If you’ve recently started your accounting career, you’re at the beginning of an exciting, dynamic, and critically important profession! All business depends on accounting in order to succeed and grow, so your job security is assured as long as you continue to stay up-to-date in the field.
Accountants need to constantly grow in knowledge, especially now with constantly evolving technology and legal changes. To define your career path and take control of your future, continually implement the following 5 principles.
Get the big picture
Accounting is becoming more international and more strategic than it was even 10 years ago. Look for opportunities to cultivate your analytical and predictive skills and develop a bigger picture of the business as a whole. Seek out opportunities for cross-training, job sharing, and international experience to learn more about different aspects of your own company, but don’t stop there. Develop a broader commercial awareness of where your company fits into the market and the economy, and how it impacts, or is impacted by, culture, law, and politics.
There is a software program for every function in accounting, and more are being developed every year. Technology is now doing the heavy number-crunching, leaving accountants free to do what people do best – use their knowledge, analysis, and intuition to discover insights and create strategies.
You can’t learn everything, of course, so be intentional. Find out what reports or information the company needs, research what software is available to help you provide it, and start learning. Depending on the software, there are online training opportunities, free tutorials on YouTube, and training seminars through professional organizations like PSTAP.
Showing the initiative to learn the software that the company needs will also send an important signal to your supervisors that you are enthusiastic and willing to take the initiative to help the company.
Define your career path
As your career continues, you will likely come across a number of different specialties in accounting. Take the time to research your options and see which fields interest you the most. For instance:
- Tax accounting: focusing on local, state, and federal taxes for businesses and individuals
- Forensic accounting: aiding law enforcement, businesses, and individuals in complex legal matters
- Auditing: examining organizations’ financial records for mistakes, mismanagement, or criminal activity
- Managerial and Financial accounting: preparing financial records and reports, either internally or as a consultant
- Governmental accounting: auditing businesses and individuals who are regulated or taxed by the U.S. or state governments
- Accounting Information Systems auditing or creation: developing, training, or overseeing the use of accounting systems
Within these larger categories, there are many economic and business niches that you could develop expertise in, further increasing your value to those particular industries.
It’s important to be able to collaborate and work together as a team as well as independently. As your career grows, you will likely supervise several members of your team. Learning to manage, direct, and give constructive feedback – in a constructive way – are important relational skills.
Outside the office, it is critically important to network, because your job advancements are likely to come through people you know. When people are familiar with you, recognize your good qualities, and are confident in your knowledge, you will be more likely to be recommended for a new position that may open up. Therefore, joining networking groups and professional societies is a must for building your career.
Getting involved in community activities or civic and charitable institutions further broadens your opportunity to meet new people. Choose activities that you feel good about and that could also afford you an occasion to network.
Develop soft skills
“Soft skills” are difficult to define and even harder to teach. While you can read about soft skills and study how to cultivate them, you’ll learn best by watching others and applying them in every situation. Some soft skills valuable to business include:
- Communication: As an accountant, you must be able to explain complex financial data in a clear, straightforward manner for different audiences
- Adaptability, curiosity, initiative
- Honesty, credibility, resilience
- Innovation, intuition
- Interpersonal skills
These principles are not listed in order and should be performed simultaneously and on an ongoing basis. Find a mentor in an area of accounting in which you want to grow, someone who is willing to meet with you on a regular basis – usually monthly – and review your career path with you and discuss what you need to do to continue to grow.
In fact, you can have more than one mentor. If you know someone who is particularly good in soft skills and another person who is an expert in the field of accounting you’re most interested in, ask each one to help you. Most experienced professionals are flattered to be asked and are willing to help a young person who wants to succeed.