Take the Guesswork Out of Creating a Development Plan

In my role at IMA©, I oversee the creation of management accounting educational products that help our members expand their professional knowledge and skills. These products include webinars, online self-development courses, and live events such as IMA’s Annual Conference & Expo and Leadership Academy workshops.

Before selecting educational products, it’s important to first take stock of your professional development needs for your current situation as well as your career aspirations, and then put together a plan. If you’re unsure of where to start, here are some ideas.

Take Stock in Your Professional Knowledge and Skills

Young businesswoman thinking and cloud of mind with quiestionsThe first step in creating a professional development plan is to assess your management accounting skills and knowledge. There are various ways to do this. You can ask your colleagues or manager for their perspective, consider feedback received during your performance reviews, talk with a mentor or coach, or do a self-assessment. After obtaining feedback and results, you can then determine which areas for growth you want to focus on when building your development plan.

Plan Your Development

Once you’ve benchmarked your skills and prioritized areas for improvement, you can start building a development plan that is customized to your particular needs. This involves considering the extent of what you need to learn, how much time you have to devote to expanding your skills, and what types of education you find most attractive. Remember to consider various options for development, including self-study online courses and webinars, relevant books and publications by thought leaders, blended learning solutions involving classes and online courseware, live events such as conferences or specific training sessions, networking with others, and on-the-job activities.

After researching the various learning opportunities, select those which you feel best meet your needs and record them on your development plan. Also, determine the date you want to start each of your selections as well as a completion date.

Commit to Your Plan

A critical next step is to “work” your development plan by starting and completing the activities you’ve identified to close your skill gaps. As you progress with your activities, it will also be important to update your development plan with actual results. This will keep you motivated to continue on your professional development path. Then, at certain intervals (such as quarterly, semi-annually, or yearly), you should take stock regarding the broader progress made against areas for improvement to ensure you are successfully closing your skills gap. If diligent about your efforts, you will be proud to see your progress.

Continue Your Professional Development Progress

careerdriverIMA’s CareerDriver ™ career planning tool is designed to help members assess their management accounting competencies and create personalized development plans. Whether you are looking to transition into a new role, strengthen your skills, or discover new professional possibilities, Career Driver has the right personalized approach for you.

Gaining new knowledge and skills is a lifelong adventure as well as critical to professional success in your current and future positions. The personal assessment and development plan process is a continuous discipline in which you will reap many benefits. Enjoy this important professional journey!

Written by Debbie Warner, CPLP

 

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An Open Letter to Students: The Real World, the Talent Gap, and Your Future

Dear Students,

As a veteran professor, a common frustration I have is the limited amount of classroom time needed to cover all of the “required” content, leaving little time to discuss career-related topics, such as what to expect once you graduate and what’s expected of you at your first job. Many students only acquire this knowledge from hands-on experience or time spent with a mentor. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a few key topics I’ve conveyed to my students over the years. They also may be helpful to you as you take the next step into the professional world.

About the Real Worldbaby_boomers
Congratulations! You’re about to enter a growing profession that needs you: The accounting profession is rapidly growing in terms of the number of new jobs, and, at the same time, nearly 10,000 baby boomers will be retiring every day for the next 20 years, according to Pew Research Center. This is important because employers will look to you to fill these jobs.

In many ways, college has sheltered you – you enroll in the required courses, attend lectures, study your textbooks, prepare case studies, and perhaps perform some independent research. But that’s only part of what you need to do to succeed. Not only are you expected to know technical skills in the professional world, you’ll also need to have mastered numerous nontechnical skills including leadership, business acumen, strategic thinking/execution, change management, process improvement, and more.

The accounting profession is changing dramatically, and the expectation of accountants’ skills level is rising, along with expectations regarding their ability to contribute to the success of their organizations. The challenges you encounter in the business world will require you to draw upon the skills you learned in the classroom in an integrated manner, not in isolation as are often presented in class.

About the Talent Gap
The talent gap – also known as the Competency Crisis in accounting – arises when colleges’ curricula aren’t consistently aligned with the on-the-job demands for accounting and financial professionals.

Some schools are “CPA-schools,” training their students for entry-level public accounting jobs. That’s fine, except for the fact that more than half of students will transition to accounting and finance positions in companies within three years of graduation. In these positions, you’ll need a different skill set than those needed in public accounting positions. Often candidates are unprepared for these jobs.

To confront this issue, you should take courses that prepare you for a wide variety of positions in the field of accounting – this may include taking additional electives. You need to prepare for your lifelong career, not just your first job. In this regard, IMA has been working with schools to craft the curricula to provide a more-well-rounded skill set.

Preparing for YOUR Future
What can you do to ensure YOUR career success? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure your college curriculum prepares you for a wide variety of career choices. Talk with your professors about the variety of accounting careers and what you should do to prepare for them.
  • Work on developing your “hard” and “soft” skills. For example, join and actively participate in the IMA student chapter at your school. (If there is none, start one!) You also can participate in IMA’s Student Case Competition or attend IMA’s Student Leadership Conference.
  • Use internships and mentorships to your advantage. Internships are a great way to gain necessary skills while building your résumé and networking with individuals in the field. Working in business and alongside industry leaders will give you a competitive advantage when applying for jobs.

You have a huge opportunity for future career advancement. Once you have found your career path, there are many ways for you to expand your career horizon: earn a certification, become a mentor or mentee, take continuing education courses, earn a post-graduate degree, and so much more. Today’s accountants are expected to continuously learn to keep pace with the rapidly changing business environment. Welcome to the exciting field of professional accountancy!

The profession needs strong talent for the future. Will you be ready?

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA
Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

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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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Earning by Learning

Sometimes in life it seems that taking the easy way out is the best choice, but in fact this is often the worst possible choice. Earning a certification should never be a time to consider a shortcut.

scattered_booksAs senior vice president of ICMA® (Institute of Certified Management Accountants), the certification division of IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), I see firsthand the value and importance of studying for and passing a rigorous testing program.
I see two major benefits of testing:

Confirm your competency and skill set.

If you want to be a driver, you take a road test. In college, you take exams to pass a course. So why would it be any different for earning a certification?

Assessing one’s knowledge of management accounting through testing advances careers of individuals, increases the effectiveness of finance teams in organizations, and enriches economies as a whole.

Certifications are often a key differentiator in the hiring and promotion process as companies value the objective validation of competence. Finance team hiring managers want to have confidence that the person they’re hiring has mastered a rigorous curriculum that’s verified objectively. Earning a certification demonstrates that you have the skills needed to help your company succeed because certification, in addition to continuing Perseveranceeducation and experience, helps you stay relevant and sharpens your skill set.

Without proper testing there’s no integrity and no validity to a certification.

I like what Susan Weiss, Ph.D., CMA, adjunct accounting instructor at Bryant University, said in the March 2012 ION: “Perseverance is the key because anything worth having is worth working hard for. It may seem like a lot of planning and time management is required to pursue a certification like the CMA, but the end results are clearly worth it.”

No matter how much you think you know, you learn so much more.

From 2010 to 2020, there’s a projected 13% growth in employment among accountants, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A recent Manpower study also found that “Accounting & Finance Staff” is one of the Top 10 Hardest Jobs to Fill.

Changes in accounting regulations, advancements in technology, increasing globalization, and an ever-evolving profession result in changes in the work of the management accountant. With these changes in the job comes the need for new knowledge, skills, and abilities, and the lack of these skills has created a gap between what management accountants know and what’s needed on the job. Studying for and passing a certification like the CMA can help close that gap.

I’ve been with IMA for 20 years and I recently earned the CAE (Certified Association Executive) by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). After meeting the experience and education requirements, I had to study for and pass an exam. I thought I knew a lot about association management, but I learned a whole lot more. Not only did I learn more, but I also feel the intangible benefits of increased confidence and effectiveness in my job. I earned a sense of achievement and was rewarded with a credential knowing that I was current with the demands of my profession.

Don’t take the easy way out. Study and work hard for your credential and be proud of the letters next to your name. You earned them.

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE

Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

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