Industry or practice? A career ladder comparison

Take your pick...the satisfying scope of industry or the fantastically full-tilt pace of practice? Chances are, it’s a crossroads you’ll confront at some stage of your career, whether you’re searching for entry-level accounting jobs, qualified accountancy roles or senior finance opportunities.
Both sectors offer unique rewards, but which one is right for you? And when’s the best time to make your move?

Starting out

Traditionally, junior finance professionals begin their journey in practice – attracted by funded qualification options, generous leave for exam prep and a strong team ethos. Alongside your formal studies, you’ll learn what it takes to support and communicate with clients, make snap but savvy business decisions and perform under pressure. And because every organisation needs a numbers expert, you’ll be laying the foundations of future employment - especially if you’re a Top Ten trainee.  

But be ready to deliver on your firm’s investment. Most build claw back clauses into their study contracts and some even pull the plug on funding if you fail your exams. To offset education costs, your pay is also likely to lag behind your counterparts in commerce for quite a while. In fact, GAAPweb’s most recent Audience Insight Report shows the average salary within accountancy practice as £35,020, compared to £49,125 in the public sector and upwards of £70,000 in areas such as marketing, media, and oil, gas and mining.

On top of earning more and building solid commercial experience from day one, junior-level professionals within industry also enjoy comparatively quicker career paths. But early promotion comes at a price. Without a firm’s backing, the route to qualification is longer, can be less structured and fuelled by your own hard graft.

Mid-career

As a qualified accountant in practice, you’ll oversee the financial needs of a portfolio of clients (as well as sharpening your prioritisation and diplomacy skills), coach junior staff and, depending on your area of expertise, manage special projects within audit, tax, financial risk and more. It’s demanding, diverse work and many love the blue-streak buzz of servicing customers across a sweeping range of sectors.

But this is also the jumping-off point for many finance professionals looking to make a more hands-on commercial contribution. The opportunity to drive strategy, cherry-pick your sector (Property? Healthcare? Retail?) and satisfy a slumbering entrepreneurial spirit can make the grass surrounding qualified roles in industry look invitingly greener.

Look before you leap, however. Practice advances at a pace, so you’ll be playing catch up to more experienced colleagues should you wish to return.

Senior level

Is it wise to quit your comfort zone at the peak of your career? According to GAAPweb’s research, Finance Directors and CFOs are more likely than other industry professionals to remain in role for over 10 years. But there are always drivers to discover new challenges, even at the top.

For example, as a senior manager or director in practice, the buck often stops with business development. You’re expected to expand services and generate income for your firm or partners through networking, prospect meetings, tendering and – ultimately - winning new customers. Though you’ll have a team of part-qualified and qualified professionals to support you - and possibly the lucrative lure of partnership to keep you motivated - the pressure of high-ticket sales can switch off even seasoned practice accountants, making the move to an influential in-house position an attractive next step.

For the pick of industry and practice jobs across all levels, browse GAAPweb’s latest opportunities

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