Soon after Cathy Engelbert, CPA, took the helm at Deloitte a few years ago — making her the first female chief executive of a Big Four accounting and consulting firm — the Journal of Accountancy interviewed her about her formula for accounting career success and shared her message about taking career risks.
Engelbert said she enjoyed roles in different segments of the auditing profession, financial reporting and internal controls. After becoming a mother and learning to balance professional priorities with child rearing, she found a niche in financial instruments consulting. Along the way, she developed a broad skill set, a strong rapport with colleagues and a reputation as an accounting ace with C-level leadership abilities. She encourages younger managers wanting to move up to try different paths as she did.
'Take risks in your career'
“Take risks in your career,” she told the JofA, reflecting on a business history spanning three decades. “Do something different so you build your capabilities, build your 'followership,' build your leadership skills, and have passion for what you do.”
Why take a chance?
You worked hard to move up the ranks as an accountant. And so it may seem like a safer bet to rely on the certainty and stability of your current position and avoid the unknown. The risk in not taking any career risks, however, is that you might be left stuck where you are. You might miss out on opportunities to expand your skills and experience, meet prospective employers or mentor up-and-coming accountants.
Six worthwhile accounting career risks
We’re not talking about behaving impulsively. Rather, the career risks you should consider are those that might make you a better employee, help you move up in the finance world and leave you feeling more professionally satisfied.
Still nervous about stepping out of your comfort zone? Let’s consider the advantages of embracing change. Here are six accounting career risks with promising returns:
1. Ask for more
Do you feel you’re growing professionally in your current position? If not, it’s time for a change. Will it require a specific financial certification? Do your homework, write up a proposal and ask the company to pay for your training. Feel like your job description is in need of updating, and for that matter your salary, too? Perhaps, a promotion is in order. Now’s the time to revisit your day-to-day duties with your boss and — if you feel strongly that you’re undercompensated or your job description needs an upgrade — ask for a raise. Even if you don’t get one, your supervisor will know that you value yourself and your contributions to the organization.
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2. Try a different role
When opportunity knocks, do you slam the door shut or welcome it in? A sure way not to get a higher-level management position is never to apply. If a recruiter contacts you, the riskier but potentially more rewarding response is to say, “Why not?” and engage the opportunity.
3. Look beyond salary
Your take-home pay is important, and nobody wants to go backward on salary, but money is not the only consideration when weighing the pros and cons of your current job or an offer on the table. Maybe you’re feeling burned out by the travel demands and long hours of your public accounting job, but you’re not sure you can find a better alternative.
Take a serious look at the importance of a work-life balance and what you’d be willing to trade for having less job-related stress. Even if a prospective company doesn’t have the same name recognition as your current employer, but it has a better workplace culture and work-life balance, it’s worth strongly considering. Nonmonetary employee perks such as flexible schedules, extra vacation days and remote work options can go a long way toward keeping you happy in your career, and at home.
4. Network beyond your pay grade
It’s easy to associate with colleagues who mirror your skill sets and responsibilities, but to what end? Get outside your comfort zone and expand your professional network. Meet with peers outside the accounting and finance world, and get in the habit of having coffee, lunch or a happy-hour beverage with financial pros in different roles than you. You might learn something new. Also, you never know where you might meet your next boss or stellar job reference.
5. Go back to school
If you’re feeling stuck in a rut or bored in your job, the solution might be as simple as learning a few new Excel tips to make your workday more productive and efficient.
Keep learning and get more advice for your finance and accounting career.
6. Make a bold change
If all roads lead to dead-ends at your job, and you’ve discussed your concerns with your boss to no avail, it may be time to branch out. Think about testing the waters with a startup company or partnering with a colleague and launching your own accounting firm. You could also cut back on your hours by taking a temporary job while you explore a new industry.
In any scenario, you’ll need to do research on possible outcomes of each of your choices and have a backup plan.
It’s daunting to take chances and embrace change. But remember Engelbert’s advice: “Build your capabilities, your 'followership,' your leadership skills, and have passion for what you do.”
More often than not, career risks can lead to better opportunities and professional fulfillment.
Editor's note: This post was updated recently to reflect current information.