The below is my interview with Paul, 35, Finance Director, Multinational Media Company, London
He started off working for a Big 4 Accounting firm, got his ACA qualification and has worked for really cool media and music companies ever since, read how he did it below:
(Check out the 14 differences between the ACA and CIMA Accounting Qualifications in my infographic post)
How to Become a Finance Director: What is your degree in?
How to Become a Finance Director: Why did you do the degree you did?
In New Zealand where I grew up, you must decide what you want to do for a career and then study that at university. At the time I was 17 and had to choose.
I knew I didn’t want to be a builder or a teacher which is what my parents were. Being reasonably good at accounting and knowing it paid well is why I chose it as a career!
How to Become a Finance Director: When you came out of university did you seek advice from anyone?
Before I went to university, I spoke to a career guidance counsellor. I did a test, it turned out I was good with numbers, and that accounting would have been a good career for me.
How to Become a Finance Director: Did you know what your day-to-day role as Head of Finance entailed starting off in your career?
No, I just imagined you were behind a computer crunching numbers for some company. I had no idea what it entailed.
How to Become a Finance Director: What percentage of what you learned in university have you used in your day-to-day roles?
10% – I still use my debits and credits but nothing else.
How to Become a Finance Director: With the benefit of hindsight, if you were 18 again now would you do anything differently degree-wise?
I would have tried to pursue a different option and then have accounting in reserve.
How to Become a Finance Director: What are the jobs you’ve done since graduating? And what have they entailed?
2016 – 2018
Finance Director, Media Company, London
Day-to-day accounting, cashflow, budgeting, project analysis, strategic decisions.
2014 – 2015
Financial Controller/Interim CFO, Media Company, London
From board level decisions to managing a team of financial accountants
2011 – 2014
Finance Manager, International Music Company, London
Being involved in a project to carve up a global music company and sell it to competitors.
2009 – 2010
Finance Manager, Energy Company, New Zealand
Preparing statutory accounts, month end reporting, budgeting, etc.
2004 – 2009
Audit Senior, Big 4 Accounting Firm, New Zealand
Planning and carrying out audits of companies in various industries.
How to Become a Finance Director: What are the things you most like about your career so far, and the things you don’t like?
- Some of the people I’ve worked with. The quality of people you have around you is really important.
- The travel when I was in audit.I got to go to Ireland, Australia, and the Pacific Islands.
- The career development that working in finance offers.
- The money, it gives me a good lifestyle.
- Being an accountant – it’s not the most exciting job in the world. If you can cut through the repetitive financial accounting it can be cool.
- The routine – once you have finalised the monthly accounts, you must do it all over again.
- Some of the people that I’ve met not acting with integrity. They will lie and do anything to get ahead of you, that can be a pain.
How to Become a Finance Director: Which would you prefer to work for -> a small company or a big company, and why?
I would say a small company. In a small company, you get much more visibility of how the business works. You get much more exposure to everyone in the company.
The processes in a small company aren’t going to be as good. However, I enjoy identifying where the problems are, fixing them and adding real value.
How to Become a Finance Director: Have you worked long hours over the years?
I very rarely work crazy hours. In the big 4 it was long hours, and during month end now it can be long hours.
How to Become a Finance Director: If you could start over and you were 22, but you know all you know now, would you do anything differently career-wise?
– Sometimes I think what would have happened if I didn’t leave the big 4, would I be an audit partner now?
– I would be more aware of how important relationships are. I would have tried to keep in touch with people, once you leave a company it’s very easy to fall out of contact with someone.
I’ve worked with some amazing people in the past, yet I can’t pick up the phone to them and ask them for advice now, which is a real shame.
How to Become a Finance Director: What career advice would you give a young person now?
– I think the key thing these days is to have other interests. Be the treasurer of your sports club, organise charity events. I think you should have other things to differentiate your CV coming out of university.
– I would say try and get into a big 4 firm; it sets your career apart from your peers.
– Don’t be afraid to take a chance to get where you want to go. Too many people fear making a change and need the job security. I’ve changed jobs as I found the opportunities. I’ve had five or six different jobs in the last 10 years, that’s why I have such great experience on my CV.
– One thing I’ve learned through the years is that you are one of the smartest people in the room. If you don’t know the answer, then people more senior than you probably don’t either, it’s just they are better at bluffing than you. It’s all about being confident and believing in yourself.
To read about the career paths of non-finance graduates 10yrs out of uni check out the below: