CPAs have many reasons for staying with an organization where they have few opportunities for advancement. Sometimes, they intentionally decide to stay for work/life balance reasons or because they’re satisfied with what they have achieved professionally.
But some CPAs stay at a job too long because they’re hoping for a promotion—one that never comes.
Then, when they finally do move on, they find out that staying too long has hurt their career prospects. Their interviewing skills may have gotten rusty, and potential employers may view their lack of promotion as a red flag. They may lack marketable skills since their organization uses old software or their firm isn’t paperless. When they land another job, they may find it hard to change after having become so comfortable in their last job. If they were overpaid at their previous firm, because the firm wanted to retain them, they may not be able to secure the salary they want elsewhere.
What can you do to avoid staying longer than you should? Ask how you are doing!
Each year at your annual review, have an honest conversation about how you are performing and what the next steps are for you in terms of advancement and learning new skills. Understand what management expects of you. If your company doesn’t provide formal annual reviews, ask for one, or schedule a conversation with your direct supervisor. You can decide how to proceed after that discussion.
If you stay: If you believe you can achieve the necessary next steps to deliver on management’s expectations, you may decide to stay and try for a promotion. But keep in mind the downside if you don’t receive that promotion: In the years to come, you may get a smaller salary increase and/or bonus than your peers, receive only a cost-of-living adjustment, or possibly get no raise at all. Don’t plan on staying long term if consequences such as not getting a raise will negatively impact your attitude and/or productivity. Also, be aware that a stagnant career track may make you a candidate for downsizing, especially if your organization encounters financial turbulence in the years ahead.
Whether you decide to stay with your organization for a short while or for the long term, take advantage of whatever learning opportunities you can, especially if they involve new software, technology, or regulations. Attend events where you can network, or work toward a certification or degree. If your employer’s budget for learning is limited, try the many free or inexpensive CPE courses and webinars available.
If you leave: Should you decide to leave, be realistic and honest with yourself as to what you are trying to achieve. The kinds of roles you target should match what you have done lately—not what you did five or 10 or more years ago. Finding that next “right fit” may take longer than anticipated depending on where you live and work, and the time of year. Try to determine how much your next role may pay. Obtain this information by interviewing for jobs and talking to others in similar roles, and by talking to recruiters. You should also determine the smallest salary you would consider accepting, especially if you change career paths.
How do you know if you’re staying too long at an organization where there is little to no chance of advancement? Here are some signs that it could be time to rethink your career strategy:
- Your responsibilities haven’t changed much in the past few years. Others at your firm are invited to meetings and events, offered new opportunities and projects, allowed to manage more engagements and staff, and given chances to become more visible through writing articles and presenting seminars—but you aren’t.
- You haven’t been promoted in a while, someone who started after you was promoted ahead of you, or your company hired someone for the role you thought you were next in line for.
- Your organization hasn’t changed much in terms of its size, budget, or member base, and your role seems to have plateaued as well. Though you may not be responsible for your organization’s remaining stagnant, choosing to stay may impact future opportunities in more fruitful environments.
- Your firm is merging or being acquired, and the other firm has another professional (or several) serving in a role similar to yours. When this happens, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will not be promoted or will lose your job, but it’s still a situation that you should monitor carefully. Pay attention to internal emails and announcements about who is assigned what roles and responsibilities to determine where you fit in.
- Your company is not doing well financially. This situation speaks for itself. If you’re offered a bonus to stay until the company closes, consider how staying may affect your job search.
By understanding where you stand with your current employer, you should be able to make an informed decision whether to stay, and for how long, or leave. Good luck!
Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, is an independent recruiter based in Maryland.