How to campaign for your next career move

Here’s what to do when you ‘run’ for that next position.
By Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA

With the presidential race in full swing, it's been interesting listening to, reading, and watching the stories behind the candidates. As a CPA, you'll likely reach a point in your career when you need to "run" for a position: a new job or a promotion. In formulating a strategy, it'll be important for you to tell your story in a compelling fashion.

You need to consider a few elements of your story: how to project it to others, how well it fits the position you're looking for, how honest and credible it is, and whether it coincides with the way others see you.

So, what's your story? Are you a rainmaker? A quietly brilliant tactician? Someone who's known for great client service? Know what your capabilities and strengths are and aren't in terms of technical skills (tax, audit, closing the books, etc.) and soft skills (ability to manage staff, deal with stress, oral and written communication, etc.)

Also, understand how your style reflects your story. Not only does your personality come into play, so does how you communicate as well as the image you present upon walking into a room. You need to prepare to tell your story well, which may mean rehearsing what you'll say about your professional successes and achievements (and shortcomings, too). In effect, you should have a personal brand, and one that is well-crafted.

To share your story, you may want to discuss your successes and skills among peers and management during a casual hallway conversation, at lunch, in a meeting, or during a performance review, or by writing about yourself for an employee newsletter.

When you're trying to land a new job, think about fit. Your style needs to match the organization you want to join or the position you are trying to reach. In the workplace, a CPA may be seen as a lone ranger or a "we're-in-this-together type." A CPA may also be seen as a leader, a go-getter type, or as a follower, a great second in command. None of these types is necessarily "right" or "wrong," but they may not be "right" for a certain work environment, position, or culture.

Ensure that your story aligns with the opportunity being offered. For example, if you're interviewing with a small CPA firm where no one really manages staff aside from the partners, then stating that you are seeking a growth opportunity where you can gain experience supervising staff most likely will not land you that job. Be realistic about whether you're a good match for the role and duties you are being considered for, including title, salary, expected hours, and commute. Also, determine if there will be someone to train you or serve as a resource.

Credibility matters, too. Present yourself in such a way that you remain true to yourself and consistent, including in your résumé, emails, cover letters, applications, and online and physical presence. Make sure that your story is factual and, ideally, that it can be verified by others.

Your story also needs to correspond with the way others perceive you. If you view yourself as a great collaborator, but your team members think you're unwilling to compromise, the mismatch can affect how you're viewed.

Assessing yourself so that you can tell a story that others can agree with may not be as easy as you think. In a presidential race, polls track how the candidates are doing, and news shows or online editorials discuss their performance. CPAs seeking jobs don't get this kind of feedback. Many of my CPA clients tell me they can't tell how their interviews went.

Therefore, before you seek out that next job or promotion, collect your own "market data." When you are interacting with others in a professional setting, whether interviewing, networking, or working, be aware of how they respond to you, both positively and negatively. You can pick up cues to how they see you through their facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, pauses, and the types of questions they ask.

Contact professionals (including clients) you worked with who will share honest, yet constructive feedback. Ask them what they'd say if they had to tell a story about you in 100 words or less.

It's also not always clear whether you are viewed as being a possible "fit" for a promotion or a new job. A supervisor or interviewer may have thoughts about you they choose not to share. If you are lucky enough to get feedback, don't be afraid to listen and really hear what they're telling you, although you may have to read between the lines to do so. If you're not able to get direct feedback from your supervisor or interviewer, or indirectly from someone else in the organization, then it may be time to take the necessary steps to assess where you are in your career

Unlike the presidential race where there will be one winner, hopefully you will always win your own campaigns along your career journey. Stay true to yourself and tell your story, and good luck! 

Beth A. Berk, CPA, CGMA, is an independent recruiter based in Maryland. To comment on this article, email associate editor Courtney Vien.

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