IMA Moments

Essentials of Professional Education

By Debbie Warner, CPTD, CAE
December 14, 2021
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Looking back on my career, continuing professional education has always been top of mind for me; hence, after completing my undergraduate degree, I got my MBA, took additional business and leadership courses, and expanded my certifications, which were natural next steps.

 

I also learned that career paths are seldom straightforward or clear-cut. There are many ways to move the dial forward, and it’s important to test new ideas and be flexible when exploring work and career options.

 

Once you make decisions, don’t look back. While it’s important to learn from the past, it’s more important to look forward and enjoy exploring new challenges. Remember one of the most significant tenets: teams, not individuals, create success. My most successful and memorable achievements involved collaborating with others to get the job done. And finally, while easier said than done, try to seek a healthy balance between work and personal life—family, friends, and outside interests are so rewarding and crucial to happiness.

 

CUTTING MY TEETH IN BANKING

 

My first professional job out of college was a management trainee position in a New Jersey savings bank. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn the banking functions, and I held a variety of positions from teller to assistant branch manager, and finally assistant vice president (AVP) and manager of a team called the “Banking Staff,” where we worked together on a variety of bank-wide initiatives to improve our customer service. I had a progressive manager who served as a mentor and encouraged me to go for my MBA in finance and seek additional opportunities in the organization. I also developed lifelong friendships and enjoyed the perks of banking life such as attending golf outings and even a U.S. Open Championship! It was a perfect first job and an excellent stepping-stone to other career opportunities.

 

After working for the bank for a few years in my 20s, there came a time when I felt I couldn’t progress much further at that organization. I began seeking a new opportunity in larger, global banking organizations and set my sights on the Wall Street banking community. While I was delighted to be offered the job at J.P. Morgan, I started again as a management trainee at a junior officer position, rather than at the AVP level I had reached at the New Jersey savings bank. This concerned me until a wise mentor asked, “Would you rather be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a huge pond where future opportunities abounded much more plentifully?” With that advice, I took the plunge, and my mentor’s advice proved true. The training at J.P. Morgan afforded me abundant career-development and travel opportunities. From a career perspective, sometimes we need to take a step sideways or even back to arrive at a better place in the future.

 

I was promoted to vice president four years later. During my 16 years of employment, I enjoyed various managerial positions spanning corporate operations, corporate trust, private banking, and human resource training areas. In this last role, I developed and ran leadership and business educational programs for J.P. Morgan global leaders, as well as new management trainees worldwide. It was when I reached the world of training that I found my passion for the learning and development profession.

 

I continued this focus at Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey for three years and then found the perfect position at IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), where I was able to leverage the various skills and experiences that I’d gained in my previous corporate endeavors.

 

THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION

 

The business landscape and management accounting profession are both changing significantly due to a variety of megatrends, including rapid technology advancements, major disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, growing economic uncertainty, and new models of how and where work is performed. As such, the role of the management accounting professional is undergoing a transformation from a mostly transaction-oriented profession to one that focuses on sophisticated analysis and data-driven insights critical to an organization.

 

It’s a competitive employment market. As such, it’s increasingly important for professionals to seek ways to distinguish themselves in terms of knowledge, skills, unique experiences, and valuable expertise. One way to assist in this career development journey is to continually stay current by keeping pace with the business environment and seeking ways to enhance one’s knowledge and capabilities.

 

IMA CAN HELP

 

IMA provides relevant training and upskilling opportunities for accounting and finance professionals to prepare them for the current and future business environments. IMA’s CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification and the CSCA® (Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis) certification are two important ways to demonstrate proof of management accounting skills and strategic planning experience to employers, colleagues, and others. From a continuing education perspective, IMA offers a variety of learning opportunities that explore current topics relevant to professionals—technology; strategic management; diversity, equity, and inclusion; leadership; and ethical skills, to name a few. These opportunities come in a variety of forms including webinars, self-study courseware, certificate programs, conferences, local chapter events, workshops, and podcasts. Moreover, IMA produces a robust set of research, thought leadership, and topical publications. Tapping into these excellent IMA products and services is a great way to keep current on relevant management accounting issues and the profession at large.

 

CLOSING TIPS FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING

 

For all professionals, I’d suggest understanding your strengths, identifying any skills gap, discovering your passions, articulating your goals, and setting a high bar. Grow confident in sharing your views, ideas, and insights. Seek ways to distinguish your skills and knowledge through further education, credentials, certificates, and digital badges. Obtain a mentor who you admire and trust. Give back, help others, and be a team player. Grow your network and ensure that you help each other. And remember to enjoy the journey and keep a balanced perspective—family, friends, health, home, and hobbies are also important priorities.



Debbie Warner, CPTD, CAE, was the vice president of educational and career services at IMA from April 2008 to December 2021. You can reach her at www.linkedin.com/in/warnerdeborah.
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