Set Yourself up for Success With Clear Career Goals

Robert Half

April 17, 2018

Mountain climbers have their sights set firmly on the summit — and scaling the career ladder is no different. Goal setting is intrinsically linked to work performance. Having tangible objectives and moving toward them helps keep you focused. You need a destination to aim for, along with strategies for reaching the finish line.

Sounds attainable, right? In fact, 93 percent of professionals polled for a recent Accountemps survey said setting goals is important to their work performance. But figuring out what that looks like for you can be the tricky part. The path from where you are to where you want to be isn’t always clear. For accounting and finance professionals, achieving some common milestones can help bring it into clear view, as can tapping into the wisdom of those further along the path than you are.

Get certified

If you’re just starting your career, you’re likely still working toward becoming a CPA. That designation is considered the gold standard in accounting and finance. As for current CPAs, you can go after other certifications or advanced degrees. Some of the top credentials to reach for are chartered global management accountant (CGMA), chartered financial analyst (CFA), certified management accountant (CMA) and certified internal auditor (CIA).

Attaining an additional credential can help put you on the fast track to advancements that bring you closer to your career goals. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a CFO someday, an MBA will open more doors than just a bachelor’s degree in accounting. If your path leads to or through a financial analyst role, you would do well to work toward a CFA.

Round out your skill set

While having additional letters after your name can help, you may need more to reach your goals. Look at the professionals who are already at the next step of your career path. Do you have their level of proficiency in accounting technology? What about business acumen, like in-depth understanding of the various departments and how they work together? How are your soft skills, especially verbal and written communication, presentation, leadership, and problem solving? Being known as a good collaborator and doing lots of in-house networking also puts you in good standing when promotion time comes around.

Talk to your manager or mentor

Involving your supervisor and, if you have one, a mentor in your planning can help bring your ambitions for your accounting career to fruition. After all, they’re experienced professionals who can offer advice and support as you set goals and work toward achieving them.

The majority of survey respondents (51 percent) said they discuss work-related performance objectives with their boss at least monthly. But 11 percent never have this kind of talk. Even if you have a string of certifications and credentials and have been promoted once or multiple times, a manager’s backing and clout can be essential.

Here are some tips for starting and maintaining a productive goal-setting dialogue:

  • Decide on a regular schedule. Touching base with someone to hold you accountable at least once a month is important for sustaining momentum and staying on track. Approach your boss about setting a recurring day and time to discuss work goals and progress.
  • Share mutual goals. Your boss doesn’t know what your ambitions are unless you spell them out, and you may not have clear ideas on the company’s goals. During regular check-in meetings, talk about aligning your career objectives with the organization’s needs. Give your employer good reasons for investing in your professional development and career path. In addition, your manager could steer you toward options you’ve never considered before.
  • Keep the big picture in mind. Regular check-in sessions often focus on what’s happening now or in the immediate future, such as project debriefs, reporting deadlines or quarterly numbers. Longer-term objectives, like career development, can easily fall by the wayside. It’s up to you to steer the conversation back to your goals. In fact, talking about the future is a good way to close out meetings with your boss.

Your college courses may not have taught you about setting goals, but they can make the difference as you navigate your career path. And don’t forget to document your goals, the steps needed to reach them and guidance from your boss or mentor. By writing down specific, actionable objectives and partnering with your manager, you can turn your career dreams into realities.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. For career and management advice, follow our blog at

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