By Katie Howells

In this series, Senior Recruitment Consultant in the Charities & Not-for-Profit sector, Magella Burnett, will be talking to industry leaders about how they have progressed in the past and their advice to those looking to follow in their footsteps.

This week Magella spoke to Catherine Fisher, Head of Finance Business Partnering at Teach First.

When and how did you decide you were ready for the next step up in your career? 

My first move wasn’t intentional. Within a year of joining Teach First, high turnover in the team meant I was the longest-serving Business Partner. A new Finance Director had just joined the organisation and it seemed logical that I lead on the quarterly forecast process while she settled into the organisation. As a result, she suggested that I apply for the vacant Head of Business Partnering position. I spent the next two years re-establishing that team and leading improvements in our budgeting and reporting processes. By then I had ambitions to one day become a Finance Director and possibly COO so my next move was more intentional. I had an audit background but my knowledge of accounts payable, accounts receivable and financial accounting wasn’t as strong as I would have liked. The idea of swapping roles with my counterpart who led these functions had been suggested in the past. When a new Finance Director joined the organisation we followed up on this opportunity as we were both keen to expand our finance knowledge with a view to stepping up in the future, so in January 2018 I became Head of Financial Accounting. When my colleague went on a career break nine months later I had the opportunity to step up again and use the knowledge gained from leading both teams to manage the whole finance team as Head of Finance. Another change in senior leadership gave me the opportunity to act up as Chief Financial Officer for a short period before the new post holder joined.

Did you have a mentor or coach?

Teach First runs an internal mentoring scheme which I took advantage of. My mentor had valuable line management and team development skills which I found useful.

Did you step up within the same organisation, or move to a new company?

Within the same organisation.

If you stayed in the same organisation, how did you approach stepping up with your boss?

I have been open about my career ambitions which has led to line managers signposting opportunities and, in the case of the role swap, creating them.

Did you have someone who helped and advised you in your progression? If so, who?

My line managers have been some of my best champions. When I haven’t felt quite ready to step up, their faith that I was right for the role has given me the confidence to go for it.

As someone who has progressed to a senior level, what advice would you give someone who’s looking to step up?

  • Be open about your ambitions
  • Identify gaps in the skills you’ll need and seek out opportunities to develop them
  • Times of change can be unsettling but also present a great opportunity to step up and demonstrate your leadership skills
  • Go for it!

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