As you continue in your finance career, you may think about specific actions to take and skills to develop and sharpen to accelerate toward new and exciting professional opportunities.
We pinpointed three actions to consider: sharpen your strategic thinking and planning skills, gain specialized education in digital technologies and decide whether you want to progress further in an accounting or finance career – they’re not exactly the same.
Let’s dive into each in more detail:
1. Sharpen Your Strategic Planning and Execution Skills
What does it mean to sharpen your strategic planning skills? What is strategic work and how can you use it to accelerate your finance career?
Classic case of Southwest Airlines
There’s no better example for understanding what corporate strategy means than the famous case of Southwest Airlines. The airline launched a straightforward, highly disciplined strategy.
It only flew to mid-range airports to simplify operations and used just one type of airplane to reduce maintenance costs. And it gave the best customer service in the industry. There were no deviations nor compromises.
The airline stuck to this strategy with incredible discipline. The company created a tightly interwoven strategy, made conscious decisions of what not to focus on and became one of the most profitable airlines ever.
What does this have to do with you? Everything if you want to speed up your career.
You want to be a leader in your company who creates tightly interwoven strategies that add strategic value to your finance department and the entire corporation.
For instance, you may believe the finance department’s strategy should focus more on generating profits and less on market share. You may also want to target middle market companies with your financial services and stop serving large and small companies. Your strategy may be to focus on processing invoices and payments faster and de-emphasize gaining early payment discounts.
The more strategic thinking and insight you bring to your business, the more valuable you’ll be and the more likely you’ll be offered new work opportunities.
Sharply focused strategy
Whatever you decide and recommend, you’ll stand out with a sharply focused strategy. Make conscious decisions about which customers to serve — and not serve — and which industries to focus on.
By focusing on strategic planning and execution, you’ll bolster the company’s ability to generate more profits and focus more energy and resources behind that goal – which is so important in businesses.
Want to focus on financial planning and analysis?
There are other ways to accelerate your finance career by sharpening your strategic skills. For instance, you can focus more on financial planning and analysis. That means grasping the big picture goals of your company and making future investment recommendations.
You’ll benefit from training yourself to think like your CFO does, to focus on how you measure performance and assign value to it. You’ll have to improve at connecting the dots of market and technology trends to foresee what’s coming in the next six months. Your CFO thinks about this often. So should you if you want to rise in the corporate finance profession.
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Sharpen your ability to forecast cashflows and payment and invoice trends and how that all relates to the company generating more profit and growing revenues. Figure out how the AP technologies investments your company makes, such as investing in AP software, will generate higher financial returns.
2. Gain Specialized Education and Training
You can also grow your career by taking specialized training courses and pursuing academic degrees often needed for higher-level financial positions.
If you want to get promoted to higher levels of responsibility such as finance department head, get a jump start by taking specialized training such as finance, accounting and business strategy courses.
Learn more about data analytics, machine learning and cloud computing
You’ll also speed up your career by taking courses focused on data analytics and technologies used more widely in finance such as machine learning and cloud computing. This can’t be stressed enough. No matter what career path you pursue, your ability to organize, manage, synthesize and generate deep, smart insights from large amounts of data will be a powerful way to accelerate your career.
Great opportunities in financial planning and analysis
Let’s say you’re considering a move into a financial planning & analysis role. Coursework could include an undergraduate degree in finance, math or economics. A master of business administration (MBA) degree would definitely help — especially courses in strategy, leadership, negotiation and marketing.
If you think accounting might be your passion, more education will be crucial. To move up in this field, you’ll need to pass the rigorous certified public accountant (CPA) exam. To become a controller, you’ll need to learn more about corporate accounting as well as the impact of taxes, regulations and audits on corporate finances. You’ll also need to develop skills leading and motivating teams.
Aiming for the top? Want to be a CFO? Great. You’ll need a strong academic and professional experience grounding in all the education and skills above. Also, you need a deep understanding of how businesses work, what makes them tick and the ability to foresee upcoming market trends and big picture business dynamics and strategic changes. You’ll need to be outstanding at seeing the overall context of your business with broad market dynamics and aligning financial strategy with overall business strategy.
Sharpen leadership skills
For any of these higher-level positions, you’ll expedite your career by showing you excel at leading teams. Finance departments are always looking for people with excellent leadership skills.
Yet finance pros tend to underestimate the importance of leadership qualities.
“Leadership skills are often neglected by employees when they are in a position which doesn’t require it,” Recruiter.com notes. “However, as your career in finance and operations progresses, leadership skills become more important. Even if your position does not require management, understand that leadership and strong public speaking and presentation skills are interwoven.”
The message for you: Stand out as a leader in the finance field – which many of your peers won’t focus on – and you’ll move faster in your career.
Read More: 7 Trends for Finance Pros to Track in 2021
3. Big Decision – Do You Want An Accounting or Finance Career?
As you explore future opportunities, think carefully about whether you want to move up in the accounting or finance profession. These specialized professions require different skill sets and personality types.
“Both careers likely appeal to a similar subset of data-crunching, detail-oriented, and analytical individuals,” reports Investopedia.com. “The major differences boil down to whether you enjoy gathering data to make recommendations or whether you prefer gathering data to ensure accuracy. If it’s the former, then you may want to consider becoming a financial analyst. But if you’re attracted to the latter, then accounting may be your forte.”
Understanding these nuanced differences, and how they apply to who you are, will make a big difference in whether you succeed in advancing your career.
What work do you enjoy most?
Seriously contemplate the kind of work you like to do most. What are you most passionate about, gathering data to generate insights and making recommendations or gathering data to make sure it’s accurate? These may seem like subtle differences but they’re fundamentally different types of work and ways of thinking.
“If you are a detail-oriented, self-professed math geek who loves crunching numbers and reporting accurate financial information, consider focusing your job search on the accounting sphere,” suggests the Accounting Principals Blog. “If you like the idea of managing money, calculating risk and have great verbal and communication skills, a career in finance might be the best fit for you. Basically, accounting deals with the past while finance determines the future.”
So you now have three specific actions that could take to drive your finance career upward at a faster rate. What’s most important to remember?
First, add more value to your company by becoming more strategic in your thinking, planning and execution. Your business needs you to help them figure out how to grow, differentiate its products and services, stand out in the crowd and deliver more personalized services to customers. Focus on delivering value that drives business growth. Be mindful every day of how to position your company more favorably in the market.
Strategic thinking isn’t trivial, which is one of the reasons it’s so valuable. It’s a rarified skill that needs to be developed and sharpened and can only be mastered if you practice it over and over.
Second, invest in education and training. You’ll benefit from taking finance and accounting courses. In these times of digital transformation sweeping through the financial industry, you’ll get a big payback by learning about the benefits of technology in the finance industry.
Third, think deliberately about whether you want to move up the accounting or finance career path. They’re different. The best people in these fields tend to like doing different types of work and have different personality types. Are you more comfortable tracking what’s happening today? If so, you’re probably better suited for accounting. Or do you like thinking about the future and how to improve your company’s prospects going forward? If so, you’re probably a better fit for finance.
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