David Press, Managing Director - DMJ Recruitment
During my first eight months at DMJ I’ve been learning, exploring and dealing with the company secretarial market. Many candidates have been asking me what it takes to become a company secretary – where to start, what qualification you should have and what relevant experience and transferrable skills you need to enter this industry.
I also get asked a lot what exactly a company secretary is and does! My go-to definition of a company secretary comes from The Cadbury Report, which states that “the company secretary has a key role to play in ensuring that board procedures are both followed and regularly reviewed. All directors should have access to the advice and services of the company secretary and should recognise that the chairman is entitled to strong support from the company secretary in ensuring the effective functioning of the board.’’
Basically, a company secretary is responsible for ensuring the smooth administration of the company, in matters such as: compliance with corporate governance and other financial and legal regulations; management of shareholder administration and communication; and provision of strategic advice to the company’s board of directors. The role of the company secretary has recently grown in importance with an increasing focus in recent years on corporate governance. The secretary is now seen as the guardian of a company’s proper compliance.
As the importance of CoSecs has increased, so too has the competition in the industry. From the client’s perspective, there are not enough actively-looking candidates following the pandemic, as after two difficult years of redundancy and unemployment, many people have left the industry and moved to different positions. Junior candidates haven’t received enough experience during these two years and have had to start from a blank slate. It is therefore proving difficult for companies right now in particular to find a CSA with one to two years’ experience who is actively jobhunting.
From the candidate’s perspective, better packages and the increased importance of the company secretary position has influenced graduates, paralegals, legal officers and EAs to move to the CoSec market, but with those benefits comes increased expectation from employers about their experience and professionalism.
So what skills, education, background experience and legal experience do you need to get started?
As a graduate it is difficult to decide what you want to do for a living and who you want to become professionally. If you like having responsibility, being able to work with colleagues at all levels and have knowledge and interest in things like legal services, administrative work, governance and company law, becoming a company secretary might well be a great option for you. I would recommend looking at the job descriptions and adverts on sites such as Chartered Governance Institute, Key Apps, LinkedIn, Totallylegal, and Volcanic – it will give you an idea of what the main responsibilities are and the approximate salary you can expect. I would also recommend attending one or more of DMJ’s Insight Days, which will give you an opportunity to speak with relevant companies and recruitment consultants in the legal market who have so much knowledge and experience to share.
A university degree is not essential to becoming a company secretary. However, it is common for many CoSec candidates to have a law degree, which often proves useful because of the transferrable skills.
I am currently working with many candidates who are EAs/PAs reporting to general counsel, company secretaries and other board members. The position provides a great opportunity to have an easier entrance into the CoSec market, due to relevant experience and even the development of appropriate personal skills for the CoSec job such as dedication, the ability to engage with a variety of people, negotiation skills and flexibility.
I’ve noticed that most companies offer great exposure to CoSec responsibilities to their EAs, such as arranging board meetings, minuting, stakeholders’ engagement and corporate calendar management. This exposure in turn helps candidates decide if a move to a CoSec position is right for them by giving them a great insight into the responsibilities their future job could carry.
Many candidates have been asking me whether a qualification is essential to landing that all-important first CoSec job. An ICSA qualification is essential for moving to a senior position in the CoSec market, but it is not a deal-breaker for those who are applying for entry level jobs. Many people work to obtain their ICSA qualification alongside their job, so that they can progress through the ranks of the industry, and most companies offer study support and are happy to invest in their employees because of the long-term benefit.
To make it into the CoSec industry you will need a standout CV. Here are my top 7 tips for making yours as good as can be:
1. A strong beginning – start with a summary of your skills and key accomplishments, which will attract and grab attention.
2. Emphasize results rather than responsibilities – instead of just listing your past responsibilities, emphasise your results, using quantifiable data.
3. Customise for the job you want – explain exactly why you are the candidate for the role and make specific reference to the job description.
4. Highlight changes and growth – show your personal development, skills and growth.
5. Demonstrate that you are connected – mention networking events you have attended because it shows you are engaged in the industry and have strong communication skills.
6. Show industry insight – an awareness of the industry will show that you have the ability to stay on top of trends.
7. Use power words – include words such as adaptable, innovative, implemented, and achieved.
Use my top tips to write a great draft and then show it to your friends/teachers/lecturers who can give you honest feedback based on their previous experience. And of course, if you are dealing with a recruitment consultant (like me!), they should give you strong guidance on your CV too, using their industry knowledge and understanding of what managers are looking for.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to get in touch with me at Zaryna@dmjcosec.com