Calling all bored accountants.
If you’re feeling unengaged at work and ready for a change, you’re not alone.
According to The CPA Journal, turnover rates at large firms saw a significant increase in 2019, reaching almost 19% — which is an 18% increase from the previous year. In fact, in some cases, the journal found turnover rates as high as 30%.
Given the changes taking place in the industry, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise.
Like so many other industries, accounting is significantly impacted by new technology — from an increase in automation to new software entering the field — technology has changed the shape of the industry and the roles within it.
This article walks through why accountants are leaving their field, tech roles to consider, and three steps to get started on your career transition journey.
Why are people making a career change from accounting?
So you’re thinking about leaving your accounting job — you’re in good company. At General Assembly, we see people transition into new careers all the time. People transitioning from teachers to data science, from hospitality to UX design — you name it.
Here are some of the main reasons people are leaving accounting in particular:
Lack of work/life balance
It’s no secret that accountants work hard. This is especially true during tax season, a high-pressure 10 weeks that’s known to cause a serious case of burn-out. Unfortunately, the 2020 pandemic only made matters worse. Since the pandemic hit mid-tax season, and tax deadlines were extended in many countries, the 10-week busy season turned into 10 months — causing widespread burnout and compelling many accountants to question their career paths.
Accounting is often thought of as a high-paying profession. But it often pays to attract talent rather than retain.
Even with a decent starting salary, accountants’ pay hasn’t kept up with the times — especially in public accounting — becoming virtually stagnant over the last 20 years. In an interview with Fast Company, Jeff Phillips, CEO of tax and accounting advisory Padgett Business Services and founder of the recruitment firm Accountingfly, puts it frankly: “The value proposition for the career path in public accounting has reached a point where it sucks.”
The impact of technology
Lastly, as mentioned at the start, automation and technology have impacted the exodus from accounting in a number of ways. On the one hand, it’s made some jobs redundant, with advanced software helping to make many tasks more efficient. On the other hand, this new technology provides a great opportunity for a new challenge. For those who choose to, there’s a whole new world of skills you can learn and new, but related, industries (like fintech) you can veer into.
The third side of the coin is that not all accounting firms are adding new technology into the mix. And that’s a problem in and of itself. In those cases, some people are leaving seeking out more progressive companies that aren’t lagging behind.
No matter the reason for seeking an alternative career or change, the real question is: where to next?
4 Alternative roles in tech for accountants
You might be asking yourself — what can I do with an accounting degree besides accounting? The answer is: a lot of things.
The transferable skills honed from working in accounting are numerous, including:
- Problem-solving abilities
- Analytical skills
- Strong ethical leanings
- Communication skills
- Attention to detail
- Critical thinking
These are skills that are applicable in any job and can open the door to many alternative careers for accountants.
But given the rise in tech across all industries, a tech career is a strong contender, and likely why you’re here. Below are four careers to consider if you’re looking to transition into tech from accounting.
What you’ll do: Data analytics can be used in a wide range of roles and is a natural fit for accountants looking to either stay or leave their profession. While brushing up on your data analytics is a great way to improve your skills and evolve within the finance field, it also opens the doors to new opportunities like product management, marketing and more.
Transferable skills: Tableau, Excel, critical thinking
Gaps to fill: Structured query language (SQL), creating a narrative with the data, etc.
What you’ll do: No matter what type of device or platform you’re reading this article from, a software engineer made it possible. They use coding and programming to build the technology we use every day. As you can imagine, software engineering consists of a lot of focus work that requires concentration and also collaboration — not so different from accounting.
Transferable skills: Analytical skills, system approach, problem-solving
Gaps to fill: Coding, programming, full-stack development, etc.
What you’ll do: The success of a product depends on the UX (user experience) design. UX designers make products easy to use and accessible. At the heart of this career is problem-solving. It’s equally about research, and understanding the target audience, their behaviors and needs as it is about the actual design.
Transferable skills: Problem-solving, attention to detail, collaboration
Gaps to fill: Wireframing, user research, user testing, etc.
What you’ll do: Product managers work cross-functionally in both enterprise and startup organizations to bring products to life. They connect the dots between the market needs, business goals, and the product — ultimately helping the product reach a bigger vision. This requires working across the company, with teams like marketing, sales, customer success and engineering.
Transferable skills: Strategic thinking, communication, data interpretation
Gaps to fill: Negotiation, working with stakeholders, writing technical requirements, etc.
How to make a career change from accounting in 3 steps
When you’re making a big decision like switching careers for a new job, the easiest thing to do is break it down into a step-by-step process.
While the steps taken will look different for everyone, here’s a general guide for how to leave your current career and make your transition from accounting into tech.
Before you make any big moves, it’s important to reflect on what’s worked well for you so far. Have there been any projects you really enjoyed working on? What have you learned from them? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How would your colleagues describe you?
Write down everything that comes to mind and then look at the list with fresh eyes after a few days away from it. If you need somewhere to start, try this free skills audit template.
If you’re feeling excited about a change (hopefully you are), it’s easy to rush into the next thing. But this step is so important. Take some time to look in the rearview so you can set the foundation for what’s next with clear intentions.
- Talk to people
The best way to learn about different careers is by talking to people who’ve done them.
They’ll be able to tell you what skills are needed, what qualifications are required and whether there are any jobs out there right now (or coming soon). Once you’ve got some ideas of what’s available, ask if they know anyone who works in the area who could give you an informal interview over coffee or lunch. It’s also worth asking them how they decided on their career path and how they felt when they first started out — this will give you more insight into the realities of working in that field.
Tip: If you don’t know anyone who you can talk to, LinkedIn is a great place to start.
- Take a course
Lastly, taking a course can be immensely beneficial on your path to changing careers. While there are many jobs you can get with an accounting degree, doing some continued learning can go a long way — especially if you’re trying to move into a whole new field.
Fortunately, going back to school full-time isn’t the only option. There is an abundance of options available to you: from short-term immersive programs and part-time courses to one-off workshops and on-demand learning.
Do your research and figure out the best way to improve your skills and demonstrate your commitment to adapting and learning.
When looking to make a transition from accounting to tech, there are a number of paths you can take. Whether it be switching fields entirety, or upskilling to adapt to changing times — find a path that works for you.
Break down the giant leap into small, actionable steps, and you’ll be well on your way to a meaningful and rewarding change. You’ve got this.
Ready to do something different? Download the ebook career changers guide to doing something different and start your career change journey.