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You are obtaining a CIMA qualification because you are ambitious and you want to get ahead in life. But at times it may seem that your career progress is in the slow gear. This is only natural, as long as you don’t get too used to life in the slow lane.
Here’s how you can speed up your career progress as a Chartered Management Accounting professional or as a CIMA student.
1. Know where you want to go career-wise, and in life overall.
Do you like working as a Management Accountant? Do you like working in the financial services sector, in industry and business or in the public sector? Does working your way up in a finance department and all the way to the CFO position appeal to you? Do you see yourself working for mid-sized or large firms; in local businesses or multinationals? Are you keen in pursuing a career in management and leadership path? To become a CEO? Perhaps you want to get some experience and become an entrepreneur starting your own business?
We know many people who go into CIMA without necessarily aspiring a career in accounting. They are obtaining CIMA qualifications to boost up their primary careers in consulting, management, engineering, IT, architecture and financial and other service industries. They appreciate the value of a dual qualification. A lot of people combine professional qualifications with an undergraduate degree. Many who go into financial analysis and other specialized sectors also pursue CIMA in addition to qualifications like CFA.
But if you want to be forging new paths, try combining CIMA with a career path in manufacturing, research and development, biological sciences, medicine and allied health sciences. These sectors need the expertise a CIMA or CGMA bring to the table, at a strategic level.
Whatever your choice of career path, work out in your mind the milestones in that career path. What would you need to have done in the next one year, two years, five years? How exactly do you plan to get where you want?
Having a firm idea of where you want to go matters, not just in job interviews, and writing cover letters to applications, but also in terms of how you make life decisions.
Make this a long term project. While you are a student, your job prospects may be limited. But try to obtain the type of experience that can enhance the career path you aspire to.
"When I did CIMA I wanted to go into Management Consulting," says one professional. "But of the big six firms at the time, only three were in my country and they had most of the consulting work. And they did not respond to my applications. So, I ended up in a mid-sized local firm. While I thrived there, I kept looking for opportunities and managed to get into a big six firm the next year. However, later in my career, when the previous firm had consulting opportunities (I was working in my own business) they called me up. So never burn your bridges."
“Whether you work for a small firm or a large one, try to ensure that you get as much experience as possible,” says a CIMA professional who has experience working in small and large firms in two countries. “You don't want to spend two years in a firm and have only a limited scope of experience to show for it". In this sense, smaller firms and mid-sized firms offer you better opportunities in working with a variety of clients and in different types of assignments. They also offer you more leadership opportunities.
“Leading six small teams working with six clients over one year can give you a lot of leadership exposure compared to being a member of a large team working for a multinational.”
All depends on what you want out of your career. So choose the best options by evaluating them realistically. The type of exposure you would get in any firm is a good question to ask at your interviews.
It is not as hard to get as you'd imagine. It all depends on where and how you look.
Financial service firms, telecoms, energy sector operators, commodity firms, manufacturers and retailers are constantly eyeing opportunities in emerging markets, India, Brazil, China and the far eastern economies, Middle East and Africa.
For example, many management accountants from Sri Lanka, a country that was churning out many CIMAs annually second only to the UK at one point in time, found careers in Maldives (resorts), the Middle East (in various industries) and in Malaysia and Indonesia in the oil palm sector. Some of them managed to work their way up to the top in those sectors, with lucrative pay packages and lifestyles they could not have commanded in their home country.
Then there are the firms, accounting, auditing or consultancy, that have clients in smaller nations and regions which are not big enough to sustain full-service branches.
Big firms in some countries have secondment programmes that bring in accounting staff from around the world to tide over their busy periods.
Of course, you have to be pretty good to get nominated for this kind of project. This is why points #6 and #7 matter. They help you stand out.
And if you add the CGMA designation to your name, you can basically work anywhere in the world.
Here I'm sharing a video of the person I look up to, Mr. Jack Welch, who was a CEO of GE for 2 decades!
Good references are a great asset. Accumulating such assets needs some strategic thinking and a certain amount of hard work.
In seeking people to include as referees in your applications, don't limit yourself to past employers and those who know you in an academic setting, such as your professors and lecturers.
If you are known as a great worker and an accomplished professional (where clients are commending your work to your boss; see #6), you can always nurture these relationships even once you leave your current firm. They’ll be happy to refer you.
That is not all. We know so many trainee accountants and auditors who have got job offers from clients. In fact, it is a standard operating procedure in many countries. And not just for low-level positions either.
Keep your professionalism on display at all times; especially at client locations. Just because all the auditors in your country come to work at 10am and leave at 2pm, you don't have to do that. Really. We know management accountants and trainees who have got great offers for NOT doing the stuff regular folks do.
LinkedIn is a great way to keep your professional activities and progress updated for all to see. If you keep your settings to public, each time you update your profile, say adding a new certification, job change or new area of expertise, everyone in your network will be notified about it.
LinkedIn is a good place to expand your professional network. If you know someone in a sector you are interested in, you can ask them for introductions.
Thirdly, join relevant professional and industry groups on LinkedIn. This is a good way to know what is going on and to seek and share ideas that can improve your work experience. It also provides you opportunities to grow your personal brand, to get yourself known for some specific thing, or expertise that you want everyone to know.
And you get to meet like-minded professionals.
LinkedIn is also a good place to look for jobs and to keep an eye on what openings there are over time, even if you are not currently in the market for a job. More and more employers look to LinkedIn to find good candidates.
The possibilities are endless if you use LinkedIn in a thoughtful way.
If you are eyeing promotions, and your work ethic, professionalism and enthusiasm lag behind those of others also in line, guess what? You won't be getting that promotion. Try to always put in your all to each and every assignment, regardless of whether you want a promotion. Just do it because it's rewarding to do so.
And you will find unexpected rewards coming your way.
“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers" says Adam Grant in Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success. "...They get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
You won't be in accounting firms or small firms all your career. A trait that is highly in demand in potential leaders is the ability to bring others up to your own level. You need the ability to help others up to take your position so you may move up the success ladder yourself. It is worthwhile putting in the time, effort and do it with good cheer. It is not just good karma, it's a good strategy to stand out in the crowd. And you know accounting is a crowded profession.
As a positive accent - have a look at this video from TED talk - mentioned above Adam Grant. The talk is about Givers and Takers. It is a smart presentation, with a lot of humour. It's less than 14 minutes long.
We trust you’ll find these tips useful to accelerate your professional progress as a Chartered Management Accountant. Good Luck!
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