What to Expect from an Accounting Job at a Start-Up

Working in a start-up environment can be a real breath of fresh air for many accountants. But it can also be a dramatic change from a more traditional accounting job. Here’s what you should expect.

Everyone and their mother seems to be talking about start-ups these days, be it in reference to the high-tech sector or other industries. In particular, the “lean start-up” movement – loosely identified by the Harvard Business Review magazine as ventures that favour “experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional ‘big design upfront’ development” – is gaining more and more momentum.

Accounting jobs at these kinds of operations aren’t for the risk-averse or the meek-hearted. When you’re working an accounting job at a lean start-up, you can expect that resources will be tighter, and sustainability and security less assured.

But as the corporate sphere becomes more innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial, accounting jobs with start-up companies are increasingly available to jobseekers. Despite being unconventional in some ways, these positions can represent an enticing option for accountants who are willing to explore a little bit outside of their comfort zone. Here’s what you can expect if you decide to take an accounting job with a start-up. 

Ditch the job description

At a large or more traditional company, the parameters of an accounting job tend to be pretty clear. You deal with longer-term income forecasts and often, profits and expenses that are more or less consistent from one fiscal period to another.

At a start-up, however, the needs of the business are often changing at a rapid pace. You should expect your duties in your accounting job to be equally fluid. The financial realities of a start-up typically evolve and fluctuate more than at a traditional firm, which means that you, in your accounting job, must prepare to be flexible.

Despite being unconventional in some ways, these positions can represent an enticing option for accountants who are willing to explore a little bit outside of their comfort zone.

Get used to not having all the answers

Start-ups tend to eschew exhaustive business plans. Instead, most opt for experimenting with strategies and testing ideas in practice, on the principle of “learning by doing.”

Your start-up accounting job will thus likely entail a good deal of uncertainty. That means you’ll have to be comfortable with trying out different strategies and approaches until you find one that works. You’ll not only be working with fewer resources; you’ll be taking action on the basis of generally less informed decisions.

Be prepared to experiment and pivot

For an accounting job at a start-up, experimentation is inevitable. But so is improvisation. You also need to be prepared to pivot – to quickly change direction on-the-fly – if an experiment is not going your company’s way.

You should expect your duties in your accounting job to be equally fluid. 

Extract maximum value

When you’re working in an accounting job at a company with minimal resources, you need to be able to squeeze all the value you can out of each and every transaction. Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking are musts for accountants at start-ups, even if neither of these traits meshes with the popular stereotypes about accountants.

If you’re in a position where taking on a potentially less-than-secure accounting role is both feasible and compelling, working in a start-up environment can come with huge advantages. More than anything else, it offers an opportunity to build something innovative from the ground up. And if you’re having a hard time finding fulfillment in your accounting job or feel that it’s too milquetoast for your tastes, a gig at a start-up can be your chance to break out of the status quo, in a more dynamic and innovative role. Just be sure to take the time to know what you’re signing up for beforehand.

Have you had experience working as an accountant for a small start-up? What should a new hire expect, going from a more tradition firm to an upstart enterprise? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!