As they go through life, many CPAs set career goals that include attaining a specific title or role. That could range from being named CFO at a Fortune 500 firm to owning their own business.
Some of these goals, such as moving into the C-suite or being a partner at a public accounting firm, are obviously long-term objectives. There will be many years, and sometimes decades, between where you are in your career now and obtaining that dream title. So how do you know if you are still on track to reach that goal? How can you recognize if you’ve gotten stuck—whether in middle management or simply a job that can no longer help you reach your desired career objective?
Far too often, job seekers tell me that they are frustrated that their careers aren’t progressing in the manner they envisioned. CPAs, whether in public accounting or business and industry, can get stuck due to issues in three main areas: skills (technical, education/training, soft skills), lifestyle choices (location, cost of living, work/life balance), and awareness/self-awareness (knowing your strengths and weaknesses, understanding what others think of you, fitting into your team’s culture).
During the course of your career, you should continually assess yourself in these areas through a career checkup. Once a year, take time to think about where you’re at in your career and where you want to go. Determine if you’re still moving toward that goal and, if not, figure out why. This assessment will help prevent you from getting stuck.
Here are some questions to ask during your next career self-assessment:
- Do you know the “rules” for climbing your organization’s corporate ladder to ensure you can, in fact, climb it? For example, if all previous CFOs at your company have worked at a Big Four public accounting firm, and your background is different, what is the likelihood that you can work your way up to the CFO role? Should you be setting your sights on a different company or maybe even a different industry?
- Are you the one who offers suggestions and ideas at work, or do you implement others’ ideas? For example: Do you make recommendations for your department/business unit that can be implemented companywide that may result in higher revenue generation or lower costs? Developing ideas, not just implementing someone else’s vision, can help get you promoted.
- When given the opportunity to mentor or train staff, do you happily do so, or do you view this as another thing to add to your already busy day? Are you helping to cross-train staff so they can be promoted and you can be promoted too? Or are staff members going around you or getting promoted above you?
- In a similar vein, do your peers and senior management view you as the “go to” person for getting things done? If not, what can you do to be seen as that type of employee?
- How do your lifestyle choices align with your current career trajectory? When it comes to lifestyle choices, many factors influence your career decisions. These include where you live, your family situation, your health, and your personal work/life balance ideal. Maybe you live in an area where career options in your industry or profession are limited. You may have to relocate to get ahead, especially if your organization has multiple locations nationally or worldwide. If advancement occurs through opportunities requiring you to move and you choose not to move (e.g., your family wants to live near the beach, etc.), you may be limiting yourself.
- Is management keeping you where it needs you—to your detriment? To advance in your career, you need to grow. That may mean deepening your mastery of skills you already possess. It also means broadening your skill set—adding new tools to the toolbox. But sometimes managers are content to keep a strong technical employee in the same spot simply because it makes the manager’s job easier. That prevents the growth necessary for advancement. How does management view you and your future in the company? Have you ever asked? Perception is reality—both in politics and promotions.
- Lastly, how do you deal with change? Consider getting out of your comfort zone on a regular basis (taking into consideration your organization’s culture, of course). Doing so will showcase your ability to adapt and learn about yourself and new things, allowing you to lead others. Maybe you will even become your own boss and create your own corporate culture!
Everyone’s situation is different. Your career path doesn’t have to be the same as the person in the cube or office next door. Too much patience or lack of speaking up can eventually turn into complacency, frustration, and lack of engagement—habits that can stop your advancement right in its tracks. By giving yourself a career checkup on a regular basis, you can stay proactive and create strategies that will help you reach your goals.
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Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, is an independent recruiter based in Maryland.