Finance professionals rarely stay in one job for life. As CPAs get experience under their belts — in corporate accounting, public accounting or financial services — many naturally want to take on more responsibilities and move up to management positions.
But promotions to management seldom drop in your lap. You have to gain experience, prepare and work hard for them. Whatever your position, you can take the career path now toward a job in management with these eight steps:
1. Aim for a target in management
Do you dream of becoming an accounting manager? How about a job as a supervisor in payroll, budget analysis or tax services? Maybe you have your eye set on a CFO career path. The first step in pursuing a position in management is to determine exactly what role you want to strive for. Then you can take actions and gain the experience that will get you closer to your goal.
2. Get some management education
Years of relevant experience are a prerequisite for a management job, but many upper-level roles give preference to candidates with graduate degrees, such as an MBA or Master of Accounting. A law degree is a great resource, especially for tax management or corporate compliance. A business systems manager could benefit from a degree in an IT field.
In addition to your CPA license, consider working toward another accounting and finance certification. Almost every industry specialty has its own preferred credentials. For example, the American Bankers Association administers the Certified Regulatory Compliance Manager (CRCM), an important certification for a position in anti-money laundering enforcement, risk management and, of course, regulatory compliance.
3. Lay the groundwork for management
According to a recent Robert Half survey, 85 percent of CFOs polled have faith in millennial workers’ abilities to become future leaders. With that said, entry-level and mid-career CPAs still need to convince their bosses they have what it takes to excel in a management job without the years of experience.
You can take this important step by first planting the seed that you're interested in such a position. Meet with your manager to discuss your future within the company. Share your career goals and explain how you plan to achieve them. Then ask to be considered for smaller supervisory roles, such as spearheading a project or leading a team. When it’s time for your performance review, be sure your manager is aware of your achievements, and reiterate your desire to move to management.
4. Build the technical experience of a manager
As you prepare for a future position in management, make sure you know the ins and outs of commonly used software. For starters, you need proficiency in Microsoft Office, especially Excel. SharePoint is useful for those who oversee complex projects and have a job in business intelligence. Another resource is MS Project. The higher you go as a manager, the more knowledge you’ll need in ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems and other financial software, which save time and minimize mistakes when closing the books and creating year-end reports.
If you work with someone on your team who’s a whiz in accounting, financial and payroll software, count your lucky stars. Figuratively sit at their feet and get all the insight you can from them. Even if you know a QuickBooks, SAP or Intuit guru, you should take online tutorials or in-person seminars to boost your proficiency. Many employers are happy to help their staff gain technical skills, so ask your boss if the company would reimburse you for the cost of courses.
Here's a way to ask for help: Dear Boss: Will You Help With My Career Development Plan?
5. Don’t forget interpersonal skills on the job
It takes more than IT savvy to land a management job. You also need stellar soft skills, such as diplomacy and the ability to communicate well, both with your team and beyond. Finance professionals who go far within a company also possess a strong work ethic, astute judgment and top problem-solving abilities.
According to the above survey, 60 percent of the executives polled said their firms offer onsite training to enhance their millennial workers’ leadership skills, and 42 percent use online courses. So take advantage of all the professional development opportunities available for your position.
6. Act like a manager
You know the common advice, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” A corollary to that axiom is to behave in such a way that demonstrates you have management potential.
Take a look at your leadership presence, which manifests itself through your speech, attitude, appearance and body language. When you walk into a room, what do others see? If that mental image doesn’t align with the position you want to project, then make some changes. You might want to upgrade your wardrobe, improve your posture and seek out public speaking opportunities to build your confidence.
7. Learn from a mentor who is a manager
Once you’ve identified your ideal position as a manager, it’s a good idea to pick the brain of someone who already fills the role. If your workplace doesn’t have a formal program, then take the initiative to find a mentor who is also a manager.
To do that, first get your career goals in order. Then choose as a resource someone who works in your area of interest and whose personality fits your own. There’s no need to limit your options to your firm; also consider a manager in another organization. And when you interact with potential mentors, always be respectful and professional, even if they decline the offer.
8. Play the management game
To land a management position, you may need to get involved in office politics — the right way. A recent Robert Half survey of U.S. office workers found 76 percent of respondents believe playing politics is necessary to get ahead at work. If you must get involved, though, you want to be seen as the diplomat, not the mudslinger.
Take note of who’s who at your firm. What do they know that you don’t? How did they land their position? Who do they know? You may need to step up your in-house networking efforts, especially if schmoozing doesn’t come naturally.
If you’re just a few years into your accounting and finance career, you’re not quite ready for the corner office and the title of manager. But that doesn’t mean you can just bide your time and wait for upward mobility to come your way. Right now is when you should be preparing for a move to management — so when the opportunity arises, you’ll be more than ready.
Steve Saah is Robert Half’s Director of Permanent Placement Services in the greater Washington, D.C., area. He started with Robert Half in 1998. Prior to that, he worked as an internal auditor and assistant controller for a multi-billion-dollar manufacturing firm. He’s a graduate of Virginia Tech.