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Small is beautiful

In the world of public practice, small and medium-sized firms are now standing taller than ever. Gaining new ground daily, they are now giving their larger counterparts a run for their money. Employees are increasingly opting for this route and with good reason.

Greater experience

Job insecurity in larger firms has also led to talented professionals transferring to smaller and medium-sized practices – and most of them have not looked back since, discovering both personal and professional benefits. The main advantage of working in SMEs is the exposure to a variety of tasks.

'You'll gain earlier and quicker responsibilities and have the opportunity to help run the business and plan your own job – more cradle-to-grave work,' explains Alison Webster, public practice director with Hays Accountancy & Finance.

The arguments for working in small firms are plentiful. Employees tend to be encouraged early on to take ownership and responsibility for their roles and are tend to be more more exposed to challenging work at an earlier stage, enabling them to make their mark within the firm.

Careers in SMEs are clearly becoming more popular, but smaller firms are not resting on their laurels with a continuous focus on attracting and retaining high-quality professionals. Some firms have, for example, developed an employee value propositions (EVPs) where the emphasis is on the importance of training staff and providing valuable career opportunities. Along with offering financial rewards, the aim is also to develop and maintain close employee relationships. 

Added responsibility

A focus on career development and work environment is a general trend in small and medium practices. An employee can expect more extensive exposure to the audit process from an early stage in his or her career compared to that which his peers can expect with the larger firms.

Seeing a job done from start to finish and consequently having a greater appreciation of what is going on in the business as a whole are often cited as benefits by employees. Feeling important and a greater sense of appreciation are other important factors and ones that candidates find with more regularity working for small or medium firms.

A number of practices have been set up by former Big Four employees and when recruiting they often bring in candidates from their old employers, thus importing different behavioural styles and skills that can enhance the business. But those already working in smaller firms are strong competitors for vacancies.

The proliferation of SMEs is likely to continue creating more career opportunities across the board at all levels. For Alison Webster the best way for anyone to get into smaller and medium-sized practices is through recruitment agencies: "Most firms develop close relationships with specific recruitment agencies and let these carry out the initial interview process and then deliver potential candidates to them."