Rising to the top of your career is more than being good at your job. Getting promoted at your firm or company means working hard, being recognized for your abilities and knowledge, and having the credentials to prove it. How do you differentiate yourself from others in a very competitive marketplace?
Step 1: Work Hard and Be Recognized
It should go without saying that meeting your job obligations is the most important strategy to succeed in your career. Of course that includes fulfilling deadlines and managing the details. You want to be the go-to, get-it-done colleague; the person everyone wants on their team. Yet, you don’t want to be taken for granted. You want to ensure you are recognized for the work you do.
The following ideas will help ensure you are recognized for your hard work, the first step in differentiating yourself:
- Be visible—Greet and talk to co-workers every day. Speaking face-to-face rather than relying on email, voice mail, instant messaging, and even texting can be a way to ensure colleagues, managers, and higher-ups know what you are working on, that you are on top of the issue or opportunity, and that your name and face are known in the organization.
- Play on the team—Working well with others is a necessity to rise to the top. To be a good team player, you need to communicate well. Be clear about your project status, deadlines, issues you are facing, and what you are doing to resolve the issues. If you don’t find yourself necessarily prone to working in a team environment, seek advice about how to learn to adapt. In today’s workplace, there’s no way you won’t be working on some kind of team at some point in your career.
- Give Kudos—Give credit where credit is due. Recognizing your colleagues and teammates for the important contributions they provide to a project helps everyone look good. It also shows management that you have leadership traits.
- Share your ideas—Idea “hijackings” are commonplace in any organization, so don’t be shy about sharing a creative idea in a team meeting rather than just with your boss. Talk about your ideas when it’s viable, but avoid coming off as boasting or egocentric. Offering innovations, whether implemented, helps you be recognized as a problem solver.
- Get feedback—Perhaps the most valuable way to get recognized is to ask for feedback from your boss and other team members. At the end of a project, request an informal debrief with the group or just your boss. Go into the meeting with your own list of how you could improve. Get input from others. Letting company leadership know you are interested in improving can help you get slated for different projects rather than just the same-ole, same-ole routine.
Step 2: Demonstrate Expertise
Depending where you are in your career, you may have been originally hired for your “generalist” skills—we just need to get this work done and we need someone to do it. In a firm for example, it’s not unusual at all to start out in tax and transition to another area. However, at some point, whether dictated by the projects you work on or based on your own interests, you’ll want to gain specialized knowledge and skills. Think strategically about what skills your organization needs, as well as your interest and abilities, and develop a plan.
The AICPA Competency Self-Assessment Tool is a great way to get started and it’s free to AICPA members. The online assessment helps you confirm your strengths so you can articulate your value, as well as identify areas of growth that will make you a better CPA. The tool also helps determine what knowledge or experience is required if you decide to pursue a certification, designation, or credential, another important strategy to improve your career potential.
Designations and credentials require a commitment of time and money, but can be really beneficial to differentiate you from your peers and validate your expertise. If your employer won’t fund this, you may have to pay the fee out of your own pocket, so carefully evaluate your options.
AICPA offers the following accreditations:
- Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV): This accreditation teaches the arts and science of valuation for CPAs interested in mergers and acquisitions, IPOs and other situations where you need to determine the true value of a business.
- Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP): This is an ideal credential for CPAs interested in information management and technology assurance. Here, CPAs provide risk assessment, fraud, internal control, audit and/or information management services within their firm or for their employers.
- Personal Financial Specialist (PFS): If you’re interested in personal financial planning, estate planning and related services, then the PFS may be for you. CPAs holding the PFS provide a level of expertise to work with individuals on their personal financial goals or with other financial planners.
- Certified Financial Forensics (CFF): The CFF encompasses fundamental and specialized forensic accounting skills for several areas, including bankruptcy and insolvency; computer forensic analysis; family law; valuations; fraud prevention, detection, and response; financial statement misrepresentation; and economic damages calculations.
- Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA): This is the newest designation offered by the AICPA and it is offered in conjunction with the Certified Institute of Management Accountants. The CGMA combines strategy, operations, and management from a global perspective. Although designed for CPAs working in business and industry, any CPA is capable of achieving the CGMA. Currently, no exam is required to obtain the CGMA; however, beginning in 2015, those who wish to obtain the designation will be required to pass a strategic case study examination.
Step 3: Find a Mentor
Building your career is a strategic endeavor that can get lost in the shuffle of day-to-day work, family, and life pressures. Another way to ensure you stay on track and make good choices is to find a mentor whose career you’d like to emulate. A mentor can offer valuable advice, career coaching, and much-needed perspective.
Don’t be in a hurry when finding a mentor. It may take some time to find someone who matches up with your goals, a person you can get along with, and, of course, respect. Depending on the size of your employer, you may have a mentor program already established. If not, you’ll have to rely on your own resources to find a referral to a great mentor. You can do this by asking co-workers for their recommendations, using LinkedIn to reach out to your network, and attend live, in-person local networking events.
No Matter What, Be Strategic
As the saying goes, the cream rises to the top. To ensure you meet your career goals, be strategic. The attention you gain for hard work and expertise will get you places, but may not happen without a lot of work. Integrate these three strategies to put the spotlight on yourself, and don’t underestimate the power additional training can provide.