The holiday period is a time of general merriment. The mulled wine is brought out, most will get a break from work and spend their time with family and friends. The world seems to pause giving you time to really focus on what is important in life. It’s a time of reflection. Am I truly happy? Have I achieved everything I wanted to this year?
Now we all know that happiness and contentment are not constant states and they flow in and out of our daily lives like the crisp December breeze. However, despite the regular trials and tribulations of our working lives, we should have an overall sense of fulfilment or purpose. The something that makes getting out of bed not so much of a chore in the cold mornings.
The holiday season is followed closely by a period of rejuvenation and the New Year turns the page on the previous chapter of your life and allows you a fresh start. It’s a time to shake off the shackles that have been holding you back and strive for what you really want this year.
Now you can have the most well laid plans for this time of this year but the holidays are never that simple. There’s just too much to be done! We are frequently distracted by getting the house ready for nomad family and friends passing through, trying to find meaningful presents amongst the mountains of commercial junk and buying more food than we could ever hope to eat in one sitting.
Before you know it you’ll be back at work getting stuck into the new year workload and somehow you’ve missed the golden opportunity to put all your new year resolutions into play.
So what is the key to breaking this cycle?
The vital importance of planning for your career success.
The one thing that the most successful people on the planet, never mind the profession, do.
The one thing my own seventeen years observing countless senior tax professionals has taught me is that it is impossible to have ultimate control of the shape of your future career. What will be will be. Outside events can and will derail your best laid plans. These can include the economic environment, circumstances in your firm, and changes in your family life or illness. You have no control over these and how they impact your career. You can however significantly increase your chances of success if you plan and actively manage your career. This is an ongoing process and one that needs commitment, but it isn’t as arduous or as time consuming as you might imagine.
Why have a career plan?
The very fact that you chose your career as a tax professional means that you had the beginnings of a plan. It was that plan that guided you throughout your studies and towards the role that you are now working in.
If you get noticed by your firm, they will probably have plans for you. Larger firms may focus on a long term strategy for your career - moving you forward along their established career structure. Smaller firms will have a more general idea for your career path, but it may depend on their own successes.
Whatever their approach is, your firm will focus on what’s important to them. Namely the interests of its partners. A sizeable number of their interests may well align with yours but you certainly cannot guarantee this. Your firm will assist you in managing your career and provide you with the tools to improve by providing training and exposing you too more interesting work and greater responsibility.
However, it is up to you to plan your career or you are at the whims of your employer.
The most successful careerists and the most successful partners that I have represented or recruited for have had a plan to get them to where they want to be.
A plan gives you confidence
There is nothing like knowing exactly what you need to do to make your career decisions easier. No longer are you agonising over whether you should leave your employer at any given time, if a promotion is right for you or if you should hold on for more money. Your plan will tell you want to do.
Having a plan may mean you earn more
If you want to of course. In my experience tax professionals who have a clear idea of where they are going get there quicker. This means that they are earning at their potential at all times of their career. Over the course of their career they earn more and achieve the top positions more quickly.
The majority of your peers will not have a plan
The ones that do will get what they want in life faster than everyone else. Do you really want to watch someone who is equal to you in ability progress quicker than you? Do you want to congratulate them through gritted teeth? Other people’s success is always more fun if you are experiencing an equal amount of success. The most successful people on the planet have a plan.
Why commit to a career plan on paper?
If you have ever used the SMART approach towards achieving your goals you will already know how important it is to have your goals written down and understood.
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Attainable
R - Relevant
T - Timely
Through the simple act of writing down your plan you can ensure that you are meeting all of the 5 SMART objectives. A written plan can be Specific and include a timeline - making it easy to measure your success. You will be able to instantly see if your plan is Attainable given the approach and timeline you are giving yourself and the Relevance of each step will become clear.
Finally giving yourself an end date will ensure your plan is Timely and not vague.
Writing down your plan will be a form of commitment to yourself - a promise of what you plan to do and what the eventual outcome will be. It isn’t set in stone - adjustments and changes can be made along the way, but the end goal is always in sight.
When you write down your plan you should think about the following questions and attempt to answer them in as much detail as you can:
• What skills do I need in order to achieve my end goal?
• How long can I expect my plan to take?
• Is my end goal relevant to my personal life or career expectations?
• Am I being realistic about whether I can achieve my goal?
• Can I split my plan into measured steps?
By writing down your plan, it becomes more powerful and makes decisions easier to make.
“I just want to focus on making manager, before worrying about anything else...”
Really... Why? If you have a goal of being a manager, why are you effectively telling yourself that you are stopping there? You are placing limitations on your career before it has even started. If that is your end goal, great. Write it down, plan for it and get going. But if you write it down you may actually see that a few extra steps could result in a better eventual outcome. So plan for that instead.
Plan for the negative
A written down plan will force you to focus on your overall goals and not just your immediate plans. You will have a timeline and deadlines of where you will want to be and by when at every stage of your career. But you will need to build in a “what if” factor as well - not every step along the path will be positive. Negatives will be there, but they can also be anticipated and planned for.
• List every potential obstacle, concern or challenge that you feel you might face in achieving your career plan.
• List everything that might go wrong with the plan itself.
• Develop positive responses to each of these negatives you have identified.
• Keep your responses, information, ideas and tools handy so that if these
negatives do occur you are ready for battle.
Being prepared and planning for negatives will turn them into positives - learning experiences that are mere hiccups along the way. They might slow you down a little, but you never waver from the plan.
What do you want to achieve from your career and where do you want to end up?
Planning for your career should be a continual process that allows you to monitor and alter your plan as and when circumstance dictate. Your life aspirations will change as you go on. As you get older, get married, have children and develop in your career, your idea of your end goal may change. Don’t be tied to your plan and be willing to change it as necessary. However, maintain a clear idea of where you are going throughout this process of change.
Below are some steps that will help you with this.
Review your current position
Consider your current position and how it suits your current skills based on what your future aspirations are.
Questions to ask when you consider your plan:
• Where am I at now?
• Where do I want to be in my career?
• What do I want out of my career as a tax professional?
• What do I enjoy doing the most?
• What are my strengths?
• What am I average at?
• What skills do I need to develop?
• What are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen?
• What am I not willing to give up?
• What do I want in in my private life?
This step is about exploring and learning about areas that interest you.
• What skills do you have currently and what do you need to develop?
• What opportunities are available in your current rm to improve your skill set?
• What skills do I need?
• Where is the work?
This will allow you to understand what direction you need to take.
Identify the right direction
This will allow you to compare what you have with what you need to develop.
• What are your options for developing?
• How does your current role match your skill set and interests?
• Will your current responsibilities allow you to develop into the profession
that you want to?
• What are the advantages and disadvantages of each option?
• What will help and what will hinder me?
• What can I do about it?
At the end of this step you will have narrowed down your options and have more of an idea of what you need to do next to help you achieve your goals.
This is when you plan what actions you need to take to make the next move.
Your analysis of your current role, skill set and immediate career path will allow you to understand what you need to do to create your plan.
• What actions must I take to achieve my career goals?
• What specific actions must I take to improve my position?
• What support and assistance will I need to achieve my aims?
You now have a plan that should meet your goals in the time frame you are hoping for. Take the time to react to your plan regularly and reassess how it is working for you right now. Ask yourself the same questions whenever you waver and ensure that the end goal is still suited for your current needs.
Communicate your success to your superiors in a way that will make them sit up and take notice.
You can never be great in a vacuum. If a tree falls in a forest and no one sees it did it really happen? The answer in the workplace is usually a resounding no. If you are going to be felling mighty oaks then you better get a large audience, or more accurately the right audience.
You need to make sure your partners know about your achievements. The best forum you have for highlighting your achievements is your annual review. Getting ready for your review is exceptionally important and should demand a great deal of your time and attention. This might be your only chance to really point out your strengths and to make an impression. Don’t waste it.
Increase your visibility
Have things worth bragging about over and beyond the usual expectations of your role. Highlighting the things you are expected to have accomplished is usually regarded as a minimum requirement. Try and get involved in projects that have high visibility. Does your firm have a high profile but difficult client? Research the client and see if you can get anything of value that will allow you to improve the relationship. Noticed an area of tax that is worth developing on behalf of the company? Take an active interest in this. Look for existing areas that you can improve on. It’s a lot easier than coming up with a brand new idea and easier to get approved and implemented.
Keep track of your achievements
It is vital that you keep track of all your achievements. Keep a journal that highlights all your achievements and what you have accomplished. I always advise the tax professionals I prep before an interview to put together a CV that highlights in detail their specific achievements and the technical projects they have undertaken. This allows them to control the story in the interview. The ones who make the greatest effort with their CV’s and rehearse their achievements always do better in interview. You can take the same approach to your annual review.
This may sound like common sense, but you would be surprised by how many people feel that interviewers should ‘know what they do’ or they can simply ‘discuss what they do’. Winging it is what amateurs do. Would you wing it with a client? Would you wing it before a presentation? Show the same professional diligence towards your review as you would do to your career.
You can keep track of the following types of achievements throughout your career
Your line manager is bored of doing reviews and trying to look interested when you discuss your ‘achievements’ . They are bored of listening to people talk about what they have ‘achieved’ and brag about doing what they are paid to do. You need to stand out by making it more interesting. You need achievements you can present that show you going beyond what was written in your job spec.
Look forward to your annual review. Get your list of achievements together and send them to HR/manager/partner before the meeting. You don’t want to send them the full presentation but list of highlights with interesting titles will get them to sit up and pay attention. If you do it right you may even get them looking forward to your review.
Here are some tips on making your presentation more memorable:
I hope some of these ideas will help you start taking positive steps towards your goals and really allow you to have a great yeat in 2017.