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GO FOR THE GOLD!

By Sean Stein Smith, CMA, CPA
October 1, 2015
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Succesful businessman with gold medals

There are many ways that young professionals can make a difference in the workplace and create a positive image.

 

Recently I was fortunate enough to have been named one of the “30 Under 30” CPAs in New Jersey for 2015. Sponsored by the New Jersey Society of CPAs (NJCPA), this statewide competition judged the merits of the nominees in three areas: Society participation, accounting profession involvement, and community service dedication. Professional activities, including speaking, teaching, and professional credentials, accounted for 50% of an applicant’s total score. NJCPA involvement, authoring, and local volunteering efforts accounted for 30%. Community service and engaging in activities that give back to the local community rounded out the remaining 20%.

 

When I first reviewed the application and requirements, it was a bit intimidating. I thought, “Who was I to submit to be one of the 30 under 30 in the state?” In my mind, these people were young members of the accounting profession well on their way to leadership roles in companies, state societies, and regulatory agencies. After some consideration, and with the upcoming NJCPA annual conference on my mind, I submitted my application. I still can’t believe how excited I was a few months later when I was selected.

 

I attended the conference to learn about current topics in accounting that I could use in my job and for continuing professional education (CPE). While there, I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear that many of the topics of emerging importance for a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) closely mirror the topics and areas of importance for a CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) and other financial professionals! Risk management, the importance of sustainability and corporate governance to business performance, and the increasing influence of technology on business decision making were heavily covered during the three-day conference. Additionally, and perhaps most pertinent to this discussion, was how accounting professionals can stand out from the pack.

 

It can be intimidating out in the workplace. Accountants, especially young accountants, whether they are CPAs or CMAs, often struggle to differentiate themselves or to break out of the “mold” of accountancy. Some might not even know where to begin, but, as with anything else, the first step in any process is to start. When I was asked to write this column, I wanted to make sure I could offer some sound advice, so I’ve included three ideas and tips that I have used effectively in my efforts to expand both my knowledge and role from accountant to business decision maker.

 

1. Volunteer to get involved in projects and professional organizations. The best way to meet new people, to get exposed to cutting-edge ideas, and to build your network is to get yourself out there. You don’t have to be the center of attention or lead the presentation. Just participating in the conversation will keep you informed and in touch with other like-minded and motivated people.

 

Here’s an example: Two initiatives that I volunteered for included doing the accounting for the not-for-profit foundation run by United Water and playing a leading role in United Water gaining NASBA CPE provider status. Both experiences helped me learn a lot, exposed me to new people and ideas both inside and outside the organization, and allowed me to develop as a professional. Was it easy? Not always, but they were definitely worthwhile experiences!

 

2. Keep current and write. Employers routinely cite the lack of writing and communication skills among current hires as a major problem. One of the best ways to improve your writing and communication skills is to practice them. Yes, practice makes perfect! Local chapter/society newsletters, blog posts, industry publications such as Accounting Today and Strategic Finance, and even online publications are great places to showcase your abilities. People notice and value financial professionals who can write and communicate. It’s a rare skill set but one of the most necessary ones.

 

For example, I self-published three books—via Amazon’s Create Space service—that focus on personal finance, budgeting, and stocks for young investors. If publishing a book isn’t your area of interest, then start writing short articles for industry magazines and journals. They don’t require the same degree of time investment, but they can still make a powerful statement about you as a professional. With so much happening in the accounting and finance field, and editors everywhere looking for pertinent content, publishing articles on timely issues is a surefire way to get noticed in a good way! Another plus: You’ll be providing information for your fellow professionals that may help them do their jobs better and add to their list of new skills.

 

3. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Not every idea will work out, not every group or activity you volunteer for will be a good fit for you, and not every submission you send in will be accepted. That’s okay! Think about every new idea you come across, and try to weave it into your everyday work life and professional development. Persistence pays off, and if you are consistent in your efforts to develop as a professional, to network, and to learn new skills, people will listen, and some may even help you succeed.

 

For example: In 2012, I began writing a weekly newsletter that I would e-mail to a list of people I had previously contacted about receiving such a newsletter. Over time, I began to notice that the percentage of people opening my newsletter and actually reading it was quite low, and I was disappointed. But as I began discussing this with my family, it dawned on me that maybe I could use my enthusiasm for educating people about accounting and personal finance in a different arena. Fast-forward several years: I have developed and am currently teaching several accounting and finance courses.

 

Good ideas will always find a home! Now it’s time for you to share yours.

 


CALLING ALL IMA YOUNG PROFESSIONAL MEMBERS!

 

If you want to:

 

  • Foster new relationships with your peers through social media, online communities, or face-to-face CPE sessions and networking events,
  • Create a career plan to achieve your individual goals,
  • Sharpen your leadership skills,
  • Write a Young Professionals column for Strategic Finance, and
  • More…

 

Then IMA has the tools and solutions for you as part of our member value proposition. Let your annual dues go to work for you! We are ready to help you become the kind of professional that employers are seeking to fill their skills gap!

 

To get more information regarding how to become involved, contact Pat Stefanczyk at pstefanczyk@imanet.org.

 

 

Sean Stein Smith, CMA, CPA, CGMA, CFE, DBA, is an assistant professor at Rutgers University and an adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University and Montclair State University. He is a member of IMA’s Bergen-Rockland-Meadowlands Chapter, and he was named an IMA 2016 Young Professional of the Year. You can reach him at drseansteinsmith@gmail.com
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