How can an accountant up-skill themselves to accelerate their career progression?

Marcus Williams 23.04.2020

Rob Thompson, Deputy CFO at The Bank of England, gives his opinion on how accountants can up-skill themselves and accelerate their careers.

Firstly, how are you and your team coping with working from home? How have you had to overcome any challenges/ if any to continue working BAU?

On the whole, I think we’re fine. The technology is available and seems to be holding up well and people are getting used to the different etiquette involved with phone meetings, as opposed to face-to-face. Generally, there is very little that we would do in the office on a day-to-day basis that we can’t do at home, apart from interact with each other in the same physical space and that tends to affect some people more than others.

This situation brings to the fore something that leaders should always be thinking about anyway: everyone in the team is different, they will all have different needs, desires and concerns and the leader must respond accordingly. I always try to be mindful of the fact that every colleague’s approach to and feelings about working at home (indeed to the whole idea of being ‘locked down’) is unique, whether that is driven by physical environment, work set-up, personal and family situation, whatever.

Clearly you have had a successful career to date, however when you entered the world of Accounting & Finance was your goal always to be a CFO?

Not really – my initial reason for working and training in accountancy was really to get a foothold in the world of commerce more generally. Most businesses are sensible enough to listen to the numbers guy or girl and make them part of the success of what they do, so it always seemed like an ideal way for a numerate person to get a seat at the table.

In your opinion, what key skills/ qualities make a good CFO?

A wise man once told me: a strong bladder – when your day is filled with meetings, the chances of being able to nip to the loo become few and far between…

What do you think is the best way to accelerate your career? Start applying for more senior jobs externally or try and upskill yourself at your workplace?

Like most things in the world of work (and, indeed, life more generally), I’m not sure there’s a ‘one size fits all’ answer to that one and I’ve known and worked for individuals who have been successful using each approach, or a mixture of both. Sometimes it can be hard to move onwards and upwards where you are, depending on the circumstances and nature of the organisation, so getting out might be the only practical option – on the other hand, there is a lot to be said for getting to know your sector, specialism or particular business really well so that the value you can add grows and, in due course, your career grows with it.

In your opinion, what can accountants do to upskill themselves and stand out above others?

Two main things for me: the first is to know your organisation. The days are gone for most entities when the accountant was there to keep score, we are looking for so much more from CFOs and Finance departments more generally now and things are only going to move further in that direction. Speak to leaders in your business outside Finance, get to know them and what worries them, then figure out how you can help and offer to do so. You want to be seen as indispensable, not an overhead!

The second is to build, maintain and use your network - this is similar to my first point but thinking more externally. Take time to catch up with former colleagues, seize every opportunity to speak at or participate in industry events, get involved at your accountancy institute or other professional body – the list of possibilities is endless so be imaginative and creative…

What catches your eye more when reviewing CV’s? Excellent academics or professional qualifications?

I don’t think I would put store by one more than the other, CVs should be considered in the round.

What are your top tips for any accountant climbing the career ladder? How do you get noticed?

Think about the next job you want then get to know all you can about the person currently doing it – are they differently skilled from you and, if so, in what way? What would you bring to that role and what would you need to learn? How do you fill those gaps? Get yourself a mentor to help generate ideas and validate those you already have – most larger companies will help you do this and your accountancy institute may be able to assist too.

If it’s your boss’s job you’re after then, you might want to discuss with them how and when you might be able to step up – being able to do this will depend on their approach and the relationship you have them, only you will know if this will work but the best managers I’ve had in my career have been very happy to talk about this and have even coached me in getting ready to take over. Always be careful when seeking feedback though as you might hear things you don’t want to…that said, don’t forget that feedback is a gift: it’s up to you whether or not you accept it!

Marcus Williams's picture
Associate Director | Finance & Marketing
mwilliams@morganmckinley.com

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