Deciding on a career path can be difficult at the best of times, with so many opportunities on the table, being sure which direction to take can often be stressful and not always clear.
Combinations of sector, industry, and job role are almost endless, so once you've made your choice, how do you know it is the right one, how do you understand what a role truly entails and how do you map your progress to the journey's end?
The 'How to Become...' series explores several successful journeys and provides insights to aid your career decision-making. To do this we have interviewed successful business leaders, employees,k and employers to find out how they got to where they are today, giving insight into a range of different job roles, and offering first-hand advice on how to improve your potential and employability.
John Norton - Junior to Finance Director
How did you decide that this career was for you?
Although I've always enjoyed working with figures, in truth, like many people with their careers, I just fell into it initially. After the inevitable period of not knowing which way was up, I got to the stage where I realised that I not only enjoyed it, but was quite good at it, and it soon began to open a lot of doors into the wider business and IT world which is what I've always been most interested in.
What is the best thing about your role?
I enjoy the ability to be involved in all aspects of the business, looking at how my departments of both Finance and IT can help other departments to achieve their objectives more efficiently. This could be by providing new or more informed information, reviewing processes, or providing systems to improve the experience of customers, staff, or other stakeholders. Working in an SME environment, in particular, enables me to have a very wide brief, and to work with the whole spectrum of managers across the company.
During your development, what skills would you say are essential for your role?
I think if you want to operate at board level you need to develop empathy with the other functions that sit around the same table. You should have strong finance skills, and nowadays you must be up to speed with the latest in IT developments, but additionally, you need to have a wider understanding of the company’s goals and how the other parts of the company play their part in delivering those. Only then can you play a full role in helping the board more generally to deliver on those objectives.
What advice would you give to someone looking to develop these skills?
Take every opportunity you can to widen your experience. This may mean taking advantage of working in different areas within your existing organisation, which you can do more easily in a larger organisation either in practice or commerce or it may mean picking each change of job carefully to ensure you get a balanced career and don’t become typecast. If you can get the opportunity to work outside of the finance department for a while, perhaps on secondment, that’s also a huge benefit, as it gives you a different view of the world.
What are the biggest challenges you've faced during your development?
In terms of career development, I think my challenges have been no different from those most people will face. Assuming you genuinely have the required skills to progress to the next step on the ladder, then conquering people’s perception of you is perhaps the most difficult issue. Influencers within the company may not know you well or may have picked up the wrong impression about you in certain areas. In the past, I have struggled with perceptions of being too young, and not having the right qualifications or the right experience.
How have you overcome these challenges?
If the perception people have of you is wrong, in your opinion, then look for a way to change that. Get to know the people involved better, find work you can do directly for them or which has a high profile, be aware of your weaknesses and work on improving them, and get training in areas that need development. Ultimately you may be unable to change internal perceptions and then you need to look at how you can move on to that next step with a new employer, but in choosing that new role ensure you think about how it may help you with your following career steps.
Give one piece of advice for a potential candidate joining your business.
Accountancy is a gateway career which, if you want it to, can lead the way to virtually any business role up to Chief Executive. When you are choosing a starting position try to get one that gives you opportunities to experience different types of accountancy. If you can be involved in just a few, whether management accounting, audit, tax, business services, insolvency, financial planning, financial accounting, or one of the many others, then you can start to get a feel for whether you’d like to develop a career as a specialist accountant or a wider business role and lay the foundations to get to that goal.