Career Progression from trainee Accountant to CFO


Many graduates in the UK make the move into Accountancy by starting a training contract with an Audit firm, it is perhaps the best business training there is, but how to progress from there to become a CFO which is the pinnacle of the profession?  This article discusses the route to the top.

Training Firm

It’s important to get the best training, but the job market is very competitive so getting into the top 4 firms is not always possible.   Employers of FD’s and CFOs tend to be biased towards the top 4 firms, so it is worth applying to them all and of course getting the best possible grades in your degree course.

You can always move to work with the top 4 after qualification and that is an option to consider.

The big 4 firms are great from a prestige point of view; however, they don’t always give their students the best grounding in the basics, an advantage of smaller and medium sized firms in particular is that you get a wide range of experience, one week you may have a client bring invoices to you in carrier bag, and the next week be out at the Audit of a listed Plc.  With that in mind Accountants from the mid-sized firms tend to be stronger at basic accounting tasks.

Its important to really focus on your professional exams, as having a first-time pass rate is important to employers.  If you don’t pass first time, that is not a block on progression, but keep in mind that it will likely slow down you move upwards.  So put everything you have into your studies with the aim of getting a first time pass.

After Qualification

Once you have qualified then the next step is to move into industry, this is an important period as moving to the right firm is key.  The ideal role is to go into industry as a Financial Controller or Group Financial Controller, either with a listed plc or a company that is planning an IPO.  Here you gain experience of the stock market, working with merchant banks and learning from the Finance Director.  Don’t rush this move and consider working with the big 4 for a period whilst you gain more experience.

Your next move

Once you have been an FC for a few years, ideally five or more, it is now important you move upwards to Finance Director either within the company you joined after qualifying or in your next move.  It’s a tough transition so you will likely need to apply for a lot of opportunities before you find the one that will give you the number one role.  Once you have it though you are setup.

Moving to be the CFO

To get up the final rung of the ladder from FD to CFO you now need to gain experience and contacts in the world of Private Equity and Venture Capital.   A great tip is to use LinkedIn to build contacts, go and meet them for a coffee and cultivate them.  Then once they have an opportunity you will be on their radar.

PE houses whilst having a large amount of funds under management do not have that many opportunities at any one time, so you will need to build a large network of contacts, it is a numbers game, but the more contacts you have the better the likelihood there is of a suitable opportunity coming your way.  It may be a year or more before the right chance comes along.

Specialist FD and CFO Recruiters

In London there are a number of specialist recruitment boutiques who focus just on FD and CFO Recruitment, often they work closely with Private Equity houses and have an industry sector focus, FD Capital Recruitment for example focusses on Technology businesses in London who are backed by PE houses and VC funds.  Once your career is in a place where you feel you are ready to move up to CFO, then reach out to them and let them help you find the perfect role.