'I used to be an accountant, but ...'

You may be professionally qualified, but soon disillusionment sets in - then your eyes are opened to another, lucrative world. Roger Trapp reports
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The Independent Online
Many people train in accountancy with no intention of making a career of it. In the words of Terry Benson, chief executive of recruitment consultants Michael Page, they see it as the best professional training on offer. As soon as they qualify they go to people like him, looking to do something else.

Others take rather longer to make the move. Andrea Woodhead, for instance, worked with a number of companies after training as a certified accountant in Birmingham. While working as an accountant in the sales and marketing department of onefirm, her eyes were opened to another world, she says. "I became more and more disillusioned with accountancy. I didn't believe it was the right career for me."

As a result, she handed in her notice without having a job to go to and went to see the recruiting consultants Accountancy Personnel, whom she had come to know through her previous job moves. When she said that she enjoyed the sales and marketing environment, the manager asked if she had ever considered going into consulting.

She joined the Worcester office in February 1994 and, although she was initially concerned about being a sales person after training as an accountant, she now wishes she had made the move years ago.

Mr Benson is one of many people who did. He points out that just about everybody at his company - including Lord Wakeham, the recently appointed chairman - is a qualified accountant.

Nor is his company unique.Most companies that recruit people for financial positions in a specialised manner seek to employ accountants as consultants, for the obvious reason that they are more likely to have an empathy with the candidate and be able to convince the client company that they know the issues involved.

Robert Walters Associates, for instance, tends to seek its consultants from the sectors they will be serving. It also has a policy of not recruiting from other consultancies. Jeremy Tipper, manager of the banking operations division, joined the company after three years in the banking and finance sector. This in turn came after a degree in the subject.

"It makes a lot of sense to have a lot of accountants," he says. "An understanding of your market leads to greater credibility."

But not just any accountant will do. According to Mr Benson, successful candidates will be "reasonably commercially aware, ambitious, probably not interested in working nine to five and probably more money-motivated than the rest of their peer group". In short, he adds, possessing all the attributes that US companies tend to talk about but often do not deliver.

As Ms Woodhead attests, the hours can be long - and not just at certain times of the year as is common with, say, auditors. "You've got to enjoy doing it because it's hard work," she says.

Which is why, adds Mr Benson, recruitment consultants tend to be paid that little bit better.

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