How to succeed in your accounting career

You can nearly always be guaranteed a job anywhere in the world in the thriving accounting and finance industry.

From large multi-national companies to small family enterprises or even individuals, the fact that everyone has to submit a tax return and pay their staff makes accounting a great career choice. 

Better still, everything you learn in a finance role is super useful if you ever want to move into the CEO or board director direction, or set up your own business.

So to make the most of these huge number of opportunities at every stage of your career, how do you ensure you do all the right things to succeed in accounting?

From junior bean counter to senior financial advisor

Everyone has to start somewhere, and for qualified accountants that often means at the bottom of the spreadsheet. This is the time to hone your accounting and maths skills, while simultaneously plotting a graph on where in the finance and accounting industry you see yourself a few years down the track. What sorts of steps should you take for your planned career path?

  • Do you prefer the private or public sector? If you’re decidedly undecided, try to work in both while you’re still climbing the ladder.

  • Are you aiming to become a chartered accountant? Find out what benefits come with this status, which takes about four years to achieve, and whether it fits with your ultimate accounting goals.

  • Do you prefer the nuts and bolts work of accounting, such as maintaining records of invoices, payments and transactions, payroll and petty cash? Working for a smaller company, or becoming an assistant financial accountant within a larger team, could be the place for you.

  • Perhaps you are into overseeing extensive accounting operations and reporting to a finance director? Aim for the position of financial controller, maybe with a view of one day being top dog in the form of chief financial officer.

  • But wait, if you’ve gathered years of varied experience across the board there’s more career opportunity beyond CFO: Becoming a senior finance advisor, a commercial manager, an independent accountant or owner of an accounting firm means you can spread your by now well-honed accounting skills across a range of industries, companies, organisations and clients, which could well provide a super interesting variety of work.

Spread(sheet) your skills as widely as possible

Variety, as they say, is the spice of life and in the incredibly broad and varied area of the financial sector, spreading your skills across a number of areas is key.

  • While specialising in an area is good - and in some cases natural - ensure you keep some broad working knowledge of other areas in case things change and you need to diversify.

  • A wider skillset will be handy if you ever fancy a change, a move up the career ladder or if you’re in the position of needing to find work elsewhere, or want to go out on your own.

  • Work in a team and learn from those around you. A junior financial accountant, accounting technicians and other finance roles are often one cog in a larger team, which makes this a great way to learn where else you could be heading. 

  • In the often fast-paced, ever-changing environment of finance, it’s very important to stay up to date with changes and advances, particularly with regards to technology. Not knowing how to use a certain system, software or process may hold you back in your career, so make like a sponge and learn on the job.

Calculate time to future-proof your career

Accounting is a great career option for any stage of life, with heaps of opportunity for work during your big OE, and, thanks to the magic of the internet and modern technology, flexibility to work from home while juggling family.

Keeping your options open in this way is only possible if you dedicate time to staying ahead of current accounting and financial trends and developments. Climbing the career ladder may at some point require skills beyond the figures on a spreadsheet and into people management or other key areas of being part of, or running a business. How do you ensure you’re in a position to respond if the opportunity arises?

  • Management and business skills can be taught on the job, take matters into your own hands and do an online course, or join a voluntary organisation to learn how to manage people there.

  • Does your current position not allow for much diversity? Ask your employer if you can attend a relevant course to upskill, shadow a colleague or be assigned a mentor.

  • Find out what skills you should be working on, or learning altogether. Areas that may need honing include: Financial, economic and marketing knowledge; business management practises including business ethics; or newly developed accounting software.

Count your opportunities wisely

Accounting can mean different things to different people, companies and organisations. On the plus side, an accounting career can take you in many different directions and offer lots of options. On the downside… if you do the maths right, there is no downside, just opportunity. 

So where can accounting take you, and how can you make sure you end up with the result you want?

  • Put some time into researching what each area of accounting entails. For instance, do you want to end up as a senior financial accountant? Then aim to gather experience as a junior or assistant financial accountant which both take in different aspects of the more senior role.

  • Do you enjoy the challenge of putting together all the pieces of the accounting puzzle to do individual or company tax returns, or prefer to work in a highly specialised niche within an extensive corporate finance team? Find out where your accounting passions are and plan your upwards route from there. 

  • Most importantly, get started. Whether it's a small local company with a huge variety of work or a large company which needs someone to collate invoices, in the long run all experience counts.