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How to avoid a career choice you'll regret

After having worked in finance for a few years - for example as a financial controller, business controller or in the Big 4 – many ambitious finance professionals feel it’s time for a change. You would like to make steps in your career, but how do you make a good choice?

When is the timing right, and which role and type of organisation would be the best fit for you? The possibilities are endless, and you don't want to make decisions you will regret later on. We explain the classical mistakes that are often made, and how to avoid them.

Open up

We regularly talk to finance professionals who would very much like to work for a well-known multinational or large organisation. Familiar names appeal to the imagination of many people. But how can you be so sure that these organisations will be the best choice for career, and why did you choose them in the first place? It is important to be aware of your preferences. Sometimes you have a too specific picture of what you want, without having tested the corresponding assumptions about the company and a clear reason for your preference. Even if you exclude a sector or organisation in advance, you can miss out on great opportunities. By opening yourself up to all possibilities in the first phase of your search, you sometimes discover that you are better off somewhere else.

And we do often see this happening to candidates at medior level. They can go almost anywhere and are contacted via LinkedIn daily. So it’s important to start filtering on sector or the size of the organisation for example. Remember to first consult yourself and think about your priorities. We usually ask candidates what the five most important things are they look for in their new job, in order of importance. Is a job in the retail sector or with a familiar name a top priority for you? Then go for it. But if career opportunities are number one on your list, then it's better to filter on other things.

Think ahead

Most financials we speak to only think about the next step in their career. But to get where you ultimately want to be, you need to think two to three steps ahead. Ask yourself the question: where do I want to work towards? For example, if you would like a business control role now, think about what you would like to do next, and which career path you would consciously or unconsciously take by making that choice. Would you like to grow into a senior business controller role within the same company? Or would you like to become CFO? And within what timeframe would you like to achieve this?

There are candidates who already earn more than a ton at the age of 30. If you want to be one of them, consider what steps you can take to get here. Candidates find it difficult to assess their own potential: often they don't know what's possible at all. Do some research, talk to recruiters and successful people in your field to find out where your strengths lie and what type of position and organisation best suits them.

Find out where your fear comes from

A new job is exciting for everyone. In the past, we have seen a candidate suddenly withdrew just before signing up for a new job, while the position was exactly in line with his long-term goals. He had completely finished his job with the Big 4 and would start as a business analyst, after which he could move on to a business control function; exactly in line with the step-by-step plan he had in mind. Still, he got cold feet at the last minute because he was afraid of regrets.

Fear is not always unfounded: in some cases it's better to listen to your feelings, and the fear means that this is not yet the right time, or that the organisation does not suit you. However, it is important to find out where your fear comes from. For example, are you hesitant because you can travel a lot in your current position, and you don't want to lose this privilege? Discuss this with your potential new employer. In many cases, more is possible than you think.

Know that there is often a way back

Candidates often assume that returning to their previous employer is impossible. A departure from the Big 4, in particular, often seems very definite. But when you left in good terms, a return is often possible. Be transparent in your communication: if you mention upon leaving that you would like to return to your current employer in case the new job is disappointing, in most cases they will be happy to welcome you back.

Don't pay too much attention to others

Although it is good to talk to others in your field about the possibilities, people often allow themselves to be influenced too much by others. We recently spoke to someone who came from an external audit position within the Big 4 and wanted to move on to a job as a business controller. A friend of his had already taken this step before, and now he wanted to do the same. Of course this is possible, but it has to suit you.

In general, it is a smaller step to switch from transaction services or mergers & acquisitions (M&A) to business control than, for example, external audit. As an M&A consultant you already have experience with the type of analyses that a business controller also does; for an external auditor this can be completely new.

It is definitely possible to make that switch, but whether this will be a success depends on all sorts of factors, such as your personality and your soft skills. This is why we advise you not to compare yourself with others, and to let your career choices depend on what suits your personality, qualities and ambitions.


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Have a look at our jobs in controlling or contact our team of consultants for some personal advice.

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