IMA MENTORING CONTESTBy
As part of the IMA Leadership Academy’s mission to foster mentoring relationships, IMA created a new mentoring contest. Winners Yingqian Shen, Ross Donovan, and Cori Hoch (above, left to right) share their experiences of being mentored by, respectively, business consultant and author Lynette Lewis; IMA Global Board of Directors member Christian Cuzick, CMA; and former IMA Chair Bud Kulesza, CMA, CFM.
“Am I doing it right?” Leaving my home country to start my new adventure in the United States, I had some doubts about the best way to achieve my career goal of becoming a public accountant.
After years of study, though, I am now ready to start my career in the public accounting industry. I am very excited about this opportunity to gain broad business experience: the training in accounting and auditing, the exposure to multiple industries, and the chance to work with people who enjoy solving problems. In the next five years, I hope I will be in a senior position specializing in audit work, having built professional relationships internally and externally, and sharing my experiences and knowledge with my colleagues. I am committed to my career goal as a public accountant, but I also know that I need a mentor to help me get to the next level. There are so many things I want to learn about this industry and the business culture in the United States. This is why I participated in this contest, and winning a mentor session with Lynette Lewis is certainly an honor and a great start.
We began our mentor session with public-speaking skills. While some people may say that an auditing practice is boring—that the job assignments are basically the same, and it just feels like doing the same work in different locations—things are different now. A public accountant must be able to interview clients regarding their systems, to discuss possible system failures, and to present solutions. The frequent interaction with clients and teammates calls for professional service. When I was concerned that my lack of speaking and presenting skills could be a stumbling block to my career development, Ms. Lewis shared her own story about training herself in public-speaking gestures. She also helped me understand and appreciate culture differences such as the importance of humor in public speaking. Furthermore, she also provided some very valuable sources I can leverage to improve my presenting skills.
When I was doing my job research, I realized that business networking is a very important part of developing business opportunities. After graduation, I moved to New York City, not only for what I can be in this city but also for whom I may come to know. Speaking from her own networking experience in the effort of publishing her books, Ms. Lewis encouraged me to expand my network and promote diversity following the outline of my own dreams. This passion for my dreams would help me connect with people who share the same values.
In addition, Ms. Lewis offered some insights into career strategies for women, work-life balance, and the state of the U.S. economy. Everyone may have his or her own views, and there is no absolute answer. But it is amazing how much you can learn from each other while discussing these issues.
I understand that it takes lots of time and effort, and mentorship—finding someone who will share stories of his/her own climb to success—is a priceless gift. In fast-paced digital business environments, it is getting harder to maintain a traditional long-term mentorship. Yet you can find the answers to your questions from virtual mentors, books, and online resources during the “mentoring moments,” and these sparkling moments can provide constructive feedback that results in personal and professional growth.
It is the same investment of time and energy.
The key is to be aware of your own desires and to make them a driving force for your dreams.
Throughout my career, I have sought out mentors for insight on how to be more effective and how to best achieve my goals. Mentors have generally been people that I have worked with: managers, directors, or peers—people that I admired and aspired to be like.
I recently made a significant career change. After six years in commercially focused finance roles with Procter & Gamble, I left to become the manager of Business Development and Planning at Philip Morris International, a step toward my goal of moving into general management. I reached out to IMA as I felt I could learn a lot from a truly external and unbiased discussion on how to make the most of this opportunity.
Indeed, the time I spent with Christian Cuzick delivered, and even exceeded, my expectations. Allow me to share a few of the highlights:
Find Key Partners and Develop Credibility, Advocates, and Champions
In any organization, you need to develop credibility. Pay particular attention to those people who can help you to deliver results or who can give you the opportunity to grow and take on challenging work. Developing people who will support you (advocates) is important, but the key is in developing champions. Who in the organization have you “wowed” such that they will stick their neck out for you? How do you identify these people, and how do you demonstrate to them your ability to deliver exceptional results?
Seek to Improve Underdeveloped Areas
Looking toward general management and with his wide-ranging experience, Christian pushed me to be more aware of some of the areas in which I may be underdeveloped. He advised that I should keep pushing to develop myself as a complete manager rather than falling into the trap of being simply a “numbers guy.” I already work to ensure I have a solid foundation of sales and marketing (pricing strategies, assortment, campaigns, launches, and so on), but Christian further suggested that I study what makes managers in other functions tick. What are they working on? Where do they see opportunities? What keeps them up at night?
Make the Most of Your Mentorship
Finally, to those seeking and developing mentor relationships, here are a few tips:
- *Be clear on what you’re looking for, and communicate this to your mentor. Are you making a career change and needing a different perspective, or is there a particular issue that you would like help on?
- Prepare! As in a job interview, you only have a limited amount of time to describe your background and experience and to elicit valuable feedback from someone who has a very busy schedule. Make the most of it.
- Understand your mentor’s background; what are they particularly well positioned to advise on? You can find some information using LinkedIn, or simply ask.
I have put Christian’s advice into action over the past few months. I closed a strong 2015 with very solid results and positive feedback from my management and key stakeholders. I continue to seek out impactful projects where I can add financial and commercial expertise, developing champions and improving my underrepresented areas like corporate affairs and sales. With that in mind, if anyone has questions or comments or is looking for guidance, please feel free to reach out to me.
As a shy person who does not like to ask others for help, I find a mentorship to be a difficult concept to handle. Why would anyone want to mentor me? Why would they care? What is the point? In the accounting field, it seems that everyone is so busy that they don’t even have time to eat let alone spend time with a stranger seeking mentorship.
After being in the finance and accounting field for almost 14 years, I had considered finding a mentor but had no idea where to start, so as quickly as I had considered it, I gave up. But I was lucky enough to have won the mentorship contest through IMA so I didn’t have to worry about that. Bud Kulesza was the one who would dedicate his time to mentoring me. What Bud did not know was that I was a complete mess at the time. Having just lost my job of 10 years the same day I found out I barely failed my first CPA exam, my motivation and desire were gone. I felt like I was getting too old and tired to continue to bother accomplishing anything more. I needed more counseling than mentoring.
My experience working with Bud seemed odd at first. It was about me. I was the one in the spotlight. I had to kick my shyness to the curb. My reasoning, beliefs, and experiences through all of these years were being examined and picked apart. This, however, was a good thing. Having someone from the outside guide you as to why you have to “toot your own horn” and look at things in a different light makes you realize that it is perfectly fine, and expected, in the professional world.
Although I will probably never get to meet Bud in person, I know that I will always have someone there if I need some guidance or even a little encouragement. I was able to learn a lot from him in a short amount of time. A mentor can help you realize that it’s not all about money or status; it doesn’t take your value away from you. You are worthy no matter what. It’s okay if you stop working toward getting your CMA or CPA, or if you are not pursuing your MBA, or if you’re comfortable not being the boss. Maybe those things just aren’t for you. But you must be willing to live with those choices. If you decide that you want to pursue a certificate, license, degree, or top partnership, then you need to give it 100% and nothing less. These are things that I was not able to see myself (or maybe I did and just needed confirmation from someone else) but that my mentor was able to help me with. As long as I’m okay with where I am, then that is all that matters. Like Bud told me, “If you don’t feel good about you, then why should anyone else?”
I hope—no, hope is a weak approach (Bud taught me that). I plan to continue studying for the CMA and CPA exams. I also set a plan in motion to work toward my MBA. I may take a break from studying, however, and that is okay. At the end of the day, I need to please myself and no one else.
Would I recommend finding a mentor? Absolutely! Bud helped me to open my eyes and realize that I’m living in the future and not the present, worried about the “what-ifs.” He gave me tools to help deal with office politics, to promote myself, and come out of my shell. My advice to you when seeking a mentor is to be honest and open. Be prepared with items that you want to discuss and goals you would like to achieve. And, most important, whatever you decide to do, give it your all. It is, after all, about you.
Now at my new job for a year, I have put myself at the forefront. I am going after promotions and opportunities that I used to watch everyone else get. While I am not currently studying for the CMA or CPA exams, I had an opportunity to start my MBA and am giving it 110%. Eleven months from now, when I’ve completed my MBA, who knows what I’ll be doing next? It doesn’t matter, though, because that’s in the future, and I only need to live in the present.