Michael Thiessen was recently placed in a role with a household name electronics company by specialist recruiter, Robert Walters. Michael fills us in about working life as an accountant in Canada, New York and the UK, his experiences of working with a recruitment agency and his transition from a permanent to a contract role.
Laying the groundwork for my career
Although I studied economics at university in Canada I didn't initially consider a career in finance. However I realised soon enough that it would be a good fit for me so enrolled to study for my CMA qualification. The biggest lure was the chance to study in the Strategic Leadership Programme and develop my management skills.
After a few years of working in Vancouver and progressing to the level of financial controller I moved to New York City. Having grown up in Canada, the biggest difference I grappled with was the change in culture; in New York, the pace of working life and process of decision-making is so much faster than anything I was used to.
However, I soon discovered it was a challenge worth relishing. I was hired as a financial controller by an industry-leading fashion photography company where I found myself taking on more responsibilities, supervising a wider range of functions such as compliance and employee benefits to help develop the business further.
My career really transformed when I was promoted to CFO level and hired into an educational institution delivering courses to students across the US. Much of the work combined transactional and operational responsibilities, and I played a key part in managing different divisions and contributing to business strategy. After over a decade in New York, it was this fast-paced and varied combination of experiences that prepared me for the step up into my next role.
Moving overseas and meeting Robert Walters
I had maintained a residence in London for a number of years and sensed this was an ideal time to move to the UK. After putting out a few feelers I managed to rekindle a relationship with a New York contact I had met in London several years previously, who put me in touch with James Hambly-Smith at Robert Walters in London.
James' approach was refreshing. He was knowledgeable and at ease when discussing my career options, and completely transparent about what he could do for me. James demonstrated a good grasp of what was happening in the wider market and a real understanding of how to market my strengths to employers. James' focus was on roles that suited my ambitions, rather than matching me with something that, on the surface, simply ticked the right boxes. I was also delighted that he took the time to really get to know me, introducing me to other members of his team to give me the best chance of finding the right role.
Becoming a contractor
In the course of our conversations, James demonstrated that I was extremely well placed to become a finance contractor. Besides the usual pay and compensation advantages, he explained how my combination of skills and experiences made me uniquely suited to this market. He could see I had a strong track record of adding to the bottom line, and that it is here that companies turn to contractors.
Becoming a contractor may not always be the simplest option, and it often provides only a short window in which to make your mark on the role. That said, the opportunity wasn't one I wanted to miss out on. James showed me that with a flexible mindset and a willingness to apply my skills to new surroundings, accepting a contractual position can be great for career progression.
So when a role at a multi-national household electronics company came up - a significantly larger company than any I'd previously worked for, in a sector I was mostly unfamiliar with – James knew at once that my skills, qualifications and hands-on business strategy experience would make an ideal fit. His understanding of the client meant he knew their priorities; in this case, bringing in someone with a fresh approach to problem solving, rather than just an accountant with sector experience.
If you are considering becoming a contractor, prepare to be versatile towards the roles offered to you, as the experience will prove invaluable in the long run. At the same time, while the culture of your new employer may differ from what you are used to, don't be afraid to inject some fresh thinking where necessary. Remember that ultimately contractors are expected to add value, rather than just fill the role.