The risk adverse world of accounting and finance doesn’t emphasize a love for ambiguity or uncertainty. Interestingly, however, embracing a role that isn’t as clearly defined can be a way to make the leap successfully from the Big 4 to industry. Just ask Amy Jacobs, CPA, CA and current Manager Finance & Operations at Enwave Energy Corporation.
Read our interview below.
Why did you choose accounting and finance?
In my early high school days I thought I was going to be a lawyer (laughs), but we had a career day in high school where a CA came and spoke to us and it made me realize that there was incredible versatility in accounting and finance. This, even in grade 10, interested me.
What was your first role? Why did you choose that firm?
My first accounting job was with PwC. I had been part of the university’s accounting society which exposed me to people from various firms. What attracted me to PwC was the culture. When I was making my decision I asked myself which organization would help me accomplish my personal and professional developmental goals. I looked closely at the company’s core values and thought about the interactions I’d had with different hiring authorities. This helped me make a decision.
I think that you need to feel a connection to where you work. PwC offered me that sense of cultural fit.
Why did you leave?
There were a couple of reasons why I transitioned. Firstly, even though I liked what I did I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it forever and thought I owed it to myself to see what else was out there. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I changed offices when I moved from Hamilton to Toronto and lost the sense of fit that I’d felt before. These two things combined to make me re-evaluate my career and next step.
Do you have any suggestions for those trying to decide which Big 4 office to work at?
Smaller offices offer you a lot more exposure in my opinion. Because the teams are smaller, you have the ability to work as a larger piece of a project, as opposed to only owning one part of the process. That being said, if you’re looking to be part of a bigger team, than that is one of the benefits to working in a larger office. Ultimately it depends on personal preference, cultural fit, and career goals.
It must have been hard to leave.
Absolutely. Anytime you move outside of your comfort zone it’s challenging. It felt like I was walking away from what I’d worked so hard for, for so many years. It was definitely bittersweet.
Did you find it challenging to choose your next role, considering you hadn’t worked in industry?
I knew I didn’t want something that had a narrow focus, or was repetitive. And while I knew that I would need to do some journal entries (laughs) and administrative tasks to progress, I also wanted a role that was unstructured so that I could tackle different tasks and help the company grow. I wanted to move away from debits and credits and find a leader who saw me as a business partner who could help achieve organizational goals.
For those looking to choose their next role, I would say:
- Carefully review the job description – you’re looking for postings that use big picture language
- In the interview ask questions about company culture and management style
- Ask yourself if the organization will invest in you and if your potential leader is a mentor
- Be prepared to do a mix of things you enjoy and don’t enjoy – you are still at a stage in your career where you won’t be finding your ‘dream’ job
I worked long hours at PwC, but I work long hours now (50-60 hours per week). I just work long hours more consistently, instead of for intense periods during the year.
How did you choose Enwave?
Enwave’s job description intrigued me. The responsibilities weren’t quite defined and it was a newly created role where the hire would report directly to the CFO. I could see that there would be an incredible opportunity to grow and work on bigger initiatives. The organization had a larger finance department, but the position emphasized individual contribution – including working on strategies and contract management. I knew it would push me outside of my comfort zone and that excited me. Of course there was financial reporting in the role, but the varied nature of the other responsibilities outside of typical month end was what got me to apply.
I’d love to tell you that the transition was easy, but part of being successful in that role was to leave my ego at the door and forget everything I’d learned at the firm. When I started, there was no clear direction about what I needed to do to get to the next level or what the next level even meant. For example, there were no pre-developed templates or examples of IT strategies. None of that existed. If I hadn’t been adaptable and able to step back and think, I wouldn’t have succeeded.
What has been the toughest moment in your career in the last 10 years?
One of the more recent challenges is learning how to be a manager. I’ve had to learn how to manage different personalities and to delegate. More so, I’ve had to learn how to let people make mistakes. From a personal point of view, making the leap from a Big 4 firm ultimately means stepping outside of your comfort zone and having the attitude that you are there to learn and absorb as much knowledge as possible.
What is your template for a successful transition to industry?
There is no template for a successful transition, however, here are a few ideas:
- Find a leader who could be a mentor – I credit my boss at Enwave for my success. He took me under his wing and mentored me. My success is part of what he considers as a definition of his own success.
- Don’t think of the transition as your final move. View it as an opportunity to learn and experience personal and professional growth
- Understand the importance of the department structure in your new role, and the importance of your role to your boss
- Once in the role, take time to do some legitimate research and understand how processes in the business actually work – this will help you figure out where to add value
- Know what kind of role you’re looking for, but don’t limit options to one very specific area
- If you’re working with a recruiter ask questions if you don’t understand something
- Accept that you’ll still work long hours if you seek an executive career path
- There are select places that offer work/life balance, but you’ll still need to acknowledge that you are starting from the bottom again
- Make sure to weigh cultural fit in your decision-making
- Remember that you’ll have to put in time in the beginning to get to your next step – this means it’s best to establish some long-term career goals
For accountants to successfully make the leap from the Big 4 to industry requires a shift in thinking. Understand that things will not be structured as they were at the firm, and know that that isn’t a bad thing. Look for roles that are not clearly defined – this offers you the greatest opportunity for learning and growth and to ultimately make your mark. Don’t underestimate the importance of cultural fit. Most importantly, know that the success of the role is greatly influenced by your leader and your attitude toward starting over. Find a company and leader who wants to invest in you. Ultimately, you’ll find the greatest career satisfaction if you do.
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