Top five tips for becoming a corporate secretary

Madeleine Cordes, Senior Manager at TMF Group, recently hosted a networking evening at ICSA for students interested in a company secretarial career.

Expert guests shared tips from the frontline about how to get into a company secretarial role; here we present their top five.
  1. Look for opportunities to learn about the profession
    Attending ICSA events and joining as an affiliate member is a good start. Read Governance + Compliance magazine (which I used to read at Bishopsgate library before starting my exams!) and seek out work experience to get a flavour of the work. Although it was pleasing that a large number of attendees had heard of the role and knew about ICSA, the membership body for company secretaries, it was apparent that there is still some misunderstanding of what the role entails. Make sure that you have the best possible understanding and that you speak to people at different stages in their careers who are actually doing the job.
  2. Find a mentor
    A mentor who is well known in the profession, and who has good links in the market place can help and support you. The Association of Women Chartered Secretaries, a flourishing group of 300+ ICSA members, runs an established mentoring scheme.  ICSA students can tap into this invaluable support. Once you get your first job in the field, seek out managers who will actively support your development. I received fantastic support from the General Counsel in an oil company where I worked as a PA. When he knew I wanted to do more, he introduced me to the ICSA qualification and I started my journey. There’s supreme value in having a manager pushing and encouraging you in the right way every day, not just during appraisal.
  3. Career changers can become company secretaries if they want it enough
    The experience you will bring to the role will benefit an employer and much of what you have done will be transferable. Help potential employers by demonstrating this in your applications and at interview, clearly articulating why you want to change. Your influencing skills, which you will need in the boardroom, will be essential here!
  4. Your degree isn’t all that matters
    Whilst a 2:1 or above is often seen as desirable for entrance onto graduate trainee programmes in professional practice such as the TMF scheme, don’t forget that it is only one of the criteria. Employers are looking for candidates who understand the role of a company secretary, and show interest and drive in pursuing the career. Cover letters really count and need to communicate what you can offer and express your personality.
  5. Take calculated risks
    Moving within the UK or overseas, or between sectors, and making a number of moves may be the right thing to do to find the right fit for you. Company secretaries are needed in all sectors and organisations, and the skills and knowledge you will acquire in the corporate or not-for-profit sectors are transferable. You will have different needs, goals and aspirations at different stages in your career. Follow your dreams to open up the myriad opportunities available and always be able to explain your choices to an interviewer.

This article was originally published on the ICSA blog.

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