Kick-starting your Company Secretarial Career

by Mark Chambers on 18 October 2016

So you want to be a Company Secretary? If you say this to most people, they will look at you with incomprehension. Why? Because the role and the path to qualification for this particular career appear to be far less understood than that of many other professions.

Drawing from my own experience as a student/Company Secretarial Assistant, combining both study and work, here is my practical guide to kick-starting your Cosec career.

Over the next few months, I will be focusing on the three key areas starting with Qualifying and Study Options. After this, I will look at:

  • Securing a Cosec role; and
  • Raising your Professional Profile

Qualifying

There are a number of ways to qualify as a Chartered Secretary, but broadly it can be achieved through a combination of academic qualifications alongside relevant work experience. The academic criteria will vary depending on your qualifications. For instance, if you are a law graduate you may be eligible for exemptions. Similarly, if you are an experienced professional such as a solicitor, you may be entitled to fast-track. As such, every situation is different and to determine your requirements, your first port of call is the Institute of Chartered Secretaries & Administrators (“ICSA”)

You may then have to decide whether to study full-time or to combine study with work.

Studying full-time

You may wish to focus on study in advance of finding work, such as taking the Chartered Secretaries Qualification Scheme (CSQS) or undertaking an accredited Corporate Governance Masters Course. On completion, you may be a year behind your peers in experience terms and you will still need to fight for an entry level role. On the plus side, you won’t be needing any study support or require time-off for exams, which is something a potential employer may look favourably on.

Studying and working

By choosing this route, you can  get on the ladder, earn a salary, and gain exposure to some of the elements of the syllabus. If you can try to steer your work towards your course syllabus, the two elements can complement each other. But, it is challenging and the standards expected are high, so an effective study routine is vital.

Integrating study into your job

One tip would certainly be to discuss the core areas of your upcoming exam syllabus with your manager. Passing your exams will generally be in both your interests, so try to get involved in work that will help you achieve this, on-the-job.  

For the Financial Reporting & Analysis module, ask to review some of the year-end accounts. This is really helpful as it makes it more real and if possible try to tap into some of the accounts department’s knowledge. There are numerous areas in the Corporate Secretarial Practice module where practical linkage is possible. For example, if there is a company incorporation up for grabs, take it. If there is a company name-change going, take it. Learn the process and then implement it. It’s just so much easier to remember in exam conditions if you’ve lived the experience, as opposed to just revised it from a textbook.  Some companies also have a procedures manual; why not ask to see whether it needs updating? By thinking carefully about how you can integrate your study, ultimately you’ll be saving yourself time – and here lies the real challenge.

ICSA tough course!

There is no doubt that juggling study and work is challenging. This is not an extension of your college or university days where you stroll into lectures at 11am and expostulate about having had a long day! Rather, you’ve got a technically challenging role and need to complete a graduate or masters level module (or two!) simultaneously.  ICSA pass rates can be low and the standards expected are high. It is not a case of question spotting and swatting up on your favourite topics; the modules expect an in-depth understanding and as such the study hours expected are considerable. The benefits of qualification are high, but the journey can be tough and re-taking can be a massive headache. Moving on…!

Networking and studying

Study doesn’t have to be done in isolation. Why not use it as an opportunity to meet others in the profession and develop your network? There are many ways of doing this, such as through Company Secretarial groups on social media, meeting others at ICSA events and keeping a dialogue going with some of your course mates. You could even set up a study group. If you arrange periodic get-togethers, this can be an effective way of focusing your attention on a particular topic in the syllabus which you can discuss in a group setting.

Without delving into study techniques, I think it’s certainly true that if you’re able to externalise some of the knowledge and talk it through with others, it can enhance your learning, not to mention being a welcome break from solitary study.

On a more long-term note, this is fantastic opportunity to meet others in the profession who you can keep in touch with during your career.  I know many Company Secretaries who keep a dialogue going with their ex-course mates, regularly tapping into each other’s knowledge. You never know, they may even be able to help you down the line land your dream job!

Next time, I shall be focusing on Securing a Cosec role, so do follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter and join the G2 Legal Company Secretary Group, so you don’t’ miss out !

https://www.linkedin.com/groups/8246819

https://twitter.com/MarkChambersG2

Please also feel free to comment on the article and share your own experiences – it’d be great to hear your thoughts.

Mark Chambers

Company Secretarial Recruitment Consultant

0207 649 9298

About the author

Mark is an ACIS qualified Chartered Secretary and places Company Secretaries into professional services and in-house roles. Mark is a member of the ICSA and previously worked in-house as a Company Secretary in FTSE 100/250 listed companies.