As a young accountant, you have more opportunities than ever before. And if you buckle down and take advantage of your first few years in the industry, you’ll enjoy nearly unlimited potential down the road. Here are a few helpful tips:
1. Figure out a Flexible Career Plan
From the moment you realize you want to become an accountant, you should develop a career plan (with the understanding that it’ll change dramatically over the years). We call this a “flexible career plan,” because it’ll naturally evolve and change course.
Your flexible career plan isn’t necessarily a granular, step-by-step outline of how you want your career to go. Instead, it’s a 30,000-foot view that outlines the different mountain peaks of your career and provides a flight plan for how you’ll get from point A to point B.
2. Get the Right Certifications
This is an industry where certifications matter. And if you’re serious about advancing your career, you’ll need to get the right certifications at the right time.
While everyone wants to talk about the CPA certification, have you ever considered going the CMA route? CMA designations are ideal if you want to go into a specific industry and work for private companies. The educational requirements are still quite rigorous, including CMA exam prep courses, but the pay is great. (Average salary is right around $100,000 per year.)
3. Learn, Don’t Memorize
Whether you’re an undergrad, studying for the CPA or CMA exam, or taking ongoing professional development courses, there’s a temptation to memorize content in order to pass tests and move on with your career. But if your sole focus is on memorizing, you won’t actually retain any of the knowledge you accumulate.
For best results, learn, don’t memorize. Though it might take longer, placing emphasis on learning allows you to maximize your time investment and get more out of your education.
4. Develop Your Soft Skills
Hard skills are more important in this industry than in most. However, never underestimate the significance of soft skills. If you’re only sharpening your side skills, you’re setting yourself up to become an unbalanced professional. Pay attention to both sides of the blade.
5. Network Like Crazy
When a saying gets used so often that it enters into the realm of the cliche, it’s easy to discount the veracity of the statement. But no matter the decade or the industry, the following idiom will always remain true: It’s not what you know, but who you know. And in the world of accounting, it’s your ability to build relationships that ultimately sets you apart.
“Outstanding technical capabilities are table stakes in this business,” says Joe Adams, managing partner and CEO at McGladrey. “To truly stand out, you need to build your professional network inside and outside the firm, and form strong relationships with your clients while remaining objective and independent.”
Networking can be time-consuming and frustrating at times. It can feel like you’re spending a lot of time investing in something that isn’t bearing any fruit. However, the moment you need to leverage your network to secure an opportunity, it’ll all be worth it.
6. Wake Up Early
Not everyone is a natural early bird, but you’ll benefit from training yourself to become one. Waking up early is one of the best investments you can make in your career (and life). Even if it’s just an hour earlier than normal, that extra hour gives you an additional 300-plus hours per year to invest in your education and development as a professional. Over 10 years, we’re talking about more than 3,000 hours that would have otherwise been relegated to shut-eye.
Sleep is important – so go to bed an hour earlier the night before – but having some margin in your mornings will set you up for success.
Advance Your Career
Want to know the cold, hard truth? Nobody cares about your career more than you. In fact, very few people care at all. (The ones who do care are ultimately looking at what you can do for them.) Thus in order to grow your career, you have to take responsibility and make it your priority. The hope is that the tips outlined above empower you to do just that.