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Kicking off our new regular pages on tips for enhancing your career, we introduce our talent doctor, Dr Rob Yeung, and offer advice on getting the most out of meetings

This article was first published in the September 2013 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Going back to work

Earlier in the year, Ireland’s health service refused a reported 80% of applications to a three-year career break scheme – an initiative that was conceived to support a staff-reduction drive in the organisation.

But while some people are struggling to leave work, what about those who have taken some time off and are now looking to re-enter the workforce? 

Many professionals take career breaks, often to raise a family or to travel. People who have taken a significant amount of time off can find themselves on the back foot.

Build a CV that highlights your transferable skills. Make the most of the qualities you discovered about yourself during your break. Don’t downplay the time off you took – try to use it to your advantage. Keep your options open. If your previous career no longer interests you, shop around for job diversity. 

Why not consider temporary work? Roughly two-thirds of finance leaders intend to use temps in 2014. Temping is a great way to get your foot in the door and demonstrate your skills on the job. Such a post can often turn into a full-time position, even a dream job. 

Be as realistic and honest with yourself as possible. Be prepared to accept that you may not be able to slip back in at the same level as when you left.

BECOME A MENTOR

ACCA workplace mentors perform a hugely important role, supporting ACCA trainees to progress through the qualification and to develop into complete finance professionals. Being a workplace mentor can also contribute towards verifiable CPD.

TALENT DOCTOR: NETWORKING 

What does it take to get ahead at work? Both strong technical skills and hard work help, of course, but neither guarantees success. After all, I’m sure you can think of colleagues who got promoted despite having only modest technical skills and never seeming to work that hard.

I work as a consulting psychologist in business, which means that I get asked to coach individuals, run leadership development programmes for organisations and speak at business conferences all over the world. But rather than base my recommendations only on my personal experience, I prefer to draw upon published research. There are clever studies being done by psychologists, economists and other scientists at top universities and business schools. So what do they tell us about success at work?

Studies conducted in the past few years led by researchers such as Florida State University management professor Gerald Ferris suggest that people with both more and deeper relationships at work tend to be more successful. Such individuals understand that good ideas don’t always get turned into successful products or projects – it often takes the support or outright sponsorship of colleagues, bosses and people from other departments to get things done.

The implication is that we could all think more consciously about building stronger relationships with business associates, customers and suppliers before needing them. It’s no good going to people and asking them for advice or support if that’s the first time we’re speaking to them. But if we’ve been chatting and sharing the occasional joke together already, of course they are going to be more likely to help out when we need it.

People matter more than the numbers. So don’t focus solely on the day-to-day duties of your work. Think about networking a little more. Invest a couple of hours every week meeting a few people outside of your usual circles. Find out what they do and what would help them do their jobs better. Get to know colleagues’ and customers’ opinions and interests outside of work. Try to build friendships where you can.

Be wary of the potentially false promise of online networks, though. Researchers at Brigham Young University have found that the most frequent users of the MySpace social network report being less involved in real communities than the least frequent users.

If that is true of other social media, the finding highlights a risk that online networking could become a solitary substitute for engaging with real people. It’s easy to believe that we are well-connected when we have hundreds of online contacts. But how many of them could we truly depend upon if we needed a favour, career advice or an introduction to a dream employer?

I suspect that a dozen real friends or business contacts that we meet occasionally may have much more power than several hundred Facebook or LinkedIn friends and contacts. So get out there and connect. But do it in person, when you can look people in the eye, shake hands, hug, celebrate and commiserate together, and form real relationships.

The perfect meeting

Meetings are not universally loved. Economist Thomas Sowell said people who enjoy meetings should not be in charge of anything, while American educator Peter F Drucker described them as symptoms of bad organisation. 

Often the reaction to a meeting invite is ‘how can I get out of it?’ And while filter coffee and snazzy presentations can be pleasant, successful meetings can be reduced to a few core elements.

So if it’s your meeting, plan it well and communicate your goals. If you’re attending, you’ve been invited for a reason; provide your skills, experience and insight. Clearly set out your objectives. What would be a good outcome from the meeting? Communicate this and manage people’s expectations. Show that thought has been put into the process. Create an agenda, stay on topic, keep the meeting flowing, get everyone involved, note points for further discussion, and allow feedback afterwards.

The big break

As deputy CFO of Rolling Stone magazine’s Russian publisher, Mironova, now a manager in EY’s performance improvement advisory services department, achieved a degree of rock-star status not often afforded to accountants. ‘After graduation I joined EY,’ she says, ‘before moving to a private equity fund. I was then appointed deputy CFO of a portfolio company, and in March 2012 I came back to EY.’ 

Mironova’s top five soft skills:

  1. Networking. People matter. Developing your network and making friends can help your career. At senior levels most career moves are due to recommendations.
  2. Constant learning and development. It’s crucial to our profession. Our brain is our tool so we have to train it to stay on trend, to be aware of all the new approaches.
  3. Initiative. Being proactive can help you a lot in your career. Behave as if you already have a managerial position. Sometimes it’s called self-motivation when a person doesn’t require constant telling what to do.
  4. Positive attitude. Sometimes we are overloaded with work or personal problems, but every problem is an opportunity, so think in a positive way and success will find you.
  5. Have interests outside of your work. Sports, for example. As we say in Russia: ‘A healthy body equals a healthy mind.

Dr Rob Yeung is a psychologist at leadership consulting firm Talentspace and author of over 20 bestselling career and management books, including E is for Exceptional: The New Science of Success (Pan Books); he also appears as a business commentator on the BBC and CNN.

 

Last updated: 7 Apr 2014