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6 Steps to Get Ahead in Your Career

What’s the difference between a CPA's salary of $45,000 and $90,000 per year? Skillset. The difference between someone's salary being $90,000 and $200,000 per year, however, is not a difference in skillset, but a difference in how they manage their careers. Here are some steps—adapted from a recent presentation from author and career coach Donald Asher—which you can take to advance your career.

  1. Have “the conversation.” People who get promoted are known to want a promotion. Your boss is not a mind-reader. When it is time to promote an employee, a supervisor will first look to those that have expressed interest. After you get on your feet, maybe six months but certainly within the first year, sit down with your supervisor and have a conversation to let them know you want to move up in your organization and ask what you need to do to earn a promotion. Then you have to do what they recommend!
  2. Perception is reality. Managing perceptions is critical for career success, so make sure that your perception is promotable. For example, managers in most accounting firms esteem the skills of “confident” CPAs as higher than CPAs that actually test as more knowledgeable. You must therefore improve your personal brand value (Management Science Research).
  3. Build a reputation. Keep records of your advances, successes and wins. Log achievements in a brag sheet and keep an internal resume going at all times, but keep this document password protected. The next step is to make these successes known to your superiors. Get the word out! One of the cleverest ways to share that information is through praise of others. Praise is a Trojan Horse for information and can serve as a great vehicle for exposure. Share credit liberally with your team if you’re in charge, but point out your contributions if you’re just a face in the crowd. For example, you could copy a managing partner on an email praising your team for the thorough research they did allowing you to save an important client thousands in tax liability. No one complains about being copied on praise memos.
  4. Focus on good news. In general, business is great, people are wonderful. Concentrate on stories with happy outcomes. People want to be around other positive people. Whiners are not liked and they don’t get promoted. Of course, you don’t want to hide critical information from your boss, but don’t whine. You should always try to bring a solution when pointing out a challenge or frustration.
  5. Know what you don’t know. Do you have a skillset problem? For the next level assignment do you need to have the skillset or can you rent or buy it as needed? Instead of figuring out your weakness and trying to fix it, work to make sure that weakness doesn’t come up in your role. You can buy or rent the expertise you need to fill that gap, but the self-knowledge to know what skillset deficits you have is part of being a high performing individual. Knowing what you don’t know is critical.
  6. Acquire new skills. Lifelong learning is required for lifelong success. Read, read and read some more. Talk with others who have succeeded. Figure out what they’ve done. Pick an area of expertise, but be well-rounded to be a generalist. Create your own curriculum on what you think you need to learn, and then ask others if you’re on the right track.

Gain more valuable insights from Donald Asher’s wonderful book, Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn't and Why: 10 Things You'd Better Do If You Want to Get Ahead. You can also learn more from his website at donaldasher.com.

Michael Ramos, Director of CPE and Training, American Institute of CPAs. Mike sets the strategic direction and manages operations of the professional development business unit at the AICPA. He combines his understanding of technical audit and accounting issues with his communication skills and experience to advance AICPA CPE offerings. He is the author of many books and training courses on SOX 404, internal control and other auditing matters.


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