You think you have what it takes, and you know others believe in you. If you are looking to move up the accounting career ladder, you need to assess the changes you’ll need to make to succeed. That said, you can’t necessarily expect there to be the right role available at the right time, just waiting for you to apply (along with everyone else looking at the same time). Naturally, the volume of roles reduces the higher up the ladder you go and climbing to the next rung can be a big step up – one you need to be prepared for. When the perfect job does present itself, ensuring you have enough ammunition in your armoury to convince a future employer that you are ready to take on their challenge is critical.

Here are some ideas to help you form a clear path to where you want to go.

Career Plan

A written plan is essential for structured career growth. Start with the end in mind. Do you know what you want to achieve? What role do you see yourself in? Picture that, then think about what you would need to do to achieve it.

Self evaluation

Once you have a Career Plan in place, you can begin to identify your development gaps. Be honest with yourself. Are you at the stage in your life where you can handle the new stresses and obligations that a Financial Director or CFO role will demand? Will you be able to provide and allocate the focus that these roles will require? Are there any skill or learning gaps that need to be addressed? Without the answers to these questions, you may find it hard to move beyond the thought of ambition.

Focus on your management style

Although we all have inherent personalities which shape the way we work, there is no doubt that moving into an executive level position requires a different skillset and attitude. We’ve all known bosses who manage by fear, but from our experience that is the exception, rather than the rule. Being an executive means being approachable and consistent, and this is equally as important as having the skills to do the job. Acting with respect, professionalism and courtesy will go a long way towards your reputation.

Expand your influence and reputation internally

Before considering the next step up, continue to work on your skills and experience by looking for projects outside of your normal scope. Get to know more of the business and how it works. It will make you more valuable to the organisation and perhaps provide additional opportunities you wouldn’t have previously considered.

Talk to trusted advisors

Don’t be afraid to share your goals and aspirations with peers and advisors. Their feedback about how you are perceived may well be different from the way you view yourself. This can help to identify areas of improvement professionally or personally that you can work on to increase your chances of moving up the ladder.

External research

Although ideally you may want to focus on the potential growth and promotion in your current company, sometimes the opportunities may not be available in the timeframe you have set yourself. So, how long do you wait? Loyalty is great, but you owe it to yourself to investigate what else is happening, and what opportunities may be on offer in the wider job market. Know your domain. At Halliday Marx, we can help you to understand what is happening in your industry; who the players are and where you fit in.

Additional skills and qualifications

Experience is great, but lots of companies need to see evidence of further study or certifications that will enhance your offering. If you perceive that there are gaps holding you back, have a look and see what you can do to address them. Being qualified in ACA, CIMA or ACCA is crucial for the step ahead and should be gained as early as possible. Prospective employers often want to know why it took you so long to qualify. But MBA’s are an interesting topic, often heralded in the US, but in London can sometimes be seen as a negative. Is the investment in education going to be repaid in your career advancement?

Equally, furthering your soft skills can also be very worthwhile. Have you ever seen someone who was meant to be a leader flounder through a presentation? If public speaking is something that puts fear in your belly, then you really need to do something about it if you’re looking to progress into a senior role.

Beware of politics

Make sure you understand the politics that exist within your organisation. Leadership requires the ability to effectively and appropriately articulate through these murky waters in order to excel and progress long-term. Effective communication skills are an essential part of leadership, as they are a key tool to help you navigate your way through potentially disruptive politics.

Technology

This is a good opportunity for you to demonstrate your awareness and capacity to keep up with the ever-changing world of finance. You cannot read a blog now without the mention of digital disruption in organisations. If you can build a reputation for being able to face these challenges head on, your value will definitely increase.

Make sure you are aware of what your competitors are doing, then identify how you and your company can improve. It is amazing what you learn when you immerse yourself in your sector; reading industry journals, involving yourself in discussions or knowledge sharing forums.

Finally, when you have ideas, bring them to the table, own them, be willing to fight for them and drive them to completion. Caring about the business is a great trait in a leader.

Summary

When making the decision to start climbing the corporate ladder, nerves and self-doubt are to be expected. Being a CFO, Finance Director or any other executive isn’t as easy as some people make it look, but if you have the ambition, a well thought out plan, and you are surrounded by those who support your decisions, anything is achievable. Be patient and be ready to grasp the opportunities when they arise.