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Accountancy MONTH, Annita McGettigan

06 Apr 2021

Annita McGettigan, Manager - Accountancy at Brightwater is in conversation with Jean O’Donovan, Board Director of The Brightwater Group.

JOD – Hi Annita, thank you for joining me today. I’m here today with Annita McGettigan, who has been with Brightwater Group since 2013 so over 8 years now and is a Manager within our Accountancy division, particularly specialising in temporary & contract recruitment. So very much looking forward to talking to you about your market today Annita. Could you give me an overview of what you do in Brightwater please?

AMG: Absolutely. So obviously I’d be the Manager within the Accountancy team. What I would particularly specialise in is the temporary and contract roles within the accountancy market. Some of the roles which I recruit for would be anything from graduate, trainee right up to Financial Controller level. Any of the roles in between that would be Credit Control, Accounts Receivable/Payable, Part Qualified Accountants, obviously then Financial Accountants, Management Accountants, FP&A Business Partner.

JOD: Perfect, so that’s a really large remit there. You’ve mentioned quite a few roles. Are there any particular areas that are in demand at the moment? What are the accountancy roles in demand at the moment?

AMG: In demand at the moment, what we have seen on the part-qualified side would certainly be within credit control along with payroll. Specifically payroll as there have been an awful lot of changes with the pandemic and the Covid payments so that’s certainly an area where we’ve seen a huge demand for those skills and newly acquired skills. On the qualified side, it’s more on the Newly Qualified Accountant, Financial Accountant, Management Accountant along with the FP&A commercial type roles and business partner roles.

JOD: Very good, I think we see in general that the role of accountant is very much starting to change and starting to shift towards commercial and finance business partner type roles

AMG: Certainly, absolutely.

JOD: Has the pandemic affected the temporary & contracts market for accountants?

AMG: It has, yes. The T&C market, generally speaking, across the board, has always been something that has been very buoyant but naturally, it goes without saying, given the circumstances of these times and dare I say unprecedented, it has been a very good option for our clients and for employers to look at because everything is so unpredictable. It’s always a good option for clients to take somebody on, on a temporary or contract basis because they don’t know what’s ahead. It’s really getting a solution to a problem within a weaker area or a weakness within the accountancy team at that moment and, I suppose, getting it right. And then seeing what may come or what may change thereafter.

JOD: Absolutely, I do believe it’s very very changing times and I think temporary & contract recruitment has always been a really good solution to something that needs to be ratified pretty quickly.

JOD: Talking & focusing on temporary & contract roles, could you tell me what you would say to clients or employers watching this, what are the advantages to an employer of hiring an accountant on a temporary or contract basis?

AMG: There are a couple of advantages. If you’re taking someone on, on a temporary basis, not only are you fixing a short-term problem and you’re addressing it straight away, but it also gives the employer the opportunity to trial a candidate, to see how they work, to have the flexibility of keeping them on if they would like to, after. Most importantly, first and foremost, it obviously gets the problem fixed quite quickly but they also get the opportunity to look at the candidate, see how they’re performing, see how they’re settling in, how they’re adapting to the environment, to the team and then make a choice whether it be a project or maternity leave and at the end of it whether it’s terminated or if they do want to invest in this particular individual and keep them on.

JOD: I would agree with that and we could even add to that as well for firms that are out there at the moment who potentially may have some headcount issues with the pandemic and not knowing where their business is going to go or there may be some hiring restrictions. We would always be able to payroll a candidate for employers, hence them not going onto the employer’s headcount as well. So that’s another advantage on that. I’d agree with everything you said there.

AMG: Absolutely

JOD: Just turning that around then. With the candidates, with anyone maybe coming out as a newly qualified accountant or a part-qualified accountant or at a more senior level, who may find themselves in a situation where they’re now available for work either due to the pandemic or they’ve finished up a contract or maybe having returned back to Ireland. What are the advantages to an accountant of taking up a role on a contract basis?

AMG: So, there are a lot of advantages for candidates as well, particularly in these times. It gives them opportunity first and foremost to upskill in a certain area within the function. If there’s a skill that they’re not getting exposure to in their current role, it’s certainly an option to take a contract role, upskill in that area and then come out of it and resume back to their current role if they didn’t like it or of course, expand their role a little bit more. Aside from that, it’s a brilliant opportunity to break into another sector, to get into a role maybe that they’re currently doing but within another sector. Some of the sectors are in demand at the moment and specifically sectors that are thriving at the moment, it’s a brilliant opportunity for candidates to expand themselves and their skillsets. Aside from that, I would say systems. It’s a good opportunity, if they’re trying to upskill in a certain system, to get the exposure in another system which is obviously very relevant at the moment, the fact that companies are investing massively in their technology and their resources on that front.

JOD: Absolutely, I think it’s a great way for any candidate across any industry to just gain more and more experience which is obviously important, so thanks for that, Annita.

AMG: No problem.

JOD: You touched there on industries in general. Could you give me an idea of the industries currently who are hiring accountants and that are in demand? What industries are hiring accountants right now?

AMG:  Obviously there are certain industries that have been heavily affected (by the pandemic) but what we have seen in the last twelve months (nearly to the day)  is the areas that are very much thriving at the moment would be the obvious ones like healthcare, pharma, tech – any of those multinational tech firms. Aside from that, it would be supply chain, logistics, engineering that would be some of the areas that we’ve certainly seen an increase in roles and vacancies.

JOD:  That’s good to hear. It’s been the same across the board and I think it’s very important to point out at this time that accountancy is the heart of a business, it’s very much the backbone of any function and very much an area that is required.

JOD: Taking things a little bit more to look at it from the candidate’s side, how has candidate availability been within the accountancy market?

AMG: Candidate availability in general has been very good. We saw around this time last year (2020) there was a huge increase in candidate availability. Again, due to the circumstances, there were a lot of redundancies, there were a lot of people who were temporarily laid off and we would have seen a big increase in candidate availability this time last year. As we’ve moved through the last 12 months, we’ve seen that the candidate availability has been quite strong. There has been an awful lot going on in the market and it has become quite competitive in terms of candidates interviewing elsewhere and having a couple of different (interview) processes going on. This is certainly positive but it does show that there is competition out there for sure.

JOD: And I think that would show as well that we’re heading into a more positive market which is really important.

AMG: Yes, definitely, absolutely.  

JOD: What would you say to an accountant going for an interview. How would you prepare them, in particular, one going for an interview for a temporary or contract role? What advice would you give someone going for an interview for a temporary or contract role?

AMG: For a temporary or contract role, obviously one of the main things that our clients would look for is key skills for that specific role. So my advice would be first and foremost do your homework, do your research on that company, get a background on what they do, how they operate, even little things like looking up press releases on what’s been happening in that sector so that they have a good insight in terms of what kind of environment and what kind of company they’re actually looking at.

Aside from that, it would certainly be knowing your own CV inside out, really focusing on the key skills that are required for that role because that is the main thing that the client will actually need straight away. So selling yourself on that  front with the three key areas that they need you to come in and hit the ground running on, would be areas that you would focus on for interview. Aside from that, it would be backing up your answers with examples, demonstrating exactly how you have done your previous role or the skills that you need for the role and demonstrating how you’ve actually carried that out in the past or in past roles.

Other than that, super important, would be having questions. Make sure that you have questions for the client (employer) and it goes without saying, let them know that you are immediately available or available at short notice.

JOD: Yes, absolutely, I think that it’s all around the availability piece which is key when you’re working in such a fast paced temporary & contract market.

JOD: Moving on to the client side, how have salaries been in general in your market? Have accountancy salaries or benefits changed at all in your market?

AMG: Salaries have been steady. There hasn’t been a massive shift in terms of taking away the benefits ie healthcare, pension, that hasn’t been massively affected. Base salaries haven’t necessarily increased, they’ve stayed the same. Generally it’s been stable which is good. A huge piece that we’ve noticed with the pandemic is that working from home is obviously something that candidates are looking for and employers/ clients are certainly offering given the circumstances and the fact that it’s working quite well.

JOD: And even what you’ve said there about working from home, that brings me onto my next point. Accountancy, very much office based, stable core function of a business. How have you found with the clients / candidates you’re working with, how has the industry adapted to remote working? How has the accountancy industry adapted to remote working?

AMG: To be honest, it was a hard one at the beginning to see how it would all pan out. Realistically, Jean, it all came down to the fact that we didn’t have a choice, candidates didn’t have a choice, clients didn’t have a choice, so it was a matter of adapting and adapting to the circumstances and getting the job done.

You know, at the beginning it was a little bit rocky for everybody but what became apparent to everybody and very quickly actually was from the client side, it was all about investing in your technology and investing in systems and investing in those resources to make everything as efficient as possible given the circumstances.

Then aside from that, it’s about investing in digital relationships which has become a huge part of everything that we’re all going through at the moment. Building relationships and having these conversations via MS Teams, Skype, Zoom, WebEx, and really, I suppose adapting to the way that we communicate. I think there’s been a massive learning curve for people who may not be the best communicators, but it’s actually taught them that they need to be because we aren’t around each other at the moment so I think it’s a positive fact that people have now created a world where we have to communicate digitally and that will be a big part of our future.

JOD: I would absolutely agree with that, Annita, and I think that it has certainly brought every function in the business to the forefront and as I’ve said previously in relation to the accountant, their role is such a commercial role within any business and hopefully this type of environment will give the opportunity to demonstrate that.

JOD:  What would you say the softer skills are that clients (employers) look for when they’re hiring someone in an accountancy role?  What are the soft skills employers look for when hiring accountancy personnel?

AMG: I suppose to give you a few, I think really what employers are looking for is a strong work ethic. Communication we’ve obviously touched on but that has become even more of a skill. It’s really going to be essential. It always was important but even more so now. Work ethic, communication and aside from that, just really strong initiative. Having the ability to take on a task, trying to do it to the best of your ability but also knowing when or how to ask the question if the support is needed in order to carry out your task. The main one would be on the communication side of everything because it’s just about getting it right and if that’s not communicated right, the job won’t get done.

JOD: Absolutely, I’d agree with you there.

JOD: Just before we finish up, what advice would you give to somebody who came to you, say a graduate and who was looking to start a career as an accountant, what would you say to them? What advice would you give to someone considering a career in accountancy?

AMG: My main advice to be honest, especially at the beginning of your career would be to look at what you’ve actually done in terms of your Leaving Cert, whether you’ve done accounting, economics or business. It’s looking at whether they were strong areas for you and whether you enjoyed them. That would be the first question, I would probably be asking. Aside from that, accountancy is really about your academics at the beginning, so looking at pursuing an accountancy qualification, the IATI and looking at a bookkeeper qualification or looking at a professional qualification be it CIMA, ACA or ACCA would be something I’d advise them to look at and investigate and pursue the accountancy path through that.

JOD: Very good, thanks Annita

JOD: What do you enjoy most about the role when it comes to recruiting accountancy and finance professionals?

AMG: Well, they’re very black and white. What I would enjoy most about recruiting is definitely working with people and representing the clients and candidates. Building up a relationship on both sides to ultimately getting to the end goal of matching the correct candidate to the right job is definitely the best part of the role, getting it right and making sure that both sides are 100% happy with each other but it’s also giving the news to the candidate when they have got the job and equally that the client is actually happy with what they have and making the match!

JOD: I would agree, it’s that whole process.

JOD: In terms of recruiting temporary and contract accountants, how long is the recruitment process?  How long does it take to recruit an accountant on a temporary/contract basis?

AMG: Recruitment process for temporary and contract, it depends on the length of the contract would be the most pertinent point. If you’re looking at a short term contract, that may be 6-8 weeks, you could be looking at a week in terms of turning it around and getting the job filled. If it’s a longer term contract such as a maternity leave contract or a 12 month contract, it could be anything between a week and two weeks roughly to fill the vacancy.

JOD: Would I be right in saying it certainly is quite a speedy process that you can absolutely have someone in place a lot sooner than you have in a permanent hire?

AMG: Yes, certainly it goes without saying. Most of our clients need candidates to start as soon as possible. There’s usually a lot of urgency around the role and it being filled therefore candidates do need to be available at short notice if not immediately available before they start to enter the process in order to sync everything up and align it with what the client is actually looking for.

JOD: That’s great Annita, thank you. And thank you very much for all your insights today into the accountancy market. It was particularly interesting to hear your thoughts on the temporary and contract side which we do believe is only going to increase as I suppose as we enter this new world of work, particularly with remote working, with different changes in clients’ needs and different changes in industry so thank you very much.

AMG: No problem at all, my pleasure, thanks Jean.

Annita McGettigan, Manager of our Accountancy division with specific responsibility for Temporary & Contract recruitment was in conversation with Jean O’Donovan, Director of the Brightwater Group. If you have any questions, contact Annita on (01) 6621000 or you can connect with her on LinkedIn