Think and act like you are already in the job you want.
Take on extra responsibility and look to assist partners with challenges. If you are a supervisor, think like a manager. Observe the responsibilities undertaken by your manager and watch to see how they deal with things. That doesn’t mean you should go ahead and undermine your superiors or act in an overly dominant manner, but taking the initiative and acting like the person you want to be makes perfect sense. Remember, partners do not promote you for what you have done for the firm but what you will do for the firm in the future. If they think you are displaying the right qualities and looking and acting the part, they will be more likely to see you in the part.
From the way you dress through to the way you sign off your emails, you need to take the lead from the person who already has the role you want. Let your superior imagine you in the role before they offer it to you and when you finally do move up that ladder, your colleagues will think you have been there forever. Then you can start working on the next big step up.
Learn to be more commercial
What does it mean to be commercial? I asked a number of senior staff from a diverse range of firms that include the Big 4 and smaller niche rms. Whilst there were obvious differences in how some teams operated, there was a general consensus over certain things.
Make sure you are liked by senior staff and the partners
I can’t stress the importance of this enough. To advance in your career you will need senior staff to respect and like you. It is not possible to advance in any organisation without the buy in of senior staff . This sounds like common sense and to a degree it is, but being liked is not simply down to you chatting to your partners and senior staff or asking how their weekends went, but genuinely making an art to cultivate a relationship.
Get an understanding of what the partners enjoy doing outside of work. Cultivate an interest in any sports or hobbies that the partners may pursue, although only do so if you feel it is a hobby or a sport that you believe could be interested in.
Explore the areas the partners need assistance in. What do they do that is important to them but feel pressurised to complete. If it is likely to help advance your career, offer to help. However before entering your services remember to gain an understanding of all the things that are important in this area. There is no point volunteering for something and being bad at it.
If you are working in a firm where the partners have not expressed a view on you or your work and are not open to talking about your future, then leave. Find a firm with senior staff you can respect and like and who will respect and like you in turn.
• Be likeable and never negative.
• Be needed but not irreplaceable.
• Understand what your boss needs.
• Keep your boss in the loop with regular updates.
• Identify and x problems before they have to.
• Be respectful and expect it in return.
• Own up to your mistakes.
• Do everything you can to work effectively even if you dislike your boss.
Work for a fast growing firm
This is the number one way to get promoted for a lot of people that I deal with. Admittedly as a recruiter I have a particular perspective gained from what I do for a living. However the interviews that I have conducted with people from supervisors to managing partners seems to confirm this. It also makes logical sense.
Fast growing tax teams will offer you more scope to stand out and greater opportunities for promotion. In particular focus on tax teams that are experiencing double digit growth per annum but with less than 20% turnover. A 10% growth per annum should lead to a doubling in staff numbers in 5-7 years. A 20% turnover (this depends in the size of the team, but 20% is a good indicator) could indicate a danger of being overworked and having to cover more junior positions.
Overworked and understaffed is not going to get you promoted.
Working for a firm that has limited growth potential will severely curtail your ability to advance. This is an obvious statement, but one that gets ignored more often than you might imagine. You can tell yourself that the partner has made you a promise or that the ageing senior manager blocking your path will retire soon, however that is no substitute for a genuine path to promotion. Fast growing firms will need to hire and promote.
If your team is expanding and has a desperate need to promote, even a standard performance can lead to promotion. Partners may not like to promote average performing staff but I have seen them do it over and over again. Necessity and the need to hit targets will drive this. Don’t believe me? Have a look around your peer group. I bet you can think of at least one person who has done well due to circumstances rather than ability.
Imagine what you can do as a high performer in a fast growing firm.
Make sure you work for the right firm
Some firms are purely about generating business. Other firms will recognise the contributions of tax people to non-billing activities that nevertheless add value to the organisation. It’s important you understand what your strengths are and what you enjoy doing as a professional. If you enjoy people management and do not wish to become purely a sales person then you need to make your case and demonstrate your value (a well documented plan that keeps track of your specific accomplishments and underlines the actual bottom line value that you bring to the firm is a must) to your firm. Alternatively join a firm that will value the contributions you make beyond developing business. This can be tougher to do in a Top 6 firm where billing becomes increasingly important the higher you climb, however not impossible by any means.
Impress your peer group and they will be a great advert for brand “you”
Make friends. As you advance you will create resentment and there will be people who will find this a good reason to actively make your life difficult. This is sometimes inevitable and something that the ambitious have to accept. By making friends you limit the level of resentment and create allies who will support your advancement and work as your very own brand ambassadors.
I am sad to say that I have I worked in a team were a number of my colleagues resented me and in some cases actively disliked me. To make matters worse some of these people were close to the key decision maker and this naturally hampered my ability to advance. Your boss may not actively canvass your peer group to form an opinion of you or decide if you are worth promoting, but they will have a level of awareness of people’s perceptions of you based on conversations or remarks regarding yourself and your performance.
Make sure you are with the in-crowd. Take your firm’s values seriously and cultivate relationships with your career peer group. Hang out with the successful people in your firm. Your peer group do not all have to like you for you to advance, but it will certainly help your case with partners if they enthusiastically encourage or for that matter, reluctantly sing your praises. Being known as someone who is likeable, approachable and fun is never, ever a bad thing.
Become a Rainmaker
The ability to develop new business and generate fees from existing clients is certainly one of the most obvious ways to get noticed in an accountancy firm. It is also the main area that most people in the profession view as the greatest challenge.
The idea of networking and meeting clients to ‘sell your services’ does not have to be a painful experience. Some of the most successful partners I know have had trouble with generating business until they made the effort to learn and improve their skills. Take the trouble to learn and develop these areas and you will see great rewards.
The most successful people I know have a niche and understand the type of client they are interested in working with. This applies as much to the larger firms as it does to the smaller practices
These are some of the things successful senior people I know do to generate new work: