Defining Your Career Path

In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice asks the Cheshire Cat which way she should go, he responds, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” The same can be said of a career. That’s why it’s essential to take time to look at where you are and consider where you want to be. Without a defined career path, you run the risk of overlooking opportunities and feeling as if you’re never quite in control of your own destiny. Fortunately, this isn’t as daunting a task as it may appear.

Always be learning

Do you have a professional development plan? Even if your firm doesn’t have formalized professional development plans (and they should!), you can create your own. Your plan will serve as a roadmap for your career helping you identify the steps you need to take to help you achieve your goals.

One of Gary Boomer’s favorite quotes came from Charlie “Tremendous” Jones: “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

What books will you read? What courses will you take? Think about what groups you will join to help you grow into the person and professional you want to be five years from now. Whether you want to be your firm’s rainmaker, develop a niche, or become the firm’s Chief Innovation Officer, the things you learn today become the foundation of who you are five, ten, or twenty years from now.

Don’t be afraid to make your own path

There are benefits to following a pre-defined career path. Some organizations map out career tracks and steps you’ll need to get to your goal. Others have more flexibility. Whether you follow in a mentor’s footsteps or create your own path, your career may not look the same as anyone else’s.

Take stock of your current skills and interests. Are you satisfied with the opportunities you have at your firm? If not, can you create potential opportunities?

You don’t need a title to upgrade

Some people care more about job titles than others. It’s understandable because often job titles are used to gauge your success and can be a stepping stone in your career for years to come. But placing too much importance in your title can actually hold you back.

Job titles don’t define you, much less what you are capable of doing.

When you consider whether to take a position, look at the job description rather than the title and don’t be afraid to take on a role that may not be exactly what you want. Some titles are not what they seem. If the work is fulfilling and you have support and room to grow, the potential rewards are worth more than a title.

Also, don’t think of your title as a form of compensation. Some entrepreneurs will happily dole out inflated job titles because it’s a cheaper than giving larger salaries or benefits. Those titles do not always translate into other organizations. Authority, responsibility, control, and freedom are what matters – those things aren’t necessarily communicated by a title.

Plan ahead

Work on a plan of action to help you focus on where you’re headed rather than get mired down in the immediate day-to-day demands of your job. Keep in mind, though, that your career path may not be a straight line from Point A to Point B. Rather than thinking of your career as a straight path, think of it like a lattice that goes up, down, over, in and out.

You’ll want to periodically check in on your plan to see if it’s still the best route. Major life events may impact your priorities. Or new opportunities may come up that set you on a new path. These deviations don’t diminish the work you’ve put into your plan. Instead, your plan makes it easier to navigate by laying out a larger picture.

Continue to communicate

Regularly talk to your supervisors about your goals, aspirations, and where you bring value to the organization. Remember that your boss is human, too. He or she may be focused on their own career, and not paying attention to what you are learning or opportunities to help you grow. But if you have these conversations on a regular basis, your career path will remain visible, and you’ll be more likely to come to mind when an interesting project arises.

This is your career. There is no one more invested in your future than you. Before you can get to your dream job, you need to articulate what that means to you. Don’t be afraid of making a wrong choice. Career paths are rarely freshly paved roads. There will be bumps and detours, but the point is to take ownership, make a decision, and take action.

To learn more about how the roles in accounting firms are changing, download our whitepaper, “The New Firm Transformation: Technology, Growth and the Future.”

Reprinted with permission from Boomer Consulting, Inc.