After you land your first corporate accounting job, when should you think about getting a job promotion? If you’re like the workers in a Robert Half survey who made a New Year’s resolution to get a promotion, now is the ideal time to lay the groundwork for what lies ahead.

Think of it this way: All your career resolutions, from stepping up your professional development to expanding your skill set, are a work in progress. Just as it took you four years — or even longer — to get through school, you can’t just waltz in to your boss’s office and ask for the corner office a few months into a job.

The key to moving up is taking the right steps to lead to a job promotion. Here are six suggestions.

1. Map out your pathways to job promotion

Take a good look at your department and see what the pathways are. At the top of a typical finance hierarchy is a CFO or vice president of finance. Below that person is a controller or director, followed by managers and staff-level financial specialists. Among these, depending on the size of your employer, there may be an internal audit career path or tracks for general accounting, management or cost accounting, tax accounting, compliance, business analysis or payroll. If you’re in public accounting, you may be headed up the CPA career path.

While you want to be open to multiple opportunities, you should also think about what type of accounting piques your interest and what you want to specialize in.

2. Get more education

You probably already have a four-year degree in business, finance or accounting. If not, at the top of your to-do list should be a relevant bachelor’s degree, which is almost always a requirement for a job promotion in accounting. You should also be working toward your CPA Canada (Chartered Professional Accountant of Canada) or CGMA (Certified Global Management Accountant) designation, both of which open doors and set you apart from your competition. Other highly regarded professional designations in Canada include:

  • CIA (certified internal auditor)
  • CISA (certified information systems auditor)
  • CPM (certified payroll manager)
  • CFA (chartered financial analyst)

And to become a financial controller or CFO someday, a graduate degree, such as an MBA, is a definite plus. Some employers partially or fully reimburse workers the cost of attaining designations or degrees, so take advantage of this perk.

3. Polish all those skills

The top career resolution in our career resolutions survey of Canadian workers was to expand a skill set or seek professional development. The higher you climb in accounting and finance, the more you’ll need technical skills, as well as abilities in leadership, critical thinking and written and verbal communication. You should hone your soft skills, which include negotiation, persuasion and relationship management.

Formal instruction is helpful, but some of the best training occurs on the job. During meetings, pay attention to the discussion so you can make meaningful contributions. Eagerly accept assignments where you’ll have to give presentations or write reports, and then ask your boss for feedback on how you could do better the next time. Volunteer to manage tough projects. You’re not likely to get ahead by doing the minimum to get by.

4. Be happy and professional

Who wants to work with negative people who complain all the time? Leaders look for emerging talent who see opportunities, not obstacles. Position yourself as a problem-solver with the foresight to see future possibilities. It also goes without saying that you should be professional at all times. That means dressing professionally and being punctual, cooperative and productive.

5. Do internal networking

The path to a job promotion isn’t built on just accounting know-how. To get ahead, you’ll also need to navigate office politics. Be seen as a team player instead of just another behind-the-scenes worker, and don’t limit your networking efforts to your boss alone. Think about establishing your connections internally throughout the company. Often, it’s not just one person who makes the decision about an employee’s promotion. If everyone has positive things to say about you, it’s more likely you’ll increase your chances to get promoted faster.

6. Be open with your boss

There’s no need to keep your enthusiasm and career goals a secret. Tap your boss for advice and direction. Employers are eager to hold on to talented employees, and one of the best ways for them to do that is to help staff move up within the ranks rather than seek opportunities elsewhere.

Let your manager know of your interest in a long-term career within the company. Then ask for advice on how to get there. Some of the steps may include continuing education courses, professional development training, job shadowing and/or a mentorship with a senior member of the team.

Getting a job promotion is great recognition from your company that they value your contributions and wish to be a part of your future career. However, promotions are earned, not simply handed out. If you're looking for the next opportunity, keep these tips in mind to ensure you are on the right track to success.

Rather than waiting for fate to smile upon you — or for your next set of career resolutions — create your own “luck” through hard work, perseverance and a little political savvy.

Looking for more advice as you start your career in finance and accounting?