Future-Proof Your Career in Numbers

As a jobbing Bookkeeper and CFO for the last 30 years, as well as being a SME owner for most of those, I’ve seen a number of SME business trends come and go.

Happy 2021!

As a jobbing Bookkeeper and CFO for the last 30 years, as well as being a SME owner for most of those, I’ve seen a number of SME business trends come and go. The financial services profession has been shaped immeasurably by a number of factors that have affected every industry in some shape or form: accelerated technology adoption, shifts to offshoring (and back again), an increase in compliance (here to stay, hopefully) and a focus on diversity and inclusivity (ditto), to name just a few.

But the changes escalated by COVID in 2020, have altered the way we in the accounting field work forever. I believe that our ability to effectively work remotely, integrate with automation, work across geographical borders – increasingly international, work with multiple teams simultaneously and, how we combine the position of learner and teacher in any given role, will provide us in numbers with a career that will not only reap rewards for organisations but for individuals too. Ultimately, it will mean that businesses will be better prepared for the ‘interesting’ times ahead and will also ensure that we help shape the futures of the SMEs we work amongst – in 2021 and beyond – by being more useful.

These are exciting times.

There’s no doubt that business will need future-thinking finance professionals more than ever as the economy recovers without the crutch of government subsidies. So how do we prepare ourselves to be the A-grade professionals our industry and our customers want but don’t always know they need?

I believe that all that’s needed can be learned. Here are ten insights to updating your skills and future-proofing your career:

1.  Complete a brutal hard skills audit on yourself. No matter how long ago you last fronted up to Uni or a formal learning institution, upgrading your technical skills needs to be an ongoing action. There are so many online and offline resources that will develop you. I believe that you should be doing something that enhances your resume every week, however little. Remember, progress is sometimes measured in millimetres.

2.  Ask five people who know you well professionally for an honest appraisal of your soft skills. Are you a strong, coherent communicator? How are your time management skills (are you known for overpromising and underdelivering)? Do your diplomacy skills need a bit of a brush-up? Do you work best alone or as a team-player? We all have strengths and weaknesses. Understanding where you shine and where you’re less than bright is the key for effective future development.

3.  Join a network that is at the forefront of skills development in your chosen field to share and learn from others. This should preferably be a two-way forum that shares insights and knowledge about what’s changing and shaping your professional world. Contribute regularly – it could be a comment or a longer-form post, but for every contributor, there are multiple benefactors. The best way for you to learn is to share what you know with others.

4.  Ensure your current role is one where you can continue to apply what you’re learning on an ongoing basis. There are some fantastic progressive accounting roles out there that will stretch your capabilities and give you a seat at the table so that your skills can be integrated into a company’s strategic plan. If you’re not in this role now (or it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon) look to reach out to organisations that are changing the face of our profession and who are working with others who are doing the same. This could mean taking a step sideways or even down (heaven forbid) from your perception of the level you are currently at, but remember this is a long-game decision with long-term benefits.

5.  What’s Your Story. Spend some time reviewing what drew you to the accounting profession in the first place. Do you like working in the weeds (sorting out the detail), or as part of the overview? Are you a generalist, or a specialist? What other areas of interests or passions do you have that you could integrate into your accounting role? These are just some of the things to think through that will focus your intent on where you can start to ‘individualise’ your mark on the profession. What can you offer, as a combination of skills, that makes your contribution stand out?

6.  Refresh your resume. I’m in two minds as to whether this should be done with the help of a professional resume writer or whether the best person to compile the document that best represents you should be you, but in any case, having looked at more than 10,000 resumes in the last 15 years, this is what I know for sure. Make it as long as it needs to be but understand that only the first page will be read for sure; Always include a 4-5 sentence introductory summary in case the first page doesn’t get read to the end; Make it factual not artistic – it should be date-specific and more formal, the cover letter can be more personal and informal; be honest, being liberal with the truth does not bode well for any long-term career in finance.

7.  Be Cloud-First in everything you do. The reality is that everything is going online. Your ability to communicate (in writing, both informally and formally and ‘in person’) as part of a team without having ever met your co-workers physically is fast becoming normal. Some of the skills needed to navigate this way of working are instantly transferrable but some will require huge adjustments to the way you work. The expectation will be that you are job-ready with these skills in place before you start because you have informed yourself of the way the world of work is shifting and have readied yourself.

8.  Get comfortable presenting. Like it or not, people who work on the numbers are about to get a lot more visible, and it all starts with the interview process. We’ve traditionally been a back-office function, but you’ll need to be comfortable being up-front in more ways than one. I believe that effective communication 1-on-1, to small groups and in more public forums is a skill that everyone can learn (I’ve done it!) but is so much easier with professional help. There are a number of great resources out there to help guide you through being comfortable with being uncomfortable. Yes, there’s the potential to initially make an idiot or yourself (unlikely) but it is a valuable skill for so many other areas of life.

9.  Change your tech perspective from defensive to offensive. With technology replacing many low-value tasks, now is the time to work on developing skills that will keep you current and relevant. Don’t believe the hype that all technology is bad (it gets click-throughs and sells newspapers after all). Embrace the changes on the horizon and inform yourself of what technology will be shaping and replacing in the short and medium-term, and then aim for that world. A question worth considering – does the field of Artificial Intelligence fill you with curiosity or dread? And why? What skills can you develop that will embrace the changes that are inevitably on their way?

10.  Enjoy what you do. Neither a hard skill, nor a soft skill, this one’s a life skill. A useful exercise in putting the shortness of life into perspective is to count out the number of things you have experienced and then look at how many you have left. I love the period between Christmas and New Year – a time of quiet reflection and planning for the year ahead. At 51, I’ve experienced 33 of these special moments in time in my professional life. If I retire at 67, I’ve got 16 left. That’s less than a third left of these quiet times that I love so much. Don’t wait for the big things to happen in life before you realise that time and energy, not money are the markers of life.

2020 was a bruiser of a year for most, but I believe it will be a year that will be just the catalyst some needed to make the changes that had to happen.

Annie Flannagan is a jobbing Bookkeeper and CFO, Founder of Better Business Basics (who provide Bookkeeping and CFOs services to business) and Co-Founder of Num8erlust (who provide the story in numbers to businesses who turnover $1m-$20m). For more posts and information, visit her LinkedIn Profile.

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