6 Keys to Career Growth and Success for Young Accounting Professionals

Advisory | Glenn L. Friedman | Mar 23, 2023

Talented people at the top of their game often make it look easy. However, the most successful people in just about any industry will tell you that hard work and passion have been the key to reaching their goals.

I recently had a conversation with a well-known media journalist, who told me that 75 percent of what he does is grunt work. The public only sees the polished product that ends up on TV or a podcast. Nobody sees the hours of research and preparation that happen behind the scenes.

As Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

The career of a young person in accounting is no different. Fortunately, young accountants, CPAs, and paraprofessionals are in demand. Opportunities abound, starting salaries are up, and few professions offer the stability and financial reward of accounting.

Of course, success isn’t easy. You’ll be faced with obstacles just like you would in any profession, but none of these obstacles are insurmountable with hard work and the right approach.

Here are insights I’ve gained through my experience and observations that can keep young accounting professionals on the right track to career success.

1) Stay visible and productive while working remotely.

Working from home is a relatively new concept in accounting that can be equal parts benefit and challenge. When you’re not physically in the office, people don’t see you as much. You miss out on coffee and lunch with coworkers and impromptu conversations about client work. It’s not as easy for someone to take you under their wing and show you the ropes.

This is the tradeoff of working remotely. You gain flexibility and eliminate commuting, but you also miss daily opportunities to be seen, share ideas, and receive feedback and mentoring.

Young professionals need to take the initiative to make sure they’re interacting with coworkers and having regular meetings with their direct reports. They should discuss not only performance and the work of the day, but their career journey.

If you can’t make a trip to the office, have a virtual breakfast or lunch. Spend meaningful time together without distractions. Do your best to replicate an in-person experience. Most importantly, make face-to-face interactions a priority, even when things get busy.

Ideally, you would address opportunities for meetings, reviews, and collaboration before you’re hired. If not, step up to the plate and figure out a way to be seen and heard. Volunteer to lead a committee or project when those opportunities arise.

Remember, you don’t have to make a choice between flexibility and hard work. You can use remote work to spend more time doing things you enjoy, but you can simultaneously structure your workload and activities in a way that allows you to meet the demands of the job – and grow in your career.

To be clear, the demands of working remotely are no less intense than the demands on working in the office. Everyone needs to meet client responsibilities and deadlines. Everyone needs to put forth the effort to achieve the reward.

This may take more discipline and focus for remote workers, but it can be done.

2) Manage relationships and avoid taking things personally.

As I mentioned in the previous article, although accountants are inaccurately stereotyped as number crunchers, everything we do is driven by relationships. Success cannot be achieved without strong relationships with clients and coworkers. This can lead to personality challenges and conflicts.

Because accountants are among their clients’ closest confidantes, they might call at odd hours. They might ask a lot of questions. Instead of feeling that clients are being difficult, remind yourself that clients are contacting you because they trust you and believe you can help them solve problems and achieve their goals.

In addition to being relationship-driven, accounting can feel competitive at times as young industry professionals seeking to step forward in their journey are often measured against each other. At the same time, they often create their own supportive, close-knit community in which they understand each other’s challenges and work together to persevere. Focus on support, not competition.

There will be times when you take things personally. Everybody does. You need to be prepared, however, to handle unpleasant personalities, set boundaries, and focus on the things you can control.

3) Punch above your pay grade.

I’ve said many times that young people should not be afraid to make their goals and aspirations clear. If you want to achieve those goals and aspirations, you need to be willing to take on the tough jobs and have a mindset that you’re going to excel.

You’ll have trouble moving up in your career if you only do what you’ve always done. Take calculated risks. Learn by preparing and doing. Seek to take on the challenges of the job you want instead of getting too comfortable with the job you have.

Instead of trying to be perfect, don’t be afraid to fail. The key is to fail forward, understanding that failure is a natural part of learning, innovating, and becoming more resilient. All will help you grow in your career.

4) Don’t put the reward ahead of the effort.

Too many people focus on what they believe they should be paid instead of having faith that hard work and performance will be rewarded. If you believe you deserve a certain number, that’s great, but you have to prove it.

You’ll be in a much stronger position to request or even demand a certain level of compensation if you’ve already done everything required to earn that reward.

That faith in the reward begins with a belief that the accounting profession has value worthy of hard work. This belief is an essential prerequisite for being passionate about the work and achieving success by making a difference in the lives of real people.

5) Make professional development a priority.

Regulations are always changing. New laws are always being passed. New technology is always being introduced. Like most industries, learning never ends in this industry.

The good news is that your role becomes that much more valuable with every new regulation, law, and tech solution – as long as you commit to keeping up with changes and educating yourself. This will enable you to fully capitalize on an already secure, stable, and lucrative profession.

As you spend time on professional development, remind yourself that the accounting profession is capable of delivering the reward you seek.

6) Seek Out a Firm that Will Support You

While everything discussed in this article requires hard work and commitment to succeed, this isn’t a one-way street. Organizations need to demonstrate their support of every individual’s career journey to not only retain talent, but also to address the talent shortage and attract more young people to the industry.

Implement systems, structure, and solutions that position remote workers for success. Allow flexibility while maintaining accountability. Offer diverse avenues of opportunity for career growth.

No firm is perfect, but if you’ve communicated your goals and aspirations and your firm still isn’t willing and/or able to support you and provide a path to success, there’s nothing wrong with walking away.

At Prager Metis CPAs, supporting the career growth of young accountants, CPAs, and paraprofessionals is an organizational priority. I’ve been privileged to witness a number of true professionals apply their talent, work ethic, and passion to earn and achieve success. I’m grateful for their contributions.

In the next article, we’ll share stories of members of the Prager Metis CPAs team, how their lives have been impacted by the accounting profession, and how they’ve achieved their success.