When thinking about the future of Corporate Accounting, one of the main questions on peoples’ minds is how do I stay relevant? What skills should I try and develop today to help ensure I stay competitive in the future?
Change is a fact of business. Sometimes it is driven by technology and the general evolution of automation in tools we use. Sometimes changes in management drive change in organizations. Regardless of the reason, change is scary because change involves uncertainty. In these environments long-term employees experience renewed fear about the possibility of having to look for a new job after being so many years removed from their last job search. Everyone starts to worry about how marketable they are in the current employment market.
So what can you do today to make sure you’re in the best position to deal with the change of tomorrow? What should you focus on now to make sure you stay relevant and valuable to your employer?
1. Gain a comprehensive understanding of your role. The best way to stay relevant and adapt to change that comes with new technology, new procedures, or new management is to have a good foundation of knowledge about the company, the business, and your role. Don’t just learn how you do your job, but learn what purpose your work is actually serving and why it is important to the business. Seek to figure out why you do certain aspects of your job, don’t just mindlessly follow the instructions your predecessor left you. Gaining this depth of understanding gives helps you adapt to change because you know what and why you do your job. If the “how” changes you can adapt much easier. Having this depth of knowledge will also help you market yourself as someone who can influence the changes being made, not just get impacted by them. Advising management on key aspects of your job nobody else might know.
2. Know Excel. The fact remains that so many accounting and finance activities rely on Excel spreadsheets. From journal entry preparation, to balance sheet account reconciliation, to budgeting, Excel is still the analysis and data manipulation tool of choice. Be an advanced user of Excel. If you don’t know how to use Vlookups, then do a little research and start to practice them. If you’re not familiar with Pivot Tables then get familiar. If you already know those things then you should master indexing and array formulas. If you’re already using formulas and functions such as these, teach others in your company how to use Excel more efficiently. You can even consider getting Microsoft certified.
3. Keep your resume and online profiles up-to-date. Don’t wait until you find out your getting laid off to document your work experience for the past 5 years. Keep your resume updated. Keep notes on your major accomplishments. These notes will help you prepare for your future interviews and also remind you of all the progress you’ve made over the years. Keeping your resume updated will give you the ability to respond immediately to anyone who asks you for it. You never know, waiting even just one day to get someone your resume because you had to make time to get it up to date might cost you your dream job. Keep your Facebook profile clean and appropriate at all times. Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. Think about the professional relationships you have developed and make sure you have connected with those people on LinkedIn. Building your network is something that takes time. Don’t wait to be laid off or looking to change careers before you dedicate the energy to build a good network.
4. Be flexible. Sometimes things don’t work out the way you thought. Sometimes plans change. Adapt. Be flexible. Realize that flexibility is essential when you work in the corporate world. Companies operate as a conglomerate of different people who have different personalities and perspectives. Sometimes initiatives get derailed or stall. Don’t let this discourage you. Don’t let this get you frustrated or negative about your company. Negativity does not bode well to leadership within your current organization or prospective companies. Frustration and complaining can lead you down a counterproductive road of focusing your thoughts and discussions with others on the problems not the solutions. Energy Expended in this fashion is so often simple waste because the underlying problems driving your frustration are completely out of your control. Be flexible and do your best with what your given.
5. Learn a programming language. I recently hired a financial analyst to run some of our financial models. When looking for candidates I was surprised to find how difficult it was to find anyone with accounting experience and basic knowledge of any programming language. I wasn’t even looking for anything specific, I just wanted to know the candidate was technically savvy enough to learn the models we run. VBA, .net, SQL, MDX… Learn anything you are exposed to. Not only does this make you highly marketable, but it gives you huge opportunities to take your staff accounting job to the next level as you automate all of your reconciliations and journal entries.
6. Work hard. When you’re at work, work. Don’t chat, play games, read blogs, spend time on Facebook or checking the stock market. First, that’s stealing time (and thus pay) from your company. Second, it makes you lazy. Working hard will help keep you engaged. Challenge yourself to meet your goals. Staying on top of things and always moving forward will develop you. Tackle problems head on and fight through them. These challenges will build your experience. Experience gives you wisdom to make better decisions in the future. Work is not always easy, but sometimes the hardest times in work are the best. Put in the hours you need to and use that time wisely.
7. Maintain an attitude of natural curiosity and demonstrate your desire to learn. I can’t stress how important this is. I would rather hire one person eager to learn with no skills and two people all the skills in the world who think they know everything. Maintain an attitude of natural curiosity. When curiosity and a desire to learn motivates your questioning, it comes off as less threatening or critical to others. Take interest in the company and how it works. Take interest in the people and what motivates them, frustrates them, and pleases them. Remember you can never ask too many questions. This kind of relates to my first point, learn everything you can about your job not just what you have been asked. Understand other peoples’ roles and how they relate to yours. Think of ways you can help them succeed. Challenge the status quo. Question things with an innocent natural curiosity to desire and learn. The minute you stop asking and think you know everything is the minute you limit your potential.
8. Practice teamwork. People are difficult. Often difficult people bring out the best or the worst in you in the workplace. Make sure that you learn how to deal with difficult people. Understand yourself and how you best contribute to a team. Understand the bad habits you have when it comes to effectively leading a team or contributing to the team. Practice being a good leader and a good following. Ask for feedback from those who you trust. Ask them to be honest and take their comments to heart. Develop a plan to help implement their advice.
9. Learn mainstream systems. Take an in-depth interest the systems your exposed to. Tbig ore commonly used system, the better. Learn what they are properly called – i.e. Oracle is a company not a system, PeopleSoft is an ERP system, Hyperion is a suite of products (previously a company bought by Oracle), Essbase is one of their products. Learn what the system does and how to manipulate it. Learn the shortcomings and strengths of the system and be able to articulate them. Getting involved in systems implementations if you can. Whatever experience you gain should be listed on your resume.
10. Have integrity. This is most important. If you have all of the previous nine boxes checked but you don’t have integrity – meaning you can’t be trusted – then your days are numbered my friend. Your employer can accommodate difficult personalities, under developed skills, and even some of your bad habits; all of those things can be addressed and improved over time. But if you demonstrate you cannot be trusted because you lack the integrity to do what you should or not do what you shouldn’t without direct immediate oversight, nothing can repair that relationship. Likewise, demonstrate that above all, you have integrity and can be trusted by leadership, even honestly admitting when you don’t know things or can’t perform in certain areas, you will be surprised the challenges that you get asked to take on. You will find you will gain the respect and trust of your superiors and end up their star performer.