How to encourage career development discussions

From CGMA Magazine
Image by derrrek/iStock

Many finance professionals talk to their bosses about career development less often than they would like—and less often than one might expect, considering the shortage of skilled finance talent.

Eighty-two percent of U.S. finance professionals would like to discuss their career paths with their bosses annually or quarterly, but only 55% do, according to a Robert Half survey of more than 1,200 finance and accounting professionals. Forty percent said managers never talk to them about career goals and expectations and what it takes to meet them.

"These conversations are important and have long-term consequences," said Kathleen Downs, a vice president at the staffing company.

Career path discussions increase employee satisfaction and pipeline development—effects that support talent retention and boost productivity, Downs said. Career path discussions are even useful when managers cannot offer promotions based on performance. "The employee may leave anyway, but the probability is higher that they'll leave if the manager says nothing," she said.

Most career path discussions take place during annual performance evaluations. Forty-four percent of survey respondents said they talk with their bosses about career paths once a year. Eleven percent have the discussions quarterly, but many more (37%) said they would like to have them that frequently.


Finance professionals and accountants at the beginning of their career tend to want a lot of feedback, said Misty Geer, CPA, CGMA, an accounting supervisor with Halliburton, one of the world's largest oil field services companies. Business environments are turbulent, with mergers and acquisitions bringing rapid change, Baby Boomers getting ready to retire, and technological innovations upending processes.

"Without the feedback, we don't know whether we're on the right track," said Geer, who has been in the profession for seven years and supervises three people. "We don't know whether we're performing as expected and whether the work product we produce is adding value."

Elizabeth Pittelkow, CPA/CITP, CGMA, director of accounting and compliance at ArrowStream, a supply-chain software-as-a-service technology company in Chicago, has a career development conversation as often as once a week.

Formal talks with her boss usually happen twice a year, during her performance review and for her human capital management plan, which is an Excel-based inventory of skills that includes a discussion about opportunities to increase the employee's skills. Informal career development talks can be part of one-on-one weekly meetings Pittelkow has with the people she supervises and the CEO, as well as bimonthly meetings she has with other department leaders.

Career development discussions may not immediately pay off, and their connection to the bottom line is a long game, which can make it hard for some managers to prioritize these discussions, she said. "You have to have buy-in at the top of the organization," said Pittelkow, who has spent half of her 11-year career in public accounting and half in industry.

Geer and Pittelkow offered tips on how to encourage career development discussions outside of formal performance reviews:

  • Mentoring programs. In-house mentoring programs offer opportunities to solicit feedback from a mentor that isn't forthcoming from a time-pressed boss, Geer said. Mentors can also provide a manager's perspective and lessons in leadership. External mentors can also provide constructive feedback. Pittelkow said she attends a monthly mentoring circle of about 10 female CPAs or aspiring CPAs in Chicago. Circle members range from accounting students to CFOs and come from industry, public accounting, and not-for-profit organizations. Career development is a topic that is discussed at every meeting.
  • Manager training. ArrowStream, which employs 65 people, has offered new managers leadership classes. The classes include training on how managers should talk to employees and how to discuss skills development over the long term.
  • One-on-one meetings. Pittelkow has four of these meetings every week. They usually last 30 minutes to an hour and may address a variety of topics. Career development is one of them.
  • Corporate leadership development plans. Halliburton identifies employees with leadership potential and creates development plans that map out objectives and expectations to meet certain high-level goals, Geer said. The plans tend to trigger questions that help employees engage their bosses in conversations that don't feel like performance evaluations.
  • In-house newsletters. Spotlighting employees in company newsletters provides examples of finance employees who represent a company's culture and core values. It's a particularly effective tool in businesses that are very large and geographically spread out. Halliburton publishes a quarterly newsletter, Geer said. "We have people who are excelling [at the company headquarters] in Houston, but [employees in other offices] never get to see them or talk to them about what they are doing, what's driving them, and what they value."

The original version of this article, "Why Finance Professionals Want More Career Development Feedback," by Sabine Vollmer, is available at


CGMA Magazine is published in conjunction with the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation, which was created through a partnership between the AICPA and CIMA. The magazine offers news and feature articles focused on elevating and emphasizing management accounting issues.


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