Although the recession is officially over, we've still got a long way to go. If you're looking to advance your accounting career but are worried about the financial climate, here are a few tips from the AAT's Steven Perryman on how to climb the slippery career ladder.
One common question asked by recently-qualified accountants is about the best and quickest way to the top. It’s certainly an easier question to ask than it is to answer. There are many reasons why, but one is that there is no single clearly defined route that could easily be replicated by those who have the ambition to go all the way to become a Finance Director (FD) or Managing Director (MD).
One thing is for sure – you have to be prepared to work for it. There are no shortcuts. However, there are ways to help yourself move faster up the career ladder.
Know where you’re heading
A lot of accountants who have successfully made it to the top start with a very clear idea of where they need to be, when they need to be there and the skills they think they need to get there. One way to achieve this is to draw up your CV the way you would like it to look in 30 years’ time.
By analysing the skills and competencies you will need to make these changes in levels of responsibility, you will be able to identify the gaps that will need to be filled along the way.
Broaden your experience
For many accountants, the first real major shift in their career occurs the first time they move out of a pure finance function and into a multi-functional management team. An understanding of the techniques and objectives of production, marketing and HR are all necessary to function at director level.
Expand your skills
It’s not just about qualifications – it is about skill sets. The technical ability of an FD should not be in doubt, but a successful FD also needs to have a range of broader skills. Many newly-qualified accountants make the mistake of leaving public practice too early, and fail to recognise that many of the skills that may be acquired there during the first few post-qualifying years are valued equally in commercial and industrial spheres. Don’t forget your CPD too. Making sure you are up-to-date with the latest developments in your field is crucial.
Visibility is an important consideration if you are to make it to the top. While there are people who impress everyone from the outset but later failed to maintain their progress, on the flipside top people do not suddenly emerge from obscurity. You need to be known, not just in the finance function but outside it, as someone with a wide range of skills, experience and sound judgment
FD or MD?
The roles of FD and MD often work very closely together, but how are they different? Nicky Dulieu, MD at Hobbs, should know – she joined the clothing firm as an FD in 2006, before moving into her current position last year. Previous to that she worked at Marks & Spencer for 23 years, rising to become Head of Property Finance.
‘Within a big organisation it can be hard to move because as you work your way up you can get typecast,’ Nicky says of moving from a finance role to a commercial one. ‘It would have been very difficult for me to move to a purely commercial job at M&S.’
And what are the differences between the two roles?
‘The real difference is having that control over the business and being able to use all the skills I’ve gained throughout my career to make things happen. It’s the difference between being an influencer – the FD as a business partner – to being the person driving the business.’
Whichever role you decide to set your sights on, following these tips will go some way to making the ladder shorter and the climb quicker.
Steven Perryman is Editorial Manager at the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT).