A word for the wise

Chief financial officers (CFOs) in the UK share their advice for young accountants

London, 14 June 2015 – Often the best piece of advice for recent graduates is that which comes from a seasoned executive. A recent survey conducted by recruitment specialist Robert Half indicates that more than one in four (27 per cent) Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) consider lack of long term career plans the biggest mistake young accounting and finance professionals make in their careers. Changing jobs too frequently and not obtaining adequate educational credentials are also popular responses, each cited by 21 per cent and 19 per cent of respondents, respectively.

CFOs were asked, "What is the biggest mistake, if any, young accounting and finance professionals make in their career?” Their responses:

Not considering their long term career plans


Changing jobs too frequently


Not obtaining adequate educational / training credentials


Choosing the profession for the wrong reasons




None / Don’t know


“With youth unemployment still a concern for the UK economy, it is important for those entering the workforce to have a clear understanding and expectation for their career path,” said Phil Sheridan, managing director for Robert Half UK. “Finding a mentor and learning from those who have forged their way can help young workers identify priorities and successfully navigate the early stages of their career.”

CFOs were also asked, “What advice do you have for young professionals, to avoid them making career mistakes?” Some of the responses include:

Commercial Skills

  • “We need a business brain; someone who is willing to think strategically and invest in the business rather than taking a backseat and waiting for it to come to them.”
  • “Think about the bottom line -- we need to ensure that the focus is on profitability and everything you do needs to centre around this.”

Economic Advice

  • “Be prepared to put in the hours. The industry has taken a huge hit this recession and we are all working harder and longer for less.”
  • “Throughout your career you will learn to ride out the bumps. Don't panic or stress when all you hear around you is doom and gloom. Keep doing what you're doing; the economy will work itself out.”
  • “Stay positive. The jobs are out there, and the economy is picking up.”

Money Talks

  • “Your job is not all about salary and bonuses. Concentrate on what you put into it before you look at what you can get out of it.”
  • “Those who follow the money will hit a wall eventually. Those who show loyalty and that they will stick around are the ones more likely to go places.”

Career Steps

  • “Whichever job you first get, stay with it for two years minimum. Even if it's not the dream job for you, there is still a lot to learn about working life. Showing stability will be good for your prospects when you move to the next job.”
  • “Work hard and make every effort to know your job inside out. Then change jobs and repeat. Accumulation of skills is a very beneficial exercise.”
  • “Jumping between companies seeking greater remuneration will make future potential employers weary of investing in someone who will just move on when a better offer comes along.”

Value of Skills and Education

  • “In regards to educational qualifications, it's not about the number of letters after your name but the relevance of these to your position.”
  • “Don’t stop studying once you join the workforce. Educating yourself acts as a safeguard against becoming obsolete.”
  • “People should be tailoring their studies towards a particular field or industry. Target your studies, and then target your job.”
  • “Seek out a mentor. Wading through an industry is much easier if you have the assistance of someone with plenty more experience.”


  • “Don't be afraid to try new things and search out different avenues. It is rare that someone will know exactly what they want to do at the start of their working life.”
  • “Aim high. Without ambition and the right attitude you won't stand out from the crowd.”
  • “Ambition is important, but do not let yourself be completely focused on climbing the corporate ladder. There is a lot of value and knowledge to be gained from those around you.”
  • “Enjoy yourself. In all likelihood, you'll be working for 30-40 years. You may as well spend that time doing something you like.”
  • “We have a shortage of young female professionals with aspirations of getting to FD status.  I'd advise that they plan their careers carefully so that they continually train.  Moving organisations too much does not benefit career minded women.”

On the Job

  • “Some are too focused on getting themselves noticed. Better just to do your job and do it well.”
  • “Squeeze all the opportunities you can out of every job. There is a wealth of information to take out of every company.”
  • “Don’t look for short cuts. There are none. The best way to get ahead is with good old-fashioned hard work.”
  • “Apply yourself to your job. Managers look for do-ers. If you are just going through the motions in your current position you will more than likely be overlooked for any promotion.”

Managing Expectations

  •  “Value your job and treat it as a privilege not a right. Especially in uncertain times, your attitude to your job could be the difference in keeping it or not.”
  • “Be realistic about your chances of promotion within the first couple of years.”

Public Sector

  • “It's a long held belief that a public service job is easy and secure. It is by no means easy or secure compared to jobs in the private sector.”
  • “Public sector is very different to enterprise. Young professionals need to be public service orientated.”
  • “Don’t leave public service for monetary reasons. You can be rewarded quite well financially if you have the discipline to stick with it.”