I lasted nearly four years in audit. It might have been even less if Peat Marwick (which became KPMG) hadn’t tried to stop any recently qualified staff leaving.
Having decided that I would never become a partner; I neither thought they would make me one, and I didn’t fancy it anyway, I made haste to find a job in the big wide world. At the time I was so keen to move on that I didn’t really consider how different the work, and culture, would be. …and how much more suited to what I wanted.
First of all I had to find a job.
I was 24 years old and I had never been to a recruitment agency, so I started by looking through the ads. There wasn’t much choice; The Evening Standard for accounts assistants, Accountancy Age for qualified and the FT for executives. I was earning £3,500 at the time and when I saw a newly qualified position for £5,000, it was tempting to apply.
The application involved handwriting a letter saying why the position was of interest, typewriting an up-to-date curriculum vitae, and posting it all to an agency. I then got a letter about a week later inviting me to their premises in Liverpool Street. I had never heard of the agency, but then I hadn’t heard of many in those days. Michael Page wasn’t even in existence then.
I don’t think many young accountants had visited this particular agency, squeezed in between a gentleman’s outfitters and a tobacconist. All the notices in the window were for typists and stenographers. Fortunately I was expected and the guy who came down to meet me led me to a very small room on the first floor. He told me that the job was for a fast growing management company that was taking over businesses that would prosper when they ‘sorted them out’.
There were quite a few of these new management companies around and they were unaffectionately called ‘asset strippers’.
Nonetheless, it still sounded very interesting and he made them sound very professional. He would be in touch.
A week or so later I had a letter inviting me for an interview at the company’s offices in Windsor. To be more specific, an interview starting at 7 a.m! There was no easy way to do research, the best you could do was go to the City Business Library on London Wall. That drew a blank, so I prepared to be unprepared.
When I arrived, the manager who was to interview me, and the only person in the building, took me into their board room and handed me a psychometric test to complete. This was not run-of-the-mill and I’d never done one before. It seemed quite interesting. Afterwards he interviewed me and told me more about what I would be doing. It really sounded good and I left hoping I had done well.
Another two weeks passed and another letter came, inviting me to a second interview.
I phoned the guy at the agent and he seemed very pleased. It was to be back at the same Windsor office but at 8 a.m. on 1 April 1976. The date is significant, not because it was April Fool’s Day but because Field Marshal Lord Montgomery had recently died and they had just announced that his state funeral was to held in Windsor on that morning. Right in front of their offices.
The interview was unmemorable other than being told that my psychometric score was “very good, exactly the same as the Chairman.” I have no idea whether it was good because it was the same as his, or something else. Actually, there was something else: I was asked what salary I was looking for. Given that it was advertised at £5,000 that is what I said. When we finished I was invited to stay on and meet the others who worked there. It was a little awkward as they were not told who I was or why I was there.
A couple of days later had a brief letter from the agency letting me know I had failed in my application.
I called them and after being put off a few times I managed to speak to the person I first met. Apparently they really wanted to hire me but that just wasn’t possible. My salary expectations were higher than anyone’s I would be working with. I reminded him that was what they had advertised the job for. “Oh yes”, he said “we did that to attract candidates”.
He went on to explain that their agency was one of the businesses that the client had bought to turn around and it was vital that they delivered people to be interviewed. He forgot to mention this to me before I was asked about salaries.
It was a very long time before I could bring myself to trust anyone in recruitment and as for ‘misunderstandings’ about salaries, I never let it happen again!
Next time: Reggae, reggae, reggae.
Mike Jones has been a Chartered Accountant since the early 1970s and has been Finance Director of many well-known brands including HMV, Argos, and Southern Water.
His full profile is here: LinkedIn Profile