By Paul Weber, Society of Professional Accountants board member

2020 has been a weird year, there’s no denying that, but those who’ve been around for a while do have a point of reference in the shape of the 2008 global financial crisis.

Back then, many accountancy firms found themselves facing uncertainty and – just as they advised their own clients to do – tightening belts and reducing unnecessary spending.

Although accountancy as an industry didn’t suffer mass redundancies, there were job losses. More importantly, though, there was a temporary reduction in the number of opportunities for trainees to enter the industry.

This was bad news for the class of 2009/10 and no doubt some great talent was lost as recent graduates went after alternative careers in other fields.

Those that did make it, though, found themselves in something of an employee’s market: fewer trainees means fewer qualified accountants a few years down the line.

In my view, many of those millennial entrants to the industry have proven to be uniquely resilient, too, and full of entrepreneurial spirit.

If you’re just entering the profession, or are considering progressing up the ladder in the next year or two, there are a few steps you can take now to put yourself in a strong position.

Make yourself indispensable

Be better informed, more efficient and more expert in the areas that matter right now.

For example, accountants who were quick to absorb guidance on the Government’s COVID-19 support schemes not only made themselves useful but also proved how useful they could be in a crisis. (There’s more advice on staying in the loop here.)

Think about what you need to do to position yourself as an intelligent business adviser, not just a compliance and tax return machine.

With the continued rise of cloud accounting software and a resurgence of interest in outsourcing, offering something that can’t be automated or turned into a process will stand you in good stead.

Become a sector expert

Focus on emerging sectors. There’s evidence – to nobody’s surprise – of a surge in eCommerce business registrations through the early part of this year, and online sales show no signs of slacking off even when social distancing is done with.

But I can count on one hand the number of accountants I’ve met who can really say, hand on heart, that they’re experts in accounting for eCommerce businesses.

With Brexit rumbling on, expertise in European accounting practices and the increased complexity of import-export is also likely to be attractive to partners seeking new talent in 2021.

Invest in yourself

Even if you struggle to find the ideal role, you should continue to invest in training, gaining experience and building your own personal brand.

Think about what you don’t know and fill in the gaps with self-study, online courses or formal mentoring from someone who knows their stuff.

Where software firms such as Xero offer online competency tests, take them. And if your accounting institute has CPD points up for grabs, get as many as you can. If there’s a certificate on offer, why not have it?

Think beyond accounting, too. Accountants who are good at sales and marketing – who have the knack of building connections and generating leads – will be more appealing than the narrowly-focused wallflowers.

In the first instance, start building your profile on LinkedIn. It’s increasingly used as an additional yardstick when it comes to assessing candidates’ suitability and potential.

Become an SPA member for networking, advice and mentoring to support your accountancy career.