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KnowledgeNOW: Project Managing Your Career

June 21, 2018

What’s the “why” of your career? For that matter, what’s the “what” and the “when”? And more to the point, when was the last time you asked yourself those questions?

That’s the thrust of the session “Project Managing Your Career: Where Will You Be in 10 Years?” at the VSCPA's KnowledgeNOW conference this Friday. VSCPA member Brad Biondi, CPA, a manager at Alexandria firm Cotton & Co., conceptualized the session when being struck by the number of federal RFPs that asked for workers holding the Project Management Professional (PMP) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI).

The more Biondi thought about the popularity of the PMP, the more he came to realize the concepts espoused by the credential were applicable to career development. The heart of the concept of project managing your career is to be more intentional in your career path.

“When you think about your career, I don’t think everybody goes back to ‘Where are you going to be in five years?’” he said. “That’s something asked when you’re leaving school and doing interviews, and you don’t ever cycle back to it. How am I executing the ideas I had at the time? How am I aligning with the roadmap I laid out at that time?

“We don’t ever manage our careers, we just let them go where they take us. It’s important for accountants to really manage their careers in a constructive way.”

The PMI breaks down the essentials of project management into five process groups:

  • Initiating: Identifying and documenting the purpose of your career and what you want to get out of it
  • Planning: Identifying goals and resources, coming up with a roadmap for achieving success
  • Executing: Carrying out the plan you developed
  • Monitoring: Comparing your career roadmap to how you’re progressing, identifying how you can get back on track or change paths
  • Closing: Evaluating your success, recognizing and reaching out to people who have helped you, celebrating accomplishments

Biondi says that people who don’t affirmatively plan their careers spend an inordinate amount of time in the Executing phase instead of using their time more efficiently. By planning out your career path and documenting that plan, he says, you’ll put yourself in position to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. That entails research, building a network and setting realistic goals for yourself.

Writ large, criteria for success are much the same for projects and careers. If you meet deadlines and goals, exceed expectations, create value, adapt when necessary and get a positive return on investment, chances are you can call yourself a success.

That means you need a strong foundation with the first two process groups — initiating and planning. Biondi recommends using one of two goal-setting rubrics:

  • SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound
  • CLEAR goals: Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, Refinable

“Too often, we’re broad or general with our goal-setting or what we want out of our career,” Biondi said. “Just to say ‘I want to make money’ or ‘I want to be recognized’ isn’t enough. You have to have something to hold yourself to that’s measurable, and it has to be realistic.”

Professional studies bear out the importance of project management in an accountant’s career. In its 2016 report, “Professional Accountants — The Future: Drivers of Change and Future Skills,” the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) listed the following competencies as becoming more important for future success:

  • Information technology/digital competencies
  • Communication and relationship-building
  • Predictive and advanced financial mathematics
  • Holistic/big-picture understanding and business awareness

The same report cited manual bookkeeping and basic accounting skills, as well as traditional historical auditing and data analysis, as becoming less important in the future. That leads to two takeaways. One is that the profession is becoming more and more specialized, and that specialty credentials — like the PMP — can be crucial differentiating factors for CPAs.

It’s important that any credentials you seek align with your career goals. But if you need further guidance, the most valuable credentials emphasize:

  • Global/business awareness or industry-specific knowledge
  • Information technology competencies
  • Analytics/advanced financial mathematics
  • Fraud detection and controls
  • Ethics and leadership

“Think about the training you’re involved in, the networks you’re involved in, who you’re corresponding with who’s a mentor,” Biondi said. “Are you even seeking mentors? Are you seeking further certifications? In the future, the emphasis is going to be on the certifications you can attain.”

The other takeaway is that many of those skills can be applied to managing one’s own career. Communicating, building relationships and, especially, the ability to take a big-picture look at circumstances can give you the edge in climbing the professional ladder.

“If you look at a project, you’re planning it, you’re executing it, you’re adapting it,” Biondi said. “You get in it and you’re there. Ten years go and you’re an accountant, but you don’t have that plan set in motion. You don’t know how you want to use those resources.

“Accountants have time and knowledge. That’s what we bring to the table. How are you using those to create value for yourself and those around you?”

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