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Making The Leap From Public Accounting To Private Industry

As we near the end of the summer and busy season becomes a distant memory (at least temporarily), now could be a great time to assess your career strategy. This is especially true if you have ever considered making the move to private industry.

“While you may be tempted to stay with your current employer through the end of the year, the longer you wait to make the move, the less opportunities will be available to you,” notes Michael Cooke, Partner and Executive Vice President at The Execu|Search Group who oversees the Accounting/Finance division. “After Labor Day, there is a final hiring push among our clients in the private sector. Since they need to fill these positions before year-end, this fall is really the time to get serious about your job search.”

Although it may be difficult to step out of your comfort zone and leave a field that offers prestige and a very stable growth path, transitioning to private industry can be a great way to increase your marketability, enjoy better hours, and broaden your horizons. In fact, should you eventually decide to return to public accounting, your private industry experience can help differentiate you from other candidates, and even set you up for a partner-level position!

If you are ready to make this move, you may not have job searched since college and therefore, may be a little rusty on best practices. To ensure you find success at the end of the process, we’ve provided you with a little refresher:

Clean up your social media profiles:

While you may think that hiring managers and recruiters are mainly focused on your professional background and the value you can add to the organization, it’s typical for companies to search social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) to get a glimpse of your level of professionalism. “We’ve seen that the more conservative industries such as financial services, private equities, banking, etc., are more inclined to make a judgment based on social media pages,” warns Michael. “They want to ensure all their employees—especially those charged with overseeing compliance—hold themselves to the highest ethical standards.” Therefore, make the effort to clean up your social media profiles before you start job searching.

Be targeted:

Since job searching can feel like a job in and of itself, it’s important to be as targeted you can. “This is especially important when transitioning to industry,” advises Michael. “Your search can quickly become overwhelming if you do not have some sort of strategy in place.” To develop one, Michael recommends thinking about the clients and industries you have served while working as a public accountant. Then, filter this list by the sectors you enjoyed working with the most. Once you prioritize the industries that would be the best fit for you, you can start applying to jobs from there.

Review your resume:

Since your resume will be the first introduction that a company has to you, you have to show prospective employers that you have the ability to apply your existing skillset to industry. The good news is that many hiring managers in the private sector focus on transferable skills, rather than the day-to-day hands on experience when hiring for accounting roles (i.e. Internal Audit, Corporate Tax, Partnership Tax, and Internal Controls). They also look out for various experiences that indicate you have certain attributes that would allow you to successfully make this type of move and bring value to the organization. This isn’t limited to your technical skills, so ensure your resume easily conveys soft skills such as: your ability to adapt to change, initiative to learn, communication skills, problem solving ability, and leadership.

Tell a story:

Once you land an interview, you want to use your time during the meeting wisely. It isn’t enough to simply rehash the bullet points and skills listed on your resume. You have to be able to clearly articulate what about your background specifically makes you the best candidate—something that can be especially difficult when transitioning from public accounting to private industry. “Public accounting gave you the foundation of skills and proper training needed to make this move,” explains Michael. “You understand how the organization’s internal processes are supposed to work because you have reviewed and audited these procedures in the past. But now, you have to prove that you are capable of doing the original work.”

To do this, take advantage of openings for storytelling. Some may be obvious, such as questions beginning with “Tell me about a time when…”, but not every interviewer might use those tactics. Either way, be receptive to what’s really being asked of you and leverage your past experiences and public accounting expertise to help you deliver an answer in story form, offering the hiring manager specific examples to back up your claims.