountants who successfully move into finance possess strong Excel skills. Familiarize yourself with the software or enroll in a class to brush up before you apply for jobs.
4. Work with a recruiter.
You need someone advocating for you as you create your path into finance. Recruiters can connect you with potential employers that interest you and set up interviews you otherwise might not land. They may also help you break in through roles you hadn’t considered. Open-mindedness is essential during this switch, because you won’t have a wealth of options available to you at the outset. But if you’re willing to spend a few years in an industry that may not be your number one choice, you can leverage that experience into your dream job.
5. Find a mentor.
Even if you’re 100 percent certain that you want to go into finance, you should still expect a steep learning curve. When I started my first finance job, I realized there was a lot I didn’t know. My boss was great, but the company was a startup and went through a round of layoffs soon after I started. If I had had a mentor for a longer period of time, I could have grown much faster.
Look for a strong mentor who can advise you throughout your finance career. This person should be able to prepare you for your new job, and offer counsel and guidance as you grow.
Transitioning from accounting to finance is rewarding if you’re in it for the right reasons. As much as I like accounting, I really enjoy the forward-facing aspect of finance. If an FP&A career calls to you, don’t be afraid to take the leap, as long as you’re doing so mindfully.