Be your own best ally

By Sarah Ovaska-Few

Looking to get ahead at work? Experts share tips on how to advocate for your career in the office.

Create a plan. Many people want promotions or increased responsibility but don't know how to pursue them, said Michele Brant, a South Carolina-based executive career coach and the CEO of Complete-Living. Writing down your goals and the steps to take to achieve them will focus your energy and vision, she said (see the sidebar, "3 Steps to Effective Goal-Setting," at bottom of page). If you want to land a management role, for instance, identify the steps you'll need to take to get there, from attending leadership seminars to heading up high-profile projects.

Don't assume your colleagues know what you've done. Make sure decision-makers around you hear about recent wins, Brant said. Tell your boss you'd like to host a lunch-and-learn or a presentation about a recent project, or summarize what you've accomplished in an email to supervisors. To avoid bragging, mention fellow team members' accomplishments as well, said Jon Lokhorst, CPA (inactive), a leadership coach and business adviser at Wisconsin-based Lokhorst Consulting.

Make a business case. Training can help your career, but you need to make a case to supervisors that it's also good for the company's bottom line, Lokhorst said. If you want to go to a seminar on giving presentations, for example, point out that your sharpened skills will help in client meetings.

Get outside your circle. To have your work ethic and abilities recognized more widely, look for opportunities to get to know colleagues you don't typically work alongside, Brant said. That could mean taking part in leadership development programs, interdepartmental projects, or company-sponsored social events.

Partner with your boss. Creating a close professional bond with a direct supervisor can benefit both of you, Brant said. Make it easier for your supervisors to step up for you by maintaining a file with your major successes and an updated résumé. When you go into your next review, bring a typed list of your accomplishments to share with your boss, Brant said.

Find a sponsor. It's important to find people who can help you grow in your profession and navigate stumbling blocks, Brant said. Look for someone higher up in your organization who will advocate for you and connect you to their network.

Brand yourself. Identify your strengths and think of how you want co-workers to view you, Lokhorst said. Act in ways that reinforce those strengths. Setting yourself apart will attract the right kind of attention.

3 steps to effective goal-setting

To craft goals you're likely to follow through on, follow three simple principles: Make sure your goals are specific and challenging, realistic and achievable, and measurable.

Specific and challenging

General, nonspecific goals typically don't lead to good outcomes, as they are not results-oriented. Setting a goal that is both specific and challenging can help you improve your performance as it makes it clear what you need to do.

An example of a nonspecific goal would be "I will secure a new client." To make this goal specific, challenging, and actionable, you could complete it by stating, "I will secure a new client by ...":

  • Attending networking events A, B, and C and following up on referrals with D, E, and F to meet prospects.
  • Building stronger relationships with prospects G, H, and I in a specific industry area.
  • Arranging meetings with prospects J, K, and L to determine their business needs and suggest ways our firm can provide solutions.

These secondary statements form the "actions" you need to take to achieve the goal, thus making the goal results-oriented.

Realistic and achievable

While goals should be challenging, they also need to be realistic and attainable. Assess how realistic and achievable your goal is in relation to factors such as:

  • Time constraints.
  • Resources available.
  • Support required.
  • Your other goals.


Making a goal measurable means defining what constitutes completion or achievement and establishing target dates for both the end result and key steps along the way. If, for example, your goal is to sell extended services to an audit and tax client, you could make the goal measurable by setting a dollar target and key dates for client meetings and proposal submissions.

Reality check for goals

  • What is the goal?
  • Is the goal challenging, and will I be committed to accomplishing it?
  • Does the goal contribute to the achievement of a business plan or a larger personal goal?
  • What specific action and steps need to be undertaken to achieve the goal?
  • Whose support do I need to undertake the action steps?
  • What measures will be used to assess success or failure: time frame, money spent or saved, quantity, quality, etc.?
  • Are the measures realistic?
  • Do some mechanisms for measurement need to be put in place: client surveys, team surveys, financial management, etc.?

—By Sarah Ovaska-Few, a North Carolina-based freelance writer. To comment on this article, or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA associate editor, at or 919-402-4125.

Editor’s note

The article at right is adapted from “Goal Setting Handout for Counselees: Performance Management,” a resource provided by the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS).

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