You've passed, but is it too soon to move?

As successful trainees polish their CVs, Roger Trapp finds that the smartest new accountants may decide to stay put
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The Independent Online
It is not hard to tell that the latest PEII chartered accountancy exam results are out. Recent weeks have seen two leading recruitment agencies publish surveys on that time-honoured rib-tickler, the CV. Both Hays Accountancy Personnel and Robert Half & Accountemps suggest that the motive behind their efforts is to be instructional - "to discover the most common pitfalls" and how to avoid them. But the additional notion of revealing "some of the classic errors" suggests a desire to entertain at this time of career soul-searching for so many.

Hence we gather, from Hays, that the most embarrassing typing errors are "experience working for a big sex firm" and "My main hobby is marital arts" and are asked to believe that somebody actually wrote "I have a criminal record but I am not in jail at the moment", or admitted that they left their last job because they had been arrested for shoplifting. Further suggestions of dishonesty being rife come in the Robert Half effort, which claims that nearly a third of companies surveyed felt that at least half of the candidates they see were being "economical with the truth in their CVs, either leaving out detrimental facts, exaggerating or lying outright".

Of course, in the recent past employers have been able to get their own back on such deviousness: the shortage of jobs has enabled them to be a lot more choosy than they were in the mid-Eighties. Now there is more or less general agreement that, if those heady days have not returned, there are many more jobs around than there were.

So who is going to get them? No surprises here: those who are academically well-qualified, are personable and have something special to offer - whether it be rocket science A-level, if the position is derivatives trading, or fluent Serbo-Croat, if the interviewer is intent on setting up business in the war-torn Balkans.

The only problem with this is that - for all the Monty Python jokes and the accusations of greyness levelled at accountants - increasing numbers of people fit those criteria. According toHarrison Willis, the long-established recruitment consultancy, "the new chartered accountants of 1995 may well be the best all-round finance professionals the ICAEW has ever produced".

The organisation believes that these young accountants have benefited - though they may not have realised it at the time, of course - from the tougher conditions imposed by the recession. "Under pressure to perform and add value to their employers' businesses, trainees could no longer afford to be perceived as recorders and checkers, but had to learn a whole new set of commercially oriented skills," it says.

According to Charles Logan, a director of Hays Accountancy Personnel, such abilities should stand candidates in good stead. "Clients are looking for slightly more in accountants than accountancy skills," he says. Indeed, the demands of the customer-driven approach are leaving the old preoccupation with number-crunching behind. Even allowing for the fact that today's newly qualified chartered accountant is likely to be somewhat more rounded than his or her predecessors, employers are still prepared to offer substantial premiums to those who stand out from the crowd through having certain languages or skills.

Some, such as Iain Small of Robert Walters Associates, suggest that the pendulum has swung so far that employers are finding it difficult to persuade the people they want to leave public practice. The smaller numbers taken on for training contracts mean that those employed feel they have more opportunities and are more secure. As a result, in a market where the competition has not yet driven salaries up, they are proving a little resistant to the blandishments of the banks and others.

Mr Small, who works with the company's banking division, admits that there is also a danger of people like him giving candidates too many choices. Pointing out that this risks making them confused, he says: "They have to make the best decision for them rather than for us."

James Wheeler, managing director of Hewitson-Walker, a recruitment consultancy that specialises in temporary positions, also cautions against succumbing to the pressure to move. "In nearly every case there's an advantage in staying on for a year or so," he says.

Not as convinced as many of his rivals of the upturn in vacancies, he believes that good accountants are likely to find much greater demand for their skills in two or three years' time, when they will, in all probability, be an expert in something. Using the time to gain an extra language will do no harm - and it is becoming impossible to be too well versed in information technology.

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