Return from the wings

As you prepare to bow out of your career, here is advice on finding a different role for your encore.
By Jack Hagel

Return from the wings
Photo by aceshot/iStock

A variety of market forces and trends in the profession have caused many near-retirement accountants to look for an encore in the profession.

Some accounting firms have mandatory retirement ages—often coming long before some want to retire. The recent global economic downturn, meanwhile, has caused many would-be retirees to continue working while investments rebound.

Lisa J. Cines, CPA, CGMA, a partner at Dixon Hughes Goodman in Rockville, Md., moderated a panel on encore careers at the AICPA Women's Global Leadership Summit in San Francisco. Cines, herself in an encore career after having spent about 30 years at another firm, sat down with the JofA to discuss second acts.

Is the encore career more top-of-mind in the accounting profession today than it was 20 years ago?

Cines: Absolutely. Part of it is that partnership agreements have mandatory retirement ages. And there have been greater incentives even at the partnership level to retire earlier. Firms, because of how they need to create opportunities for those who are coming up through the ranks, have looked at what's the ideal length for a ... career within a firm. So people are saying, "I'm still vibrant. I've got a skill set to offer. Where do I take that?"

What are some examples of common encore careers?

Cines: One of the things available to people is a board position, particularly as Sarbanes-Oxley came into being. Companies were relooking at audit committees and saying they needed to have experience in finance and accounting, not just having been with companies and run a company.

That created greater opportunities for people coming out of public accounting.

Other encore careers are sitting on boards of not-for-profit organizations, engaging in the profession, and teaching in different capacities.

Lisa J. Cines, CPA, CGMA
Lisa J. Cines, CPA, CGMA, is in an encore career of her own, as a partner at Dixon Hughes Goodman. (Photo by Eli Meir Kaplan/AP Images)

What advice would you give to an accountant contemplating an encore career?

Cines: I'd look further out into the future. Don't wait to start considering what and when. Consider what skill you want to build on to prepare yourself for the other things you might want to do in life. The other thing is: Pay attention to what's changing in the world and how your skills align with that future state.

And find a network of people who have transitioned in ways that you consider successful. Maybe they're not ways that you see yourself following, but they've successfully transitioned. Those people can be valuable resources.

Some of the larger firms have programs to help their partners and senior staff consider and plan for what happens in their life beyond the firm. Some larger corporations also do that. And some firms allow retiring employees to represent themselves as a retired partner, taking on whatever they're fulfilling within that new role.

What advice would you give to a young accountant who may not be thinking about this now?

Cines: Keep learning. Don't get stale. Don't settle in. A career is a journey, not a destination. Ask yourself how you are fulfilling that journey and what you want to bring into that journey. Who can help you along in that journey, and what talents and skills do you need to continue to evolve to be relevant in the journey?

Always be looking for the next milestone. How are you continuing to evolve your skill set? How is the world changing, and what types of skills can you evolve to better position yourself for the future? Look more long term than short term.

What do people with encore careers draw upon to help them get to where they are today?

Cines: People in encore careers or seeking out encore careers draw upon the network that they've built up over time. These are people that are effective at building relationships, and now they're just looking to use their relationships in different forms and fashion.

There are online communities. There are recruiters that work in spaces that are specifically focused on places that they might be. So there's a whole wealth of resources. The AICPA maintains a number of resources. Just being at an AICPA conference and hearing people that have already transitioned and learning from them and finding out what resources they're using to continue their life's work can be helpful.

Are there things that you could have done differently in the early phases of your career that would have positioned you more effectively?

Cines: Early in my career, I wasn't as focused on ... the relationships that I need to develop. I was probably much more focused on how do I get the work done and be valued for the work that I produce.

There's a need to have a very good balance between those items. We have a responsibility to put ourselves into the relationship earlier and take credit for what we're doing.

If our readers could take away one piece of wisdom from this conversation, what would it be?

Cines: Challenge yourself to think of yourself in a bigger way than you might today.

About the author

Jack Hagel is a JofA editorial director. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact him at or 919-402-2111.

AICPA resources

JofA articles


  • Becoming a Contract Controller: Tips for a Thriving Career (#091097, paperback; #091098PDF, online access)
  • On Your Own! How to Start Your Own CPA Firm, Second Edition (#PPM1212P, paperback; #PPM1212E, ebook)

CPE self-study

  • From Technical Expert to Financial Leader—How to Make a Critical Leap in Your Career (#BLI165060, one-year online access)

For more information or to make a purchase, go to or call the Institute at 888-777-7077.


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