Tax Accounting 2010 Apr 16 2010

Exit Strategies: How to Transfer Your Accounting Skills to Other Professions

By jane porter

It's April 16 and you couldn't be more exhausted. Rounding the corner of an intense filing season can be a stark reminder that it's time to make a career move.

Whether it's the long hours, client pressures or endless regulations, many accountants reconsider their career choice a few years into the job.

"So many times you go into accounting because you are good in math. You find out five years later that you don't like that job. Well, now what?" said Brian Ash, career management coach at BeamPines, a New York-based executive coaching firm. "People with these skills can work anywhere."

Just keeping a job, let alone finding one you love, can be tough in this economy. But playing the career field can never start too early if you're looking for an exit strategy. The good news is that if you're tired of doing taxes, there's a range of fields where the skills of a certified public accountant can apply.

From risk management to recruiting, making a career change is possible -- if you know what skills you have and how to apply them.

A Slower Pace

For professionals in a high-stress public accounting environment seeking a change of pace, transitioning to private accounting is often the right move, said Brian Kleiner, a professor of human-resource management at California State University.

Working in the tax department of a private company means answering to only one boss, rather than juggling a handful of corporate clients. It's also often possible to spread your workload more evenly, rather than loading up hours and stress in the first half of the year. Private accounting also opens opportunities to work for companies that better align with your interests.

Businesses across the board need accountants. Kleiner had been a chief accountant for a resort hotel in the Caribbean, where the perks, he said, outweighed the drawbacks of the job.

Ask yourself what kind of a company you'd like to work for, said Brian LaMorte, principal at Pascale & LaMorte LLC, a Fairfield, Conn.-based executive-search firm. A large corporation will have a drastically different environment from a smaller entrepreneurial company. Determining which environment best suits you will go a long way in pointing you in the right direction.

Number Crunching in a New Way

If doing taxes, public or private, is just not your cup of tea, transitioning into other fields that put your problem-solving and analytical skills to use is another option.

The key can be figuring out what you like and don't like about your current job. "What's the piece you want to keep and what's the piece you want to get rid of?" said Cindy Cornell, leadership and executive coach for the Hoshin Group, a Norwalk, Conn.-based firm. Below are some of Cornell's suggestions for transferring your CPA skills to a new position.

Insurance or financial planning: For those who dislike compliance but enjoy solving problems, these professions would allow you to find solutions on a more year-round basis.

Technical compliance: If you love research and following regulations and codes, working with Sarbanes-Oxley in a technical compliance role at a private company could be a good match.

Operational accounting: This could be a fit for pros interested in the process-driven approach to accounting but tired of the finance aspect.

Risk management: A strong demand for risk-management pros exists across an array of industries.

Inventory manager: Responsibilities include forecasting sales, which may make it an attractive option for those who like the tax-planning aspect of accounting.

Tech implementation: CPAs who like to crunch tech as much as numbers, working on a company's global implementation of software might be a more appropriate fit.

The Soft-Skills Approach

Four years into his own career as a CPA at a large accounting firm, LaMorte realized that accounting was not for him. While he had no idea where he wanted to go, he knew his strengths were getting new clients and networking. He began looking into options from investment careers to owning a grocery store. After interviewing for a sales position at a recruiting firm, LaMorte realized recruiting was a good fit for his skills. He proposed starting an accounting group at the firm. Nearly 20 years later, he is a principal of an executive-search firm.

Recognizing that your skills go beyond number crunching is important when considering career paths that deviate from the traditional CPA trajectory.

"Don't just look at the mathematical approach," said Ash. "It's what interests you." Below are some soft-skills friendly career paths that accounting pros may want to consider transferring to:

Marketing or human resources: This move can be more easily managed if you look within your current company for alternative opportunities.

Client acquisition and development: The technical side of the job doesn't appeal to you, but you might like interacting with clients. If so, think about this specialty where there is a lot of face time with clients.

If you feel the need to make a career change, don't hesitate to get started, regardless of the direction of the economy.

"If your heart space is saying, 'I've got to get out,' then there's no choice," said LaMorte.

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