Many CPAs set career goals that include attaining a specific title or role, such as partner or CFO. But what happens if you get stuck—say, in middle management—along the way? Here are steps you can take to get your career moving ahead:
Perform an annual career checkup. CPAs, whether in public accounting or business and industry, can get stuck due to issues in three main areas: skills (technical, education, soft skills), lifestyle choices (location, work/life balance), and awareness (knowing your strengths and weaknesses, fitting into your team’s culture). Once a year, assess where you are in your career and where you want to go. If your progress toward that goal has stalled, figure out why.
Learn the rules for climbing your organization’s corporate ladder. 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?
Offer suggestions at work instead of just implementing 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.
Take the opportunity to mentor or train staff. During your career checkup, ask yourself the following questions: Are you helping to cross-train staff so they can be promoted and you can be promoted, too? 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?
Determine whether 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.
Assess whether management is keeping you where it needs you—to your detriment. To advance in your career, you need to grow. That may mean deepening the mastery of skills you 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 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—in politics and promotions.
Get out of your comfort zone regularly (taking into consideration your organization’s culture, of course). Doing so will showcase your ability to adapt and to lead others. Your career path doesn’t have to be the same as the person in the next cubicle or office. But 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.
Editor’s note: This checklist is adapted from the article, “A Seven-Step Career Checkup,” CPA Insider, July 14, 2014.
—By Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA (
), an independent recruiter based in Maryland.