After a spate of job cut announcements at the Big Four in recent months, things appear to have quietened down on the redundancy front - for the time being. But the job market, already slowed by the economic downturn, has been swamped with accountants seeking work, making the market enormously competitive.
According to recruitment agency Robert Walters, an accountant's chances of finding a new position have fallen from approximately one in two or three to one in five or six. Thanks to the recent Big Four redundancies, the demise of Andersen and numerous corporate restructures particularly in the telecoms and IT sectors, companies and firms looking to recruit are now spoilt for choice and can afford to be extremely selective. As a result, the whole recruiting process has been slowed down considerably.
Indeed, the Michael Page recruitment agency has just reported a reduction in UK finance and accounting revenues by 22% for the first six months of this year, citing difficult market conditions.
Many job-seeking accountants are apparently responding by reviewing their career plans and broadening their horizons. Some see the public/not-for-profit sector and more solid industry leaders in the FTSE 250 as a safer bet and are refocusing in these directions.
Newly-qualified accountants can breathe a sigh of relief, however - the market for this level has picked up and the Big Four are still recruiting considerable numbers. Top level accountants in industry are also in demand, according to Robert Walters, but there seems to be a reluctance to move at the senior end, probably because of uncertainty in the marketplace.
The tarnished reputation of Andersen does not appear to be hampering opportunities for the firm's former employees. Many have been recruited quickly, and mid-tier firms that have succeeded in bagging Andersen staff are advertising the fact loudly. And not only did Deloitte & Touche, of course, keep 3,500 Andersen people on board when it took over the firm - although there are rumours that senior partners may only be welcome for two years or so - but Ernst & Young has also taken on Andersen's entire corporate recovery team, comprising hundreds of staff.