4 Ways to Manage Continuing Your Education While Working Full Time

As the school bells ring in the near distance, we’re reminded that the school year is upon us. No matter your status, you should always be thinking about continuing your education. Whether you’re studying for a professional certification or going back to school for another degree, keep in mind that continuing education is important for a constantly changing world.

stacked_books Studying for and taking certification tests while balancing work and life is difficult. (I know, I’ve been there.) A few things, however, helped me stay focused and sane.

Budget Your Time
When I was studying for the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam, I had a seven-year-old daughter and a toddler. It was difficult to manage my time between family and studying, but with good time management skills and a schedule in place, I found the time. Budgeting my time while I was on airplanes for business trips, a half hour before and after work, and during lunch was critical to my success. Set up a study plan with ample time so that you can prepare a little bit each day instead of cramming the month/week/day before.

It’s also important to schedule time to relax. Find an activity that will relieve your stress, even if it means going for a walk, going to a ballgame, or watching TV with your family. This will allow you to unwind and return later with a clear mind.

Put Things Into Perspective
For me, my family always came first, then my job, and then studying. It isn’t the end of the world if you don’t pass. You’ll always have another opportunity to take the test, and life is too short to stress over it. Sometimes you might wonder, “Is this ever going to end?” But six months isn’t a long time compared to the larger picture of your life and your career.

Learn How to Study and Take a Test
It’s important to determine which way of studying works best for you: studying by yourself online, in a group online, in a classroom, or by yourself. There are many resources that can help you stay focused, including practice questions, reading material, and flashcards. No matter how you choose to study, the most important part is that you do what works best for you.

Blue coffee cup, glasses and office suppliesNot all people are good test takers. Some have to study for hours to get good grades, while others absorb information naturally. The important thing is to not overthink and to know that tests are imperfect tools that aren’t the only measure of your knowledge and who you are. Go into the test-taking room with a clear mind and positive thoughts.

I was out of school for a while when I took my first certification test, so I had to mentally get back into test-taking mode. That meant relearning how to manage my time and quickly and efficiently answer questions.

Build a Support Group
Having a support system is really important for being successful in this endeavor. If you’re trying to balance work, life, and studying, you have to have family buy-in. The support of your family, friends, and coworkers will bring you encouragement and motivation.

Another option is to find a mentor who has been through the process and can provide guidance. When I started studying for my CAE (Certified Association Executive) certification, I found a mentor in IMA’s President and CEO, who had also just achieved the CAE. He provided me with additional notes to study from and encouragement along the way.

Dream Big
Continuing education, including additional college degrees and professional certifications, signifies the next step in your career and your dedication to your profession. It isn’t easy to achieve a professional certification while working full time and having a family, but if you have the right balance, prepare the best you can, and have a calm mind, you will surely succeed.

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE

Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

 

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Strategic Partnerships: How to Learn, Grow, and Profit Together

Whether you’re an international organization or a mom-and-pop shop, strategic partnerships are a valuable asset to any business. Building client bases, creating revenue streams, and increasing your distribution are just some of the benefits strategic partnerships can offer. But how do you know if a company will make a good match? Before making a decision, ask yourself a few questions to ensure you’re making the right choice for your business.

GearsAre We a Cultural Match?
Before beginning a partnership, make sure both companies share the same values. “In short, culture is the driving force behind successful businesses or the Achilles heel that eventually fades organizations into oblivion,” writes Joe Evans, president and CEO of Method Frameworks, on the Executive Street blog. When partnering with a company, it is key that you share the same ethics and values. Both companies need to be invested in conducting themselves in a similar manner–this will avoid conflict both between companies and with clients.

Is There a Mutual Benefit?
A good partnership can result in improved operations, more revenue, a broader client base, and a larger brand. When searching for a strategic partnership, consider how each company will benefit from combining forces. With a cultural match in place as a strong foundation, you can now explore where your strengths and/or weaknesses may complement each other in a way that will help you achieve beyond what you can do on your own. Creativity at this stage is also an asset and both parties should strive to look outside the box to consider all options before honing in on where they might work together.

Talk It Out First
Companies that have clear and open lines of communication make the best strategic partners because they clearly and precisely express their concerns, expectations, and vision. These open lines of communication will be crucial throughout the partnership but are especially important as you establish the parameters and goals before the partnership begins. Clear communication will ensure a long, successful partnership.
Strategic partnerships don’t come with guarantees. Companies have needs and priorities that change over time. But, if you look for a cultural match, focus on how you can mutually benefit, and go in with a plan, your strategic partnership has an excellent chance to succeed.

Written by Steve Weiss, CAE

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Summer Vacation: Rest, Relaxation, and Reaching Your Goals

pencilsFor students, summertime usually means taking a break from classes, tests, and studying. For some it may include lounging by the pool every day. But as appealing as that sounds, it’s important for you to keep your mind active and focused on your future. Working toward your goals during the summer will help you stand out among your peers for job interviews. And not only is it worthwhile for your professional career, but you also can grow personally from these experiences. But how can you continue to grow? You can get a job or internship, take a few summer courses, study abroad, or volunteer in an organization.

Internships

The greatest value of an internship is the experience you gain from networking with professionals. Some people may become mentors, and the internship could eventually lead to a full-time position with the company after you graduate. Other experiences may build your character and leadership skills, showing that maybe you want to take a different route in your career. Even if you aren’t close to graduating, participating in an internship shows future employers that you took the initiative to further your professional development, including learning how to work in a team but be independent at the same time, learning office etiquette, and learning the basics from seasoned professionals.

Internships.com conducted a survey that found 63% of the class of 2012 participated in an internship program, Intern_quote Raef 7-11-2014and 86% of them had a positive experience. In an article on Forbes.com about the study, Stuart Lander, chief marketing officer at Internships.com, said, “First and foremost, these results tell us that at a time when 54% of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed, the best chance you have as a student not to be part of that statistic is to do an internship. You have a 7 in 10 chance of being hired by the company you interned with.”

Continuing Studies

Extra course work over the summer can lead to early graduation or can help you fulfill a class requirement that’s typically difficult to schedule during the regular semester. It will keep your mind active and focused on learning. Achieving your dream job takes dedication and motivation. Once you graduate and start working in the real world, summer vacation won’t exist. Think of this time as preparation for your bright future.

You also can take this time to study abroad. Not only will you be furthering your education, but you also will be experiencing a different culture. Remember to choose your destination carefully as you will be spending two to three months there. You should also choose a destination that suites your interests. For instance, if you want to explore Italian cuisine, studying in England might not help you. There also might be scholarships available to help you fund the semester abroad.

Volunteerism

Volunteering is another great way to keep active during the summer, and you can volunteer in many different ways. If you’re a writer, volunteer to write for your local newspaper or town website. If you want to be a teacher, volunteer at your local school or community center that has summer activities. If you like to travel, join a global volunteer group to help build houses, for example, in other countries.

Not only will volunteering help you succeed in your area of interest, it will also help build your character and personal development skills. It can teach you patience, dedication, and discipline. Volunteering has many benefits, and the summer is perfect for exploring your options.

There are plenty of ways you can spend your summer vacation. If you stay active and continue reaching for your goals, you’ll look back on this time more fondly knowing that you spent it wisely.

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA

Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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How CFOs Can Achieve a Vision of Success

In today’s rapidly changing economy, senior leadership teams and CFOs are taking on greater roles in terms of strategy and sustainable growth. We were once considered mere “bean counters,” but now we are becoming “bean sprouters.” And with this added responsibility, we’re expected to get constant “vision checks” to keep an eye on the future.

As a prominent global accounting association, IMA has an obligation to improve the CFO team’s “line of sight” to help preserve and create organizational value. I fell upon an idea by Nancy Axelrod in her book The Governing Board: Key Responsibilities for Association Boards and Board Members, in which she lays out four sights that you should keep in mind to ensure a vision of success. The four sights she described – foresight, insight, hindsight, and oversight – will lead you to a successful vision.lines of sightThe two stages most pertinent to management accountants and financial professionals are insight and foresight, as they are the most forward-looking. With these in mind, CFOs are able to act as trusted business advisors and leaders to help create sustainable growth.

Foresight

pull_quoteThe foresight stage is where the CFO plays a leading role in anticipating the future, building a curious and adaptable mindset, and helping organizations envision a great future that serves both mission and societal purposes. This could take the form of financial planning and analysis, mergers and acquisition analysis, or risk management during highly competitive times in a turbulent economy.

Insight

The insight stage is truly where business partnering begins and business analytics takes over the process, turning information into intelligence and good companies into great ones. This could take the form of predictive analytics, business intelligence, or data mining. Organizational leaders count on their CFO teams to envision the future (foresight) based on a sound analysis of today’s reality (insight).

Make sure to always keep your vision clear and to get it checked by the team regularly. Doing so will give you a clear view of success!

Written by Jeff Thomson, CMA, CAE

Follow me on Twitter @ima_JeffThomson

What’s Old Is New Again: The Value of In-Person Networking

Back in the day, meetings and networking could only take place face-to-face. You would think that today’s technologically advanced world would have made this practice extinct, but many people stillnetworking1 believe in the power of in-person networking to create a more emphatic, memorable experience.

As one of IMA’s conference and event managers currently working on IMA’s 95th Annual Conference & Exposition, I know the value of in-person networking and see it firsthand.

The Meetings Mean Business Coalition was created by the U.S. Travel Association to showcase the incredible value that business meetings, travel, and events bring to the U.S. The following are the pillars of the Coalition and are great to keep in mind when attending a conference or event.

Creating Personal Connections and Building Strong Communities

networking2One of the most valuable features of a conference is the opportunity to network. If you aren’t networking at a conference, then you’re really missing out on potential opportunities.

Networking isn’t easy for everyone, but within a conference community, there’s nothing to fear. At an event, there’s a sense of community, shared commonality, and reasoning. You can share dilemmas and solutions you’ve experienced at work and learn from others. Conversations can lead to a new job, a new idea, or a new partnership.

For example, I’ve met meeting planners from the West Coast and can reach out to them to find the best hotels in the region. I would easily trust them over other referrals because, after meeting them, I know that we understand each other’s job responsibilities and needs.

If the conference offers a “first-time attendee” orientation, I highly recommend participating. Take that last empty seat at a lunch table. Exchange ideas, connect with people, and collaborate. Swap business cards with everyone you meet and follow up on LinkedIn so when the time comes to re-connect, you’ll know how to find them or vice versa.

Driving Positive Business Outcomes

People tend to forget that conferences also are conducive to conducting business. When I attend an association or meeting management conference, I make appointments with hotel sales managers and the local convention and visitor bureaus.

In November 2013, the Crown Plaza released its first-ever Business Meetings in a Modern World global research report. Of the 2,000 business people surveyed around the world, 47% of them believed they had lost a contract or client simply because they didn’t have enough face-to-face meetings, and 81% stated that face-to-face meetings are better for building long-term trust and ensuring strong client relationships.

Most people will say the reason they registered for a particular conference is to continue their education and to maintain their certification. They rush from session to session, and they disappear at the end of the day. If you’re already at the conference, take the time to engage and observe – ask a question to the speaker, find out more about an organization, or stop by an exhibitor booth.

Conference learning includes personal development, career development, networking, and broadening horizons. You’re surrounded by opportunities to grow. You enable yourself to become an expert.

When you attend any conference, take full advantage of your investment in your most valuable asset: yourself.

Written by Tina Gaerlan, CMP

Follow me on Twitter @TinaGaerlan

A Crisis of Competency

toolboxCongratulations. You’ve graduated from a distinguished college. You’re filled with a sense of accomplishment and confidence from what you’ve learned, and now you’re ready to head full steam into your first job. Everything seems to be following the path you’ve laid out for yourself, and yet for most of the people like you, the next three to five years of your life are about to drastically change.

The majority of accounting and finance college graduates will change careers three to five years after they graduate, landing jobs in managerial accounting whether or not they started there. This leaves a lot of young professionals feeling overwhelmed and underprepared as they realize what they learned in school doesn’t adequately match up to the skills they need on the job.

And new job seekers aren’t the only ones who are seeing this skills gap. Stagnant curricula coupled with expanding professional roles and increasing global competitiveness are why, according to Accenture, more than 50% of finance executives are finding it hard to hire accounting and financial professionals with the skills they need to succeed. At the same time, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of new accounting jobs in the United States will grow by 13% from 2012 to 2022, and baby boomers will retire without a qualified workforce to replace them.

The situation, in fact, is a competency crisis.


How can we fix this?

We all play a part: schools, companies, and individuals.

It’s important that schools prepare their students for whatever their future careers will be—to train students not just for their first job but for their life-long careers. Schools that have curricula mostly oriented toward public accounting need to broaden their course offerings to encompass the broader range of competencies their students will need.

Educators can make use of more real-life case studies, such as those found in the IMA Educational Case Journal. Case studies that are rich in detail can illustrate current problems and complexities characteristic of today’s dynamic business environment.

Companies need to be more proactive in reaching out to schools to let them know what skills are lacking in the graduates they hire. Also, companies should consider setting up training programs for new and seasoned staff to make sure all are up-to-date with the most relevant information.

Individuals also need to do their part. If you find that your skills are lacking in a certain area, either see if your company will assist in accessing proper training or go outside of your organization so that you can obtain the skills necessary to advance your career.

The above suggestions aren’t the only answers. Dialogue is needed between the profession’s various stakeholders to collaborate and find grassroots solutions. It is only by all parties working together that we can overcome this competency crisis.

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA

Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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Sharpening the Saw: Reflections on International Women’s Day, Part 1

Like many IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) members, I first joined the 3.7.14_International-Women's-Day-Graphic-FB_2organization to earn the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant)  certification. After becoming a CMA, however, the main reason why I stayed active in IMA was to further my own career as a businesswoman and, at the same time, encourage other women to do the same. Even now, in my current position as IMA’s director of European operations, I see it as my duty to communicate the importance of networking and personal development, especially to younger women just starting their careers. As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, it seems fitting to take a moment to share my reflections on how IMA can help women in finance.

When I was a young finance professional, I was completely unaware of the importance of networking.  A male colleague, who started at the company the same time as me, was promoted despite the fact that I had put in more hours. He regularly visited me in my office to ask why I didn’t go out to lunch more with the team instead of working through lunch at my desk. I finally understood the importance of networking after seeing this colleague in action, solving an interdepartmental problem with his network of friends and supporters.

Cutting edgeAnother pivotal moment in my personal development was reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. “Sharpening the saw,” or preserving and enhancing yourself with a holistic lifestyle and continuous learning, stuck with me the most. Women, especially, are so giving of themselves that sometimes we neglect our own well-being. Especially for working women who are also mothers, it can be impossible to even think about “sharpening the saw” at the end of a busy day.

When I encountered IMA, I realized it could help me improve both my networking and finance skills. In addition, by offering members access to free or inexpensive continuous professional education opportunities, IMA supports women in their efforts to “sharpen the saw.” Professional organizations, like IMA, encourage networking and professional development for women to succeed in business.

How do you build your network and in what ways have you “sharpened the saw”?

Written by Nina Michels-Kim, CMA

Follow me on Twitter: @NinaMichelsKim