- Meet Jennifer Mazzarolo a CPA, CA from Canada. Following 16 years of working in Senior Finance roles at various Fortune 500 companies, this Chartered Accountant from Canada took a leap of faith and made a ‘career transition’ in the Recruitment and Consulting industry.
- She runs Maverick Consulting Group, based in Hamilton, Ontario (just west of Toronto) and specializes in the recruitment of Finance & Accounting professionals in the Greater Toronto Area for almost 14 years. She also provides career coaching, placement and transition services.
- From managing numbers to working with people, Jennifer shares It’s Never Too Late to Reinvent Yourself.
Becoming a CA and Starting Out my Career in Finance
I never wanted to become a Chartered Accountant. When I graduated from University in 1989 there was a recession and I did not want to graduate and be unemployed. Also, my peers were interviewing with the biggest 8 CA firms in Toronto so I figured if I wanted a job, maybe I should pursue this Chartered Accounting thing too.
I was encouraged to pursue my CA by my father as I loved math and analytics and working with people. And here started my CA journey.
After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with PwC Canada (known then as Coopers & Lybrand), I was contacted right away by recruiters and that’s how I landed an opportunity in the industry. Over the years I moved from Auditing in a Big 4 firm to Finance roles in various Fortune 500 companies. I was a Senior Finance leader in large Pharma & Biotech companies, having grown up in FMCG companies like Pepsi-Cola Beverages Canada and Kellogg’s Canada.
Professionally I was doing great but in my last senior Finance role; I was frustrated and felt like I was stagnating. I wanted to try something different. I hadn’t reached my full potential and I knew something was missing in my life. The work environment was not the best and so I orchestrated my own exit!
Also, I was hoping to have more flexibility since I was now a single parent of 2 little kids. There was a lot of stress being a Director of Finance and being a single parent with a long commute so the change in lifestyle was also appealing to me.
Finding Courage and Making a Bold Move – From Finance to Recruitment
I am a people person who likes to build authentic relationships and I was always a “connector” in roles I have had in the industry. This comes naturally to me and has been one of my competitive advantages.
Recruiters would often call me for various finance opportunities they had and even if I was not interested, I would freely offer up names of people in my network who might be interested. That’s how I have a fantastic network of recruiters as well as professionals built up over almost 3 decades of work experience.
Since I was helping so many recruiters find the right candidates, over the years I would get unsolicited offers to join recruiting firms, but I always said no.
When I think of it now, I always loved recruitment, networking and helping professionals find the right opportunity and clients to find the right candidate. I describe Recruiting as “the dim night light in the back of my head that would flicker on and off for my entire career.” (*laugh*).”
As I mentioned above, challenges in my last finance role encouraged me to consider getting into recruitment. Luckily, around the same time, a recruiter friend of mine offered me an opportunity in recruitment and I finally said…YES!
To anyone reading this… the only thing I would advise is: Be Brave! Take that risk! Move to a role if you want to!
“Did a lot of people doubt my decision?”
I had a lot of people question my decision to leave Finance and pursue Recruiting. They told me I was wasting my CA and I was afraid they were going to be right! But that made me work even harder to prove that I would be good in this new career field.
EXTRA TIP: Don’t ask everyone for their advice! Or if you do, take it with a grain of salt. It’s natural to want our friends and family to support us, but sometimes they can’t see how your new plan makes sense. You have to be comfortable with your decision, and asking other people what they think can make you doubt yourself
“How did you handle your finances to make your shift possible?
I was over-confident by thinking I would get into recruiting and make $500K the first year as I was promised…what a wake-up call!
When I first started as a recruiter, I assumed my vast network would be all I had to rely on, but I learned the hard way that you had to expand and grow your network to be successful and work as a team. You had to hustle. It is much harder than it looks.
The recruitment industry is all about commissions. You get a fixed salary, but a major part of your income is from commissions. Initially, I did not appreciate the challenges I had to face making this kind of move and also underestimated the difficulty of someone in a commission-based career. It is very volatile.
#WhatIDid: If you are considering a career change, create a safety net with some savings and manage your expectations on how quickly you can be financially successful.
I was able to negotiate a starting salary that worked for my financial situation but not everyone has that luxury.
Over a period of time I have learned (and unlearned) and eventually was able to maintain and surpass my previous level of income once I had established myself in the recruiting industry. But it did take time and surely wasn’t overnight!
“Were my finance skills transferrable?”
My soft skills were transferable and definitely came in handy as the art of negotiation, dealing with conflict and building relationships is critical to being successful in recruiting. I also brought in my thorough technical knowledge and understanding of what the roles were and the requirements since I had done many of these same roles in the industry.
I brought in my network and my contacts and was able to build a very large network in recruiting because of my previous work experience and the fact that I was a designated Chartered Accountant.
As previously mentioned, I was able to bring my soft skills to recruitment but I had to improve them to be a success…Recruiting is not necessarily a technical role so your soft skills will make you or break you.
Starting my new venture – The Next Leap
Once I made a career transition to Finance & Accounting recruitment, I worked for almost 9 years at one single recruiting firm. In fact, I had helped to start the company and contributed greatly to its growth, but over a period of time (almost 9 years) the team culture had changed, and I found myself restless for a change.
I began to doubt my decision of moving to recruitment and wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in recruiting because part of me actually missed being in Finance. Again I felt like I wasn’t using my knowledge and experience to its full capacity and was feeling bored and disillusioned.
I finally did some soul searching and personal reflection and realized that perhaps it was working for other people in a restrictive Corporate setting that was the issue. I decided to start my own business with my own rules.
It was a very scary decision as I would be walking away from a relatively guaranteed income and the safety net of having a large team of co-workers bringing in new job orders each day.
I was afraid of NOT being successful as a solo entrepreneur but then I told myself to get over the fear and believe in myself.
Also, my kids were now University-aged and I had to manage the kids’ education costs single-handedly along with my other personal finances...so taking this kind of risk was daunting!
I analyzed the worst-case scenario (I would go back into Finance or go work for someone else in recruiting if my business didn’t work out) and so I took a leap of faith (yet again) and I went for it. Also, my kids were extremely supportive of me taking the risk.
After a few months of business planning on nights and weekends, I resigned in June 2015 and officially launched Maverick in Sept 2015 focussing on Finance & Accounting recruitment along with career coaching and transition services.
My first client for Maverick came in during the first summer of launching and was a Pharmaceutical company. The Director of Finance had been a colleague of mine at a different Pharmaceutical company when we were in Finance together. He had also been a previous client in 2 separate organizations. I kept a copy of that first commission cheque, and it is framed, hanging in my office today.
Currently, I am about to launch a new product offering which will be a “Maverick Career Guide”. There will be multiple series geared at different target audiences; Series 1 will be for Foreign-Designated Finance Professionals New to Canada. More about that later (*wink*)
“What are the Challenges I Faced When I Started my Own Business?”
I took a pay cut and adjusted my lifestyle to start my own business, but at least now I was my own boss. Working in an agency, the owners take a large percentage of what you bill, so you have to work much harder to maintain your income levels at a standard you are used to achieving.
The challenges I faced when I started out was not all my contacts were hiring or in a hiring position…so just because you have a great network, doesn’t mean you will make money. You also need to invest time and resources in building your brand.
Another big challenge is you can work really hard to the finish line but sometimes your “client’ will say no and at times your “candidate” will too. Being able to develop a thick skin against the rejection you face from clients and candidates is what I have learnt…you have to be able to hear “no” and move on.
Also, the lack of professionalism and not being able to control the process and outcome of the recruitment cycle are still things that I find challenging about the recruitment industry.
Advice to Foreign-Designated Accountants (Immigrants) Coming to Canada
The landscape of the job market in Canada is changing and the economy is softening. There is currently a high supply of candidates on the market and there is a high demand for CPAs. However, it is also a highly competitive job market so candidates must be able to differentiate themselves.
- Many Canadian companies have outsourced their transactional roles (Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Payroll) to offshore countries but have maintained the FP&A (Financial Planning & Analysis) roles here in Canada.
- The stronger candidates who have analytical skills that have been built from the ground up; started in a transactional role, then moved into ones with more analytical focus and more complexity will have plenty of opportunities. (If you have the foundations in accounting & finance at a detailed level but have moved into a more senior role with more analysis and broad thinking required, you will have more opportunities).
- People management skills are always in demand.
- In my opinion, candidates should be prepared to take a few steps back if they are immigrating to Canada in order to get some Canadian work experience and obtain Canadian professional accounting credentials (CPA). This is not forever; just to get your feet wet until clients can see your capabilities.
Wrapping it Up…
Remember that it’s never too late to make a change. Just because you’ve been in one line of work doesn’t mean you have to do that forever.
If you realize that you have a new career dream, you have every right to go after it; it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t in your original life plan. Go for it! And make sure to get support along the way. Here are a few tips when making a career transition:
- Do your research ahead of time.
- Talk to other people in the profession that you trust and respect.
- Do you have to get a new certification or go back to school? Create a plan to make that happen.
- Listen to different opinions but do what you feel in your gut is right for you.
- Be confident in your abilities but don’t underestimate the challenges you may face.
- Be prepared for those challenges and have a strategy on how to navigate through those narrows.
- Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
Now It’s Your Turn!!!
Are you looking for a career transition? Or are your immigrating to Canada and looking for opportunities?
You can connect with me on LinkedIn at – Jennifer Mazzarolo.
(Image edited by Ankit Lodhi)