Been Offered Secondment? Here are some Pro’s and Cons from an industry expert.

Opinion provided by an industry expert who has been both sides of the fence, Ian Woodthorpe. A Deloitte trained SA CA , the MD and founder of Gap Placements Recruitment. Gap Placements are a specialist Recruitment firm working with South African Chartered Accountants globally

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"For Southern Hemisphere soon-to-qualify Chartered Accountants, it’s the time of the year where the choice needs to be made: What to do next – How about a Secondment? Having been in this exact position myself (some time ago) and having the benefit of charting the career routes of my fellow trainees from a Big 4 firm over the past 20 years, what seems quite obvious to me now wasn’t very clear then.

Let’s consider the Pros:

Secondment is often marketed internally as a ‘privilege’ and you are ‘the chosen few’, hence there is a sense of prestige at having been ‘selected’. The financial risk of the move is removed as accommodation and flights are paid for. You receive your salary in your home country currency.

Additionally secondments are often offered in countries such as USA where work visas are difficult to obtain and this is an attractive opportunity to work in that country (particularly the USA). Plus it’s not a long commitment.

Plus it’s an opportunity to gain International experience to differentiate your CV, and there is the added bonus of travel in the country at the end of your secondment.

All sounds too good to refuse, but is it?

The Cons

Financially, while you have few outlays your main payment you receive is still in your home currency and not in the secondment country currency, normally with a high cost of living with a nominal subsistence allowance.

With regards to work experience secondment at best can be seen as an extension of articles, at worst a demotion. You are often assigned first or second year articles work such as asset verification's or debtor’s circs at a single client for your entire secondment. The reason or this is simple: as you don’t know the client you can’t do the more interesting work, so you get given lower level chunks you can deliver on. Your client interaction at a meaningful level is often reduced (as you don’t know the client) and your relative exposure is far less than you are used to.

On top of this the feeling that this will ‘differentiate’ your CV from the rest can turn out to be quite the opposite. It’s very lucrative for the audit firms to place secondees (revenue in hard currency costs in local currency) hence what looks like special experience is actually the same as hundreds of other accountants. In very busy times some Big 4 firms hire smaller firm candidate’s, ‘rebrand them’ in an induction of a few weeks and they get selected for the secondment program. On the CV the experience is often seen as too short to be meaningful and can be interpreted as effectively ‘kicking the career decision making can down the road’.

Additionally, secondees are generally required on very tight deadlines and the hours can often be very demanding, including weekends (bear in mind the USA for example has fifteen days leave a year as opposed to say the UK where is can be 25-30 days). The idea of seeing the host country often turns into seeing the curtains in the hotel room, and if you do get one day off a week its often spend recuperating and not sight-seeing.

So is there another suggestion?

If the only opportunity you will get to work abroad is on secondment then it is a good option. It beats hanging around with the thousands of other qualified’s all fighting for the next plum job outside practice (the ones you have been promised for the past three years)

The best option in my opinion it’s always better to move at professional level into a reputable firm abroad, and seek full time permanent employment, effectively a contract with a one month notice period.

In many instance this doesn’t need to be your own firm (for a number of reasons which I won’t go into now).

This way you get to earn hard currency, you get professional experience that does look beneficial on the CV. You can travel – on hard currency, plus by staying in practice you learn the ‘lie of the land’ in the country before taking the next step – as Internationally the market can be quite specialist so choosing a sector or role (Management Accounting versus Financial Reporting for example) may already ‘stereotype’ you.

One size doesn’t fit all, these are general observations above, but hopefully whatever decision you make, you make it with eyes wide open!"

Ian Woodthorpe

ACA CA(CA)