Moving Abroad: The Audit Agony Aunt
Moving your audit career abroad can be an exciting time for many, especially as you find yourself taking on a new role, exploring a new country and making new friends. It is also a time laden with many questions. Here the Audit Agony Aunt answers your queries about moving abroad for your audit career:
I have just qualified (ACCA) and been working in industry for the past 6 years in London. I got offered a junior position at a Big4 in Luxembourg, which I accepted due to time constraints, and I am struggling to make my mind up whether to re-train as an auditor for investment funds is such a good idea after all – I will have to swallow a big pay-cut, having to go through the transactional side of things again, moving to an apparently boring country, plus the long hours… and only just after I thought to be done with all of that… at 28. In fairness, the audit manager conceded that they are willing to fast track promotions when foreign qualified accountants join – a 1-1.5 year time frame to become manager, but it seems a bit overtly optimistic to me.
On one side, I believe this to a be a great opportunity which I would NEVER have had due to personal circumstances/lack of prestigious qualifications, and in an industry I do find fascinating (investment funds). I also feel the lack of Big4 experience has been an hindrance in the past and this could be a way to rectify that. Professional friends, one of whom is a manager at the same firm I am going to, suggested I go as there is nothing to lose and all to gain, especially on the technical side, plus I could always ask for a transfer should I not fancy the country. I concur that I will learn a lot, but beg to disagree on a salient point: there is to lose should things go awry, both professionally and personally. Additionally, should I wish to come back after a year or so, would the sudden change from accountant in industry to auditor (and abroad too!) count against me when looking for a new position? I also believe that a few years in audit might be very helpful should I want to switch to compliance in the long run.
It is a bit of a conundrum as both option have pros and cons. Going: great company and experience, but low starting salary (and pay-cut for me!) and new country/no connections. Stay: stable and decent (high-ish) salary, but with limited opportunities to brake in more professionally challenging industries.
My advice would be to take an even broader 'helicopter' view than you are already doing; in other words think in terms of your longer term career path and where you see yourself in ten, or even twenty, years' time. You can do this by working your way through our article, Your Career by Design and take a more strategic approach to your both career (and life) planning. While this might seem challenging at this point in your twenties (and your professional vocation will by no means be set in stone), it is very illuminating to reflect on how you imagine the apex of your career, and beyond. This type of visioning will help to inform if Big 4 experience is going to be a pre-requisite to what you'd like to achieve longer term; if you see yourself in the blue chip corporate world and/or as a financial services specialist, then you have some rationalisation for the Luxembourg move and justification for the short term pain of loss of status and salary. But even if you do see your future in this arena, then your current offer is not your only option; you can hold out, while you actively seek alternative Big 4 opportunities. The market is pretty buoyant for candidates at the moment and with a credible professional strategy and a CV that fully leverages your six years experience (so employers can clearly see 'what's in it for me'), I think you can expect a wider choice of Big 4 opportunities.
Note the term 'a credible career strategy'; this is where it's vital that you do your personal due diligence so that you can tell a convincing professional 'story' that justifies and validates your applications in the light of your past, current and future choices. On this basis, I don't believe the switching from industry to audit and the overseas experience would count against you in your subsequent career journey, although the specialisation in investment funds could be construed as a more limiting option.
Overall however, I would say that, on the face of it, the relocation to Luxembourg and audit retraining from the ground up, with the prescribed specialism in financial services, could be an unnecessarily drastic move. You might very well find that this opportunity does evolve into your personal niche, but it could equally dig you into a specialisation (that is, investment funds, rather than audit which is much more transferable) that you end up having to make the best of. So before you make your final decision, be prepared to think wider, fully capitalise on your past experience and please rethink your self-perception of your professional achievements: ACCA is an esteemed and highly marketable qualification which will open an impressive array of doors for you, if only you will let it!
I have worked for a Big 4 firm (external audit) in a small European country for two years now, and have passed all ACCA foundation exams F1-F9. I came to Europe from Australia due to a set of very unique circumstances in 2012 and started working for my firm in 2013 (I am a citizen in this country as well as Australia).
Lately I have been doing some thinking and have decided to move back to Australia for many reasons. One of the big reasons is my career development. The market in which my firm operates is quite small and very rigid and I feel I am not getting enough exposure to complex business world.
The advice you gave to Amjad regarding his move to Sweden is also relevant to my situation. How do I go about “convincing” employers that I am a good candidate given my experience abroad and not in Australia?
Are there any specific factors I should consider when applying for jobs in Australia (keeping in mind that I am citizen and was educated in Australia)?
As you will no doubt be well aware, the ACCA is a highly regarded global qualification and Big 4 audit experience is readily transferable all over the world, so I can reassure you that you are in a strong position for international mobility.
There is really no reason that you shouldn't turn your European experience into a competitive advantage to support your return to Australia. Do some brainstorming to flush out what these benefits might look like for an employer: wide experience of diverse cultures, systems and processes, personal risk-taking, independence and initiative, mature interpersonal skills, relationships and networks. These are just a few examples to help you identify the general benefits but there will also be a whole raft of specifics, from your technical repertoire and particular industry sector exposure to your portfolio roles and responsibilities of the last few years.
You'll need to balance up these advantages by determining what a recruiter might accuse you as having missed out on from a lack of recent Australian experience. For instance they could reference national accounting/auditing protocols or tax case law. But typically you should be able to bat this back with illustrations of your aptitude for life-long learning and continuing professional development - take some time to put together some 'case studies' from your practical experience.
All of this takes a modicum of hard work but the factual examples to support your career move will be there, but for the digging. The more complex piece is (as you may have heard me say many times before) getting your own career story straight - in your own mind and as a compelling communication for prospective employers. This takes a different type of seeking - more of the soul searching variety. You will need to construct an authentic narrative that responds to all those 'whys, whats and hows'. Why did you leave Australia in the first place? What were you looking for? How have you met your aspirations? What has subsequently changed? Why have you changed your strategy? What is it that you are expecting to find and achieve by coming back? And what might your subsequent career path look like? Etcetera, etcetera...
Don't underestimate the professional development investment that you have to make in this area. I have given you a few pointers, but this genuinely does need to be your career story - you have to be crystal clear about why you are making the move and able to convince an employer of the efficacy of your strategy. Together with really leveraging your experience to date to meet the needs of another continent, this is the best advice I can give you as regards your Australian applications.
I am a Chartered Accountant (South Africa) with 10 years of audit experience (5 years at a mid tier firm and 5 years at a state audit institution). I am currently looking for a position in the Middle East (job search 9months). My problem is that none of the big 4 audit firms have got back to me. No request for further information, no telephone hr interview, nothing. The same applies to recruitment agencies, major corporates and public sector organizations.
I am a consistent high achiever, recognized within the firm (3200 employees) as a problem solver, technically sound experienced auditor. I have a wide variety of industry exposure yet it seems as though recruiters are somehow missing my CV.
I am not sure what to do, is my experience not marketable? I've tried for junior roles, I had my resume written by a professional, I tried LinkedIn, but still nothing.
My questions are;
- can a person with my qualifications and experience get into the big 4 in the Middle East
- does the market perceive public sector audit experience as inferior. If so, have I committed career suicide by spending 5 years in public sector auditing?
- How can I get noticed by big 4 recruiters
Hope you can help.
Thank you for getting in touch.
While I can’t give you specific advice on Big 4 positions in the Middle East, I can give you some general direction in making global applications. And, just to reassure you from the outset, you won’t have committed ‘career suicide’ with your public sector experience, the secret is leveraging this to support your current career strategy.
There are two main areas that I would recommend you working on:
- How you are presenting yourself via your CV and other communications
- What you can do over and above ‘paper’ (or virtual) applications
Let’s start with presentation. You need a ‘master’ CV or biography which describes your Unique Selling Proposition (what you’ve got that other candidates haven’t), your skills, experience and your achievements. But this is only a master, consolidating everything in one place. Do not be tempted to use the master to apply to specific organisations or for specific jobs. Your master should be tailored to the precise role for which you are applying, which means that you will be selective in deciding what to include and exclude. I'm wondering, by the sheer breadth of applications that you mention, if this is might be a part of the problem. It could be that you are selling yourself as a generalist instead of looking for roles that allow you to leverage your specific experience (for example particular aspects of your public sector career) for specific roles.
This is a prime opportunity to apply the maxim ‘less is more’. It’s a good discipline to keep your CV to just two sides of A4 paper (with moderate white space), as this will force you to be selective and really think hard about how your personal experiences align to the role for which you are applying. Quality beats quantity in this context, and quality means ensuring your CV reflects the words used in the job spec as well as responding to the demands specified. And don’t forget that your CV is a sales document, so you should be thinking about how it is perceived by the employer. In marketing-speak, take the employer's perspective and ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ which, in practice, translates as expressing your achievements as benefits to an organisation.
Once you've got your presentation sorted, it's time to move on to getting noticed. You are particularly seeking a Big 4 role, but you are also failing to get a bite from corporates, recruiters or the public sector. I assume that this is in respect of applying for specific roles, but you can also start to seek roles more speculatively, as well as making more strategic forays into career development. They key to both of these approaches is to build and nurture relationships. In other words: it's about who you know and how they can help you.
You have ten years of audit experience, so start with who you know now, have known, and have simply had contact with, through the full span of your career. You've been in a mid tier firm so there will be plenty of alumni (past, present and future) not to mention contacts from your client portfolio. LinkedIn is a great way to explore and develop this network. Look at your relationships, internal and external, in your public sector career and also consider friends, family and colleagues from outside your mainstay career (people you know through pursing hobbies, interests and community activities). This network will be huge and, once you have identified and plotted it, you can reach out and ask for help and support to fulfil your career ambitions. Your request is simple: you are looking for introductions into Big 4 firms (or cast your net wider) and while you might not necessarily get a recommendation or direct referral, at the very least you will get some actual names who you can contact direct as opposed to going through the anonymous application route. You might be lucky enough to get an informal meeting or even an interview, but your immediate goal should be about getting those names. These are then the contacts that you can tap for introductions, information and opportunities. The network you identify and build will be global, and even if you don't directly identify contacts in the Middle East, you should be able to trace a path into this area. Remember the Big 4 are truly global and you can rest assured that there will be somebody in the UK (just as an example) who will have the right contacts in your target destination; you just need to be patient in tracing this path.
And patience is the key here. This is a longer game than the quick fix of direct applications but, together with making your CV smarter and more savvy, by working up your network, you are building your own opportunities, taking control and giving yourself a great chance of making career progress in the direction you want.
"I am CPA working in the USA but want to relocate. I started with a Big 4 and then transitioned to industry. I have 7 years of audit (financial statement audit, internal audit, and SOX implementation and audit), and 4 years of healthcare acquisition services. My work is interesting but I would like to relocate to Australia or New Zealand. I am in my late 40s. I will need sponsorship to obtain a work visa. I would not mind consulting but don't want to be caught working 15hr/days. I have some experience in trading floor audit (with a power company) and find the operations fascinating. What is the best way to start a solid job search that can truly yield results? I am ready to move but won't do it without a job. Thank you."
Clearly, a life changing decision and, as you indicate, not one to be taking lightly. I think you need to start by being very clear on your principal drivers here. What is the most important aspect of this major change for you? Is it primarily about the experience of living and working abroad? If so, how important will the work itself be? Are you considering taking anything within a reasonable salary range, or are there certain career paths that you prefer to explore? What about location? Why have you chosen Australia/New Zealand? How do these countries fulfil your aspirations? Could any other locations meet your requirements?
It's crucial to really understand these drivers. First, to ensure that the direction you take is likely to meet your aspirations. And secondly, because you will need to have a strong, watertight story to convince potential employers that you are worth the risk and reward of investing in.
Once you've completed a due diligence exercise on your own motivations, your job search research could begin with the Big 4. I say research because I'm not just thinking of working directly for the big 4 per se, but as much about accessing, more broadly, the international client bases they serve.
There is a plethora of ways to deepen your search, from making direct contact from the USA with their international desks, to joining discussion groups online, contacting international agencies or following leads from the CareersinAudit site. Or you could, of course, make direct contact with the Australian offices themselves. Maybe consider a vacation to check out the life style as well as develop some direct face to face contacts for your network.
Whichever option you choose, I must reinforce the advice that you need to get your story straight before you start your job search. Be sure you can clearly articulate what you are looking for and why, and how you will reassure an employer that you'll not pose a risk. And, crucially, how you are going to satisfy yourself that your ultimate decision will have the best possible chance of meeting your expectations.
"I would like your help in deciding about which qualification is more suitable for me in the UK job market. I would like to know if it’s better to do ACCA or PIIA/ MIIA. I am interested in working within areas of internal auditing, risk & compliance."
With your extensive experience within the accountancy profession, it may be advisable to keep your options broader at the outset of your UK career. Bear in mind that you’ve not yet experienced working in the current UK market and you will be new to a career in internal audit. Both are untried areas for you and there is no guarantee that either will fulfill all your career aspirations in the medium or longer term.
Instead, first consider your existing qualifications and find out what will be recognized in the UK. This will also very relevant regarding exemptions from any UK qualification you eventually decide to pursue.
Your existing qualifications may well be enough to get you started in the UK, experience the market and give you a base on which to build a more strategic career plan.
And you do need to consider your career aims. Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years time? Where do you see your career taking you to? Whether you’re considering settling in the UK or working in other locations will determine the need to consider a global qualification. What sort of organisation do you want to work for? And more imminently, what are your short term earning needs? How do these map across to the individual qualifications and their career paths? What do the qualifications cost and how long is the study period? What type of studying methods and study/work mix are available and how do these reconcile with your preferred style. How portable is the study package from job to job?
You are already considering two qualifications, and I would use these as the start point of your research. Clearly, the ACCA is a global qualification and this may be important to your longer term career plans. The PIIA and MIIA, diploma’s of the Institute of Internal Auditors of UK and Ireland are more specialised, and of course, very relevant to the UK market. But there are also many other qualifications what could be appropriate for you, including CIMA for example.
So take some time to consider your short and long term career aims. Talk to the student advisors at a variety of different professional organisations. Consider your existing qualifications. And use the questions above to help you make a fully informed decision that will best equip you to reach your aspirations.
“I am a US citizen contemplating taking the Certified Internal Auditor exam in 2008. I wish to know if there are opportunities for me in the UK, whether London or elsewhere. Is there enough demand for internal auditors that the Home Office will approve work visas for this occupation?”
Although the Certified Internal Auditor is an American qualification, it is well-recognised in the UK and indeed across most of Europe. So if part of your question concerns whether this qualification holds any value outside the US, then the answer is yes, it does.
Whilst demand for auditors in certain sectors remains strong in the UK, generally speaking the market has cooled to the point at which most companies are able to fill vacant roles with UK nationals, or failing that, with Europeans who can work in the UK without any additional visa arrangements. An application from a US national is therefore less appealing that it may have been, say 18 months ago.
If you do wish to come to the UK, I would look into obtaining a Highly Skilled Migrant Visa. This would allow you to work in the UK without company sponsorship and may be the most realistic way of securing your move.
I hope this points you in the right direction.
"I am an ACCA professional stage student and have passed the first 9 modules of ACCA . Currently working for Deloitte in the United Arab Emirates with one year's experience in internal audit, I am planning to move in Sweden . Will it be easy for me to find trainee level job in Sweden?"
Many thanks for your question regarding your proposed move to Sweden. I would offer the following advice:
- Attempt to secure the move through your current company, Deloitte. Their willingness to support you will depend on a number of factors, such as on the time you have been with the firm, the amount of work that the office currently has…but they may be more inclined to support a move if it is motivated by personal reasons (ie you are following a spouse/ partner etc) or if they see a chance that you will return
- If a move with Deloitte’s is not possible then make applications to others within the Big 4. They will understand your experience, and as they are international companies, they are more likely to support someone who does not speak Swedish (which I assume you don’t)
- If this fails, apply to the internal audit teams of Swedish multinationals. You may also wish to look at a company called Audit Value International, which is effectively the internal audit team for a large and diverse group of Swedish led companies and regularly employs auditors from the Middle East & India
- Do as much work as you can on the visa and be prepared to answer questions on the mechanics behind your sponsorship (the time it would take to complete etc etc). You need to do this work for any potential employer
- Contact the major recruitment companies in Sweden and ensure that you meet with them if you ever find yourself in Stockholm for a visit
Best of luck! Let us know how things develop and keep a close eye on the jobs on the website!
"I have just got an HSMP Visa for UK and am planning to move over there next month. I am an ACCA fully qualified member and have an experience of about 5 yrs in audit and risk services but of course it is outside UK.
Is it possible for me to secure a job online before i get to UK? What is the quickest way to find a job in a practice in UK after I get there?"
It is certainly possible to start a job search before you come to the UK, although it is unlikely that you will complete it until you are here.
If you already have ‘Big 4’ experience then you should be applying to those companies now. Spread your net widely when searching their jobs and make sure that you also look at jobs outside London. London tends to be very popular and attracts the highest number of applications so looking outside may help your chances of securing an interview. You should also visit the websites of practice firms below the ‘Big 4’, such as BDO and Grant Thornton.
If you don’t have ‘Big 4’ experience already then it is very unlikely that you will find a job with them in the UK. In this case, the best approach would be to start making applications to audit specialist recruiters, many of which can be found via CareersinAudit.com and pushing for an interview with them when you arrive in the UK. You should also start exploring temporary work as this may provide you with fast employment and act as a bridge to a full time audit role.
Finally do ensure that your CV communicates your ACCA qualification and HSMP in the clearest possible way.