By Amanda Phelps, CPA
Accountant III, City of Virginia Beach Finance Department
We all want that highly coveted promotion and the pay bump that comes with it. But how do we get there? Whether you work in public, private or governmental accounting, there are many steps you can take towards achieving your goals.
The first step is you need to ask yourself if the company you work for has a promotion available. Promotions are usually abundant in public accounting due to the hierarchy being more rectangular. The partnership has room at the top for all the best and brightest — or the most highly motivated — if you want it enough. Concentrate on doing your best, putting in hours, being independent and dependable, and developing client relationships and you will earn that promotion. Once you make it to manager, you are in a good position to be on track for partner.
The good news is even if you don’t aspire to partner, you are now highly desirable to private industry. An audit background in particular can help you land a position as CFO or controller in your industry of choice. Promotions are a bit scarcer in the private and governmental sectors, where you may need to wait for a position to open up to advance. You may need to seriously consider changing companies to get the advancement you seek.
No matter what type of accounting field you are in, there are still some skill sets that have survived the test of time in smoothing your path to promotion. You have to know your job and do it well. Managers often want their employees to “stay in their lane.” DO YOUR JOB, albeit doing your job alone is not enough these days. You have to be popular — or at least likeable — and it helps to be a positive person. You have to demonstrate leadership skills and not be afraid to (artfully) challenge your boss. Managers don’t want a “yes man,” but someone who can think for themselves and back it up with data. No matter what your title is, you should view your current job as being able to make your manager’s life easier.
Once you’ve got your technical skills down, make it clear that you are seeking the promotion. The best way to get on the “short list” is to make it known that you are seeking a promotion and demonstrating competency and motivation. It also helps enormously to have a mentor who can be an advocate for you when the time comes. Actively seek out a mentor either internally or externally from your company. An internal mentor can help fight for your promotion, as they will likely see your promotion as part of their own success. An external mentor can help you excel and can serve as a trusted advisor and give you candid and confidential advice without risk of information being shared internally. Finally, constantly look to acquire new skills, dress professionally at all times, groom a successor, be proactive and don’t forget to smile.