Much has been written about the path to partner. But not as much has been said about how to achieve manager status, and that’s a critical step on the path to partner.
While young CPAs understand the progression—staff to senior to manager to partner—they sometimes struggle with what that entails. Will I automatically be promoted to manager after about six years? Why aren’t some people promoted? Can I speed the process?
The answer is a complicated as it is simple.
Firm leaders know what they want in their firm’s future leaders, including technical expertise, good people skills, leadership ability and a well-rounded understanding about how businesses work. They begin to assess these qualities early on when they first see your resume. If the firm looks at your social media presence, that gives them yet another way to measure your potential.
In a way, it hardly seems fair for someone to think about your partnership potential before they ever meet you, but that is reality. So is the fact that once you walk in the door, you are in charge of how others perceive you. Some markers are obvious and others are subtle. There are things you can do, though.
Seven Tips for Planning Your Roadmap to Manager:
Use critical thinking skills. In the real world of accounting, this means looking holistically at your clients and trying to find new ways you can help them. For example: Is a business client using all of the R&D tax credits they are eligible for? Did you find a possible new efficiency as you performed an internal audit? Did a client’s bookkeeper talk to you about fear of a merger? (The latter is not a strictly accounting topic, but it is something company management should be aware of. Think 360◦ view.) You won’t find concerns at every client, but it’s important to speak up when you do. Advising clients about these types of issues showcases your added value.
Demonstrate your technical and soft skills ability. Before you reach the manager level, you more or less are responsible only for managing your own work and schedule. Managers have to be able to perform any work asked of staff and supervisors. This translates to a much broader view of the work because the perspective shifts from managing yourself to managing work on behalf of the firm. So if you are an auditor, you’ll need to truly understand internal controls. If you are a tax person, then tax strategy and planning need to be in your wheelhouse. Think about your soft skills the same way. For example, make sure your written communications (emails, blogs, your resume, etc.) are clearly written and don’t have any typos; be a good team player—sometimes you lead, other times you follow.
Find mentors. By the time you get to this point, you should have a pretty good handle on your strengths and weaknesses. This isn’t a matter of right and wrong. It’s about knowing where you need help and guidance and finding people you trust from both inside and outside of your firm who can help you grow in those areas.
Develop business. “Business development” is a term that many CPAs, particularly those who are early in their careers, find uncomfortable. They didn’t become accountants so they could also be salespeople. So don’t think about it that way. Think of it as helping people.
Keep learning. Always be open to learning something new. Bob Dylan once said “the times they are achangin.” That has never been truer than it is today. Think about it. Brexit. Climate change. Globalization. Learn as much as you can about these topics and find which ones spark your passions. Then find a way to steer your accounting career in that direction, whether that means focusing on a sustainability practice, international tax, or something else. Your goal is becoming an emerging firm leader, so think about how you can turn your passion into something that benefits your firm—and yourself.
Step out of your comfort zone. Take baby steps, not giant leaps. So, if you are an introvert who is afraid of public speaking or someone who is afraid of being wrong, start overcoming your fears by speaking up at a team meeting. Or maybe asking a partner how you can help him/her. It’s the opposite if you’re extroverted. If you are, try not being the first person to speak up at a meeting or to volunteer for something. Not every time for either personality; more of a conscious pause before following your usual pattern.
Dress appropriately. This may be a “duh,” but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that clothes need to be pressed and flip-flops usually aren’t appropriate for the office even on the most casual dress down days.
Perhaps the most important thing we can tell you about becoming a manager is this: there is no one-size-fits-all path to follow. Everyone is different, as is every firm.
As you progress in your career, however long it takes to make manager (or senior or partner), set aside time each year to stop and assess where you are, what you have learned and whether your goals are being met or need to be adjusted. Yes, you work at a firm and certain things are outside of your control. But you are the only one in charge of whether changes need to be made to increase your level of personal satisfaction.