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As we say farewell to our spring interns and plan for our summer interns, I think back to the time when I was in their shoes. Nearing the end of college and in the process of figuring out my career path, I had no idea I would one day be a partner in an accounting firm; I never imagined that as a long-term goal. However, I knew I wanted to be in the accounting profession, and I aspired for upward mobility. Around this time, while being recruited, a partner at the firm I ended up working for told me he believed I could one day become a partner. That was the first time I ever thought of myself as more than an accounting student. I could see the end game of where my career could take me, and that encouragement really motivated me.
No two career paths are exactly the same. And certainly, the world today is quite different than it was when I began my career. If I could go back in time, these are the things I would tell my 22-year-old self about building a valuable career.
1. Focus on developing a broad skill set. Today, having a deeper understanding of technology and data science is as fundamental as understanding debits and credits. It is no longer good enough to just understand tax and accounting rules; today’s professionals must understand how systems and processes produce data that can be analyzed to draw conclusions about a business. They also need critical thinking skills and the ability to make difficult judgments about the data they analyze. And to be a “trusted advisor,” it’s important to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the economy and with current business issues and topics of concern to our clients.
2. Prioritize your health and well-being. Over the last 18 months I have learned the importance of energy management which includes physical exercise and healthy eating habits (see Energy for Life ). For me, nutrition and health were always the first things to go when faced with stressful times at work. I should have been more focused on my health and how it plays a role in managing stress and providing energy to fuel my day. I definitely would tell my younger self to not let food and exercise be anything but healthy and productive—a top priority each and every day.
3. Be kind to people. It is so important to be kind to people. I have learned that the time we spend with our colleagues can be short and fleeting before moving onto another project or another role. It is draining and counterproductive to be spiteful, self-centered, egotistical, or anything but nice. Instead, we should think about what we can do to improve the lives of other people. The result is a happier outlook on our careers and our lives, while making our workplace and our community better places. A kind word, call, or note costs me nothing and may just be what changes someone’s day or their outlook on life for the better. I am not sure that I have always thought this way, but it is certainly on my mind today.
4. Be prepared to make investments and sacrifices. Understand and accept the fact that there is no way to build a valuable career without making investments and sacrifices. Integrating your career with your life is important, but if you are seeking a career that allows you to grow and optimize your potential, you have to make investments and you have to make sacrifices. I encourage you to take the unexpected assignments and approach them with confidence; sometimes, exceptionally difficult projects are career changers that give you new opportunities to challenge yourself and grow. As the saying goes, there is no shortcut on the road to success.
5. Remember to keep it all in balance. It was a different day when I began my career. I was of the late baby boomer generation, and we were conditioned to have a work, work, work mentality. If I could do it over again, I would not necessarily advise myself to work less, but I would coordinate my work with my life completely differently. My job search today would focus on a firm like DHG that would help me integrate my life aspirations with my career aspirations. Today, I better understand the importance of taking care of oneself. I stated above that you need to be prepared to make investments and make sacrifices, but I also want to point out that you need to know when and how to unplug and unwind. Maybe it is not always balanced, but it should be integrated so that there is give and take on both sides of the equation.
6. Do not be afraid to set long-term goals. We live in a short-term society, but you should not be afraid to set long-term goals. Everything you do day in and day out should be driven by long-term goals; otherwise you are wandering aimlessly without a destination. That direction can change over time, but it is very important to set goals and evaluate them frequently.
I did not know exactly where my career path would lead me, but I did know that I wanted to challenge myself. I saw myself moving up somewhere, and ultimately I was coached to believe that I could succeed and one day become a partner. Whether you are just starting your job search or you are already settled into your career, it is never too early (or too late) to refocus and make adjustments that will ultimately benefit your personal and career aspirations.
About Matt Snow
Matt Snow is the CEO of Dixon Hughes Goodman, a U.S. top 20 accounting firm headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. He leads the implementation of DHG’s strategy supporting the firm’s mission, which is to build valuable careers with its people and to help clients achieve their goals. Check out Matt’s blog at dhgllp.com for more great advice from a successful CEO.
With more than 2,000 people in 13 states, Dixon Hughes Goodman ranks among the nation’s top public accounting firms. Offering comprehensive assurance, tax, and advisory services, the firm focuses on major industry lines and serves clients in all 50 states as well as internationally. DHG’s culture focuses on people, careers, and flexibility, which is summarized in their tag line: Life Beyond Numbers. To learn more visit careers.dhgllp.com.
This post was sponsored by Dixon Hughes Goodman.
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