When Lauren Williams, CPA, first joined Raleigh, N.C., accounting firm Johnson Lambert LLP after earning her master's degree in accounting, she asked about opportunities for advancement. She had interned with the firm and joined as an associate with the knowledge that she wouldn't qualify for a promotion until she had worked under the supervision of a CPA for at least a year and had passed the CPA Exam. So for her first year in the job, that's all she was focused on, she said.
Williams rose quickly from associate to senior associate, then manager, senior manager, principal, and partner in little more than 10 years, in large part because she was strategic in her career approach. "I was specific in asking for the opportunities I wanted," she said, by letting the firm know that she was interested in being promoted and then taking steps to gain the needed experiences to qualify for the next rung on the career ladder.
Many CPAs could benefit from taking a proactive approach like Williams's. According to Alyssa Gelbard, founder and president of New York City-based Point Road Group, which provides career strategy and personal branding consulting, reluctance to advocate for yourself "can impact your ability to advance internally and externally."
Expressing an interest in career development and progression is the first step toward being considered for a promotion, she said. That includes asking what the requirements are for promotion, such as having been in a role for two years or earning certification.
Important steps to take to be considered for upcoming promotion opportunities include:
Asking about progression. Asking about opportunities for growth is important, said Eric Greene, CPA, who was recently promoted to director of financial reporting at consumer electronics company ZAGG, located in the Salt Lake City area.
"People may assume you want to stay where you are unless you communicate your interest," said Greene, a graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy.
That doesn't necessarily mean you have to directly state "I want a promotion," he said, but demonstrating that you want to learn new things and continue developing new skills is key.
Developing new skills. For Williams, now an audit partner, gaining experience as a leader was critical to moving into a supervisory capacity. She did so by joining the young professionals' network within her local chamber of commerce. That affiliation helped her develop leadership skills, she said. She also joined a one-year leadership program, named Leadership Raleigh, and the AICPA's Leadership Academy for additional skill-building.
Earning certifications is another way to develop new skills while also demonstrating a willingness to grow and learn professionally, Greene said.
Putting yourself in your boss's shoes. Matt Rampe, a principal of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Rampe Consulting, suggested considering what's important to the leaders at your firm or company. Depending on the organization, that might include maximizing profitability, improving operational efficiency, providing excellent client service, or creating a strong culture.
"Owners want things to run smoothly," said Rampe. So do all you can to support the organization's continued success. Be willing to do things that may go beyond your official job description if it helps your organization as a whole succeed, he recommends.
Finding mentors. "Mentor relationships are also important," said Williams, who took the opportunity to work with firm founder Debbie Lambert early on and several partners since then. While she cautions that having a mentor by itself won't get you promoted, a mentor can become an advocate for you in promotion discussions, she noted. (Use the AICPA Online Mentoring Program to find a mentor outside your organization.)
Becoming more visible. To ensure your name is mentioned when leaders are talking about promotions, raise your hand when opportunities to work on high-visibility projects come up, said Gelbard.
Networking is another step to take. According to Gelbard, to get promoted, ensure that "important people need to know who you are and that you do good work."
That also presumes that you "are excellent at what you do," Gelbard said. Create a strong impression by providing timely responses to phone calls and emails, being helpful and showing sincere interest in your employer and tasks associated with your job, and by taking the opportunity to go above and beyond expectations. All of these actions will get you noticed — in a good way, she said.
Greene said that as soon as he arrived at ZAGG, he tried to differentiate himself by being as professional as possible. That included being responsive to every interaction, no matter who was asking, he said.
Networking outside your organization. It's a good idea to network outside your employer, regardless of whether you'd consider moving to another organization in order to move up. Connect with colleagues through volunteer activities or professional networking, update your LinkedIn profile, and look for ways to get noticed.
Greene, for instance, joined the SEC Professionals Group and became chairman of that group, which helped increase his own visibility as well as that of ZAGG, he said. Equally important, it increased his knowledge of the SEC.
Most importantly, recognize that the time to start working toward a promotion is now. "Don't wait until you're in line for a promotion or want to change jobs to start to raise your visibility," Gelbard said. "Always be networking, so that you're positioning yourself for future opportunities."
Marcia Layton Turner is a freelance writer based in Rochester, N.Y. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.