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Accounting Careers and the Boiled Frog

LillypadMost of us are familiar with the story of the frog that was dropped into a pot of boiling water and immediately jumped out to save itself. The same frog later found himself in a pot of water at room temperature. The temperature was gradually increased and the poor frog, not noticing the danger, remained in the pot to suffer an untimely demise. Although not scientifically accurate, the anecdote serves as a metaphor for one’s inability to notice gradual change.

In our careers, we can all feel like we are that frog at times. Just like temperatures, careers can change for the worse, often gradually and without notice. However, if we pay close attention to the red flags in our careers, we can know when to jump long before the water starts to boil.

I would like to share a few thoughts from my own experiences that may help you – whether on a partner or CFO track – detect the warning signs along your career path and keep yourself out of hot water. 

  • Determine whether your position continues to meet your goals and expectations. We accept job offers for a number of reasons, such as the opportunity to gain skills or a better salary. However, time can change the organization and your position could plateau and even erode, causing you to miss out on vital career experience and advancement opportunities. If you’re not continually learning from your job, growing your skills and experience, and building a strong professional network, then perhaps it’s time to take a temperature check.
  • Commit to an organization that both understands and is true to its mission. When we first begin our careers, we are less concerned with how well the organization we work for understands their strategy, builds well-defined target markets and lives up to their value proposition. Yet, as we are promoted through the ranks, those issues have a stronger influence on our careers. Before investing your talent and time in an organization, determine whether it clearly articulates, and is committed to, its mission – and that the mission offers the opportunities you need to reach your career potential.
  • Look to the top when making long-term leadership plans. Many new employees have high aspirations of one day becoming a CFO or a partner at a public accounting firm. First, ask yourself whether you would choose to work or socialize with the current and soon-to-be senior executives. A second, and equally important, question is whether you trust the leadership enough to sign partnership or other executive agreements that can commit you financially and professionally to them and the organization for many years to come. If you answered “yes” to these two questions, then congratulations, you have chosen an organization where you will likely be able to build your career. Otherwise, you may need to check the temperature at other organizations.

It can be difficult to pass up a career opportunity when you’re unemployed and desperate for your next job. Sometimes, circumstances dictate that we stay in a less than ideal job longer than we would like. However, if you can recognize the telltale signs that the organization may not be a long-term fit for you and create a vision for your own professional path, you will be prepared to act when the right opportunity comes along, and leap from the pot before the water heats up.

What are some of the warning signs you watch for when deciding whether to make the jump?

Dan Griffiths, CPA, CGMA, Director of Strategic Planning, Tanner, LLC. Dan specializes in working with organizations that find themselves at a strategic inflection point, including start-ups, turnaround and restructuring projects. Dan is a graduate of the 2010 AICPA Leadership Academy and in 2011-12 served as the chair of the AICPA’s Young CPA Network Committee. He was recently selected to serve as Utah’s elected member of the AICPA governing Council. He earned B.S. and M.A. degrees from Brigham Young University.

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