James Thompson is a recruitment consultant on the Pro-Finance team. Before moving into recruitment, James worked as a tax accountant in both practice and industry for over 4 years. He now specialises in recruiting Corporate Finance professionals in London and across the UK, and works with accountancy practices from the Big 4 and Top 10 to boutique Corporate Finance and consultancy firms. In the below interview, James speaks to us about his time before recruitment, how he has found the transition between practice and recruitment, his journey at Pro, and offers advice for anyone thinking about a move into recruitment from practice.
1. What were you doing before your career as a Recruitment Consultant?
After completing a degree in Business Management at The University of Manchester, I found myself at a bit of a crossroads as to what I wanted out of my career. I started a temp job at an accountancy firm in Leeds and suddenly I was in a permanent audit role. After a year in audit in Leeds, I moved back down to London (where I am originally from) and with my experience I ended up in a Corporate Tax role in a small, city-based accountancy firm and started studying for my ATT Tax qualifications.
After three and a half years working at the same firm, I started to feel a little frustrated. Like many who are unsure about their entire career being in practice, I decided to make the move in house where I started working at a large insurance firm covering international tax. Whilst I enjoyed having a different dynamic in the role, I realised that it wasn’t only practice that I didn't enjoy - I just wasn’t suited to a career in tax.
2. What made you consider a career in recruitment?
Whilst working in tax, one of my favorite parts of the role was the client-facing side, so I began looking at careers that revolved around this. I still wanted to utilise the skills I had built up working in tax and use my qualifications, so I started to look at recruiting into accountancy firms.
I had come across Pro-Group before as a candidate - they had a great name in the market and I thought very highly of the consultants I had dealt with before. I reached out to them and I was quite surprised to find that others, like me, had started their career in practice before moving into recruitment.
Not only is working in recruitment all about people which made it the natural choice for me, what also attracted me to recruitment was the social, fast-paced and potentially lucrative nature of the role - you work your desk like your own business so the more I put in, the more I get out of it.
3. How has working in practice helped you recruit into the practice market?
The fact that I am recruiting into accountancy practices has definitely helped my transition into recruitment. As I have worked in both practice and industry, I understand the market and know the challenges both my clients and candidates face. I understand the workload, the culture, the deadlines and I also know how tough it can be working and studying for your exams and the pressure that comes with it, so can really understand the candidate perspective on a personal level. This is the same for clients too - because of my background I understand the intricacies of the business and what they need in a strong candidate. This means I am able to see things from their point of view and I know the best ways to interact with clients and candidates alike, enabling me to provide a personalised consultative service.
Not only this, but because Pro has a strong presence in the market I was able to get stuck in and pick up clients and candidates quite quickly. At the end of the day, you are dealing with people and it’s all about understanding the market and people’s motivations, as well as matching this to what your clients want.
4. What was the transition like from practice to recruitment?
The transition hasn’t been too difficult, but I think the biggest difference has been the speed at which you need to react to the job. Working in tax you know your workload and deadlines and manage your time to those - in recruitment, prioritising your work is so different. What you are focusing your attention on can change so quickly, so even if you plan your workload it can very easily change with one phone call. I have had to learn to structure my days very differently and work in a way that is more proactive than reactive.
There have been some challenging moments and I’ve had to adjust to certain elements, primarily changing the ways in which I prioritise my work and getting to grips with the pace of recruitment. I am specialising in corporate finance which can be a challenging market in itself, but I have loved the challenge and enjoyed my time so far - a day in recruitment is never dull!
5. What’s been your favourite part of moving to recruitment?
So many things! The buzz of making my first placement was exactly the kind of buzz and sense of achievement I was looking for in my career. I have also loved the social side that comes with recruitment - I am out meeting clients and candidates on a daily basis. My team is very social, like-minded and of a similar age, and collectively has so much market knowledge that I am learning from.
Not only this, but at Pro the commision structure is so rewarding that I am really able to take control of my earnings and make more money based on how well I perform. Recruitment can be tough, but the fast-paced nature combined with the social side of things mean that life is never quiet - there is never a moment to be bored.
6. What has your journey been like at Pro?
I have been here for just over 8 months now, and the training has been amazing! I started off with quite a lot of classroom training with a peer group, as well as on the desk and one-to-one training. Initially I was shadowing the more experienced consultants on their client and candidate meetings, and as my confidence and knowledge grew I started leading meetings alongside more senior colleagues whilst I found my feet and to keep me on track. Now, I work much more independently - leading my own meetings, building up my network and pipelines, and making placements. I was really encouraged to get stuck in straight away and in my opinion, one of the best things is that everyone has been so open and helpful and I have had the opportunity to learn from those around me.
7. What do you like about Pro?
The main thing that attracted me to Pro was the people and the culture. It’s a very collaborative working environment and my colleagues are all specialists in their market and want the people around them to be successful. Everyone is supportive and management really invest in your training and personal development. It’s also great being in the heart of the city - we get to enjoy going to local pubs, finding new lunch spots, and socialising right in the middle of London.
8. What kind of person do you think suits a role in recruitment?
Someone with high energy, who is outgoing and articulate, and is comfortable talking to people. If you have the ability to empathise with and understand other people you will suit a role in recruitment - it’s all about people skills and being proactive. If you are willing to work hard and you’re also looking for a fast-paced, sociable working environment, then a role in recruitment could be the right choice for you!
9. What advice would you give someone thinking about a move into recruitment from practice?
If you enjoy the client-facing side of practice, then moving into recruitment gives you that with the added buzz and thrill that comes with the sales aspect of the role. Most importantly, do your research and make sure it’s right for you - speak to agencies with a good reputation in the market and take the time to find out about their culture and if your personality will fit in. It’s never too late to make the move, and if you like the idea of using your experience and skills in a new and consultative way, then it will be as rewarding as you think it will!