Top career tips from members just like you

Sep 10, 2018

As part of developing the career pathway framework, Karin Lanigan, Manager of our Career Development & Recruitment Service, conducted research into our members' careers. 

NEWS BODY - Top Career tips from Chartered Accountants like you-min

Engaging with a representative sample of our 26,000 members, the focus groups were made up of members from each of the 4 career stages ( Newly qualified, Developing, Expert and C-Suite) to ensure that we incorporated all the key skill requirements. Many 'pearls of wisdom' and essential career tips were revealed.

"I would like to share these insights with you as I believe they are invaluable"
Karin Lanigan,

Top tips at a glance:

  1. Have a career plan and define what success looks like for you
  2. Soft- skills will be the differentiator
  3. Good is good enough
  4. Your career begins at the end of your comfort zone
  5. Maintain a focus on personal and professional development
  6. Broaden your experience and seek exposure to senior level stakeholders
  7. Develop your network and promote an authentic personal brand
  8. Look to gain people and project management skills and experience
  9. Listening skills are crucial. Seek and act on feedback
  10. Find a mentor
  11. Embrace technology
  12. Don't become too busy and maintain a focus on your well being

For more detail and advice please read on:

1. Have a career plan

Members expressed the view that investing time in the preparation and management of a career plan will reap rewards in terms of your career development and job satisfaction. The advice was to start by asking yourself the question ‘How much time do you spend planning your career?’ Often we spend more time planning other aspects of our lives such as a holiday than we do planning our career. You owe it to yourself to take time out for professional and personal development. Treat your career like a project and set out a plan and specific time based goals. Review your progress and constantly track it against the initial plan. Assuming ownership of and responsibility for your career is a critical success factor as it empowers you and puts you firmly in control of your own career pathway.

Define Success

Members were mindful that you need to have clarity in relation to how YOU define success. Success means different things to different people. Just because you aren’t or don’t want to be a CFO or CEO doesn’t mean that you are not a success. Members suggested that you reflect on what you want to achieve in your career and what it is that motivates you and provides you with career satisfaction. Aligning your career-path to your personal values is really important and this was supported by the feedback we received from members at every level of seniority.

2. Soft-skills will be the differentiator

Our focus groups all agreed that as your career progresses it will be the proficiency of your soft-skills that will determine your career trajectory as opposed to your technical skills. What we mean by the term soft-skills is your personal attributes that enable you to interact effectively and harmoniously. You will reach a stage in your career where your technical knowledge and capabilities will be taken as a given and what will really determine your career success will be skills associated with leadership such as communication, collaboration, coaching and developing others, building strong connections and networks, to mention but a few.

Recommended courses:

Course Date Location Speaker Cost
Assertive Communication 25-Oct CA House Fiona Flynn €240
Influencing & Negotations Skills for the Workplace 20-Nov CA House Fiona Buckley €240
Personality Types- understanding yourselves & others in the workplace 06-Dec CA House Fiona Buckley €240

3. Good is good enough

Members advised that you should try to let go of your perfectionist tendencies as they will not always serve you well as you advance in your career. There are times when getting a job completed well but not to absolute precision is a better use of your time than trying to reach perfection and wasting time that would actually be better spent on other more value add areas that are career enhancing too. I appreciate that this can be a challenge but the key question to ask of yourself is ‘Is this the best use of my time?’

Recommended course:

Course Date Location Speaker Cost
Effective Prioritisation and Time Management 11-Dec CA House Úna Mc Devitt €240

4. Your career begins at the end of your comfort zone

Members all agreed that a critical factor in determining your career development is the extent to which you are prepared and willing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. How willing are you to take on new challenges and to work through that feeling of fear when you are trying something new? If this apprehension is not managed it will prevent you from doing things that are career enhancing. It is a case of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. To achieve career success you firstly need to recognise these feelings of fear, then rationalise and manage them. Be courageous and forge ahead regardless. The members I spoke with during the focus groups experienced this roller-coaster of emotions on a regular basis but their overriding advice was to take the opportunities that are presented to you as you may come to regret it otherwise.

5. Maintain a focus on personal development

Lifelong learning is a key component of a successful career plan. As the world around you evolves quickly you have to stay relevant. A key way in which to achieve this is to be curious and keen to learn on a continuous basis. Personal and professional development doesn’t need to comprise of just attending courses it should also include such activities as seeking a mentor or a coach. Similarly you can add to your learning by viewing videos and reading articles on-line. The resources that members mentioned included Accountancy Ireland, You Tube videos and The Economist.

6. Broaden your experience

During the focus groups members unanimously expressed the view that as your career progresses you should look to gain exposure outside of a pure finance role. Obtaining cross-functional experience will enable you to move into more senior operational and management level roles. An understanding of the commercial and operational aspects of an organisation can be a career differentiator. Similarly honing your negotiation capabilities can also give you the edge when seeking career advancement particularly in a more strategic role and at C-suite level.

Obtain exposure to senior level stakeholders

Members agreed that delivering results is a given but what will really accelerate your career progression is ensuring that the key decision makers are aware of the results you are delivering and the impact that you are having on the business. Therefore it is often your visibility rather than your ability that will determine your career success. A proactive approach is required to ensure that the decision makers within the organisation are aware of your capabilities and your career ambitions.

7. Develop your network

As your career progresses, you will become more reliant on your network to obtain leads in relation to potential career moves and also to gain access to a wealth of advice and information. The key message from the focus groups was not to leave growing your network to chance. Instead approach it in a strategic way and invest time in developing a network that will support your career. The consensus within the focus groups was that attending Chartered Accountants Ireland events and courses provides a platform for growing your network. Similarly your network should not be restricted to finance professional and you should take a broader view.

Promote an authentic personal brand

Closely aligned to networking is the process of developing and promoting your brand. The focus groups believed that authenticity and reflecting your true self impacts positively on your profile and career path. In other words play to your strengths and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Visibility was again determined to be crucial as key decision makers need to be aware of your brand.

8. Look to gain project management skills and experience

Members agreed that increasingly employers are looking to Chartered Accountants to manage pivotal projects. A finance skill-set incorporates well into a project management environment. It enables you to add real value whilst also providing you with the potential to develop a new range of competencies. It is also the ideal opportunity to gain exposure outside the finance function which can prove important when advancing your career. Working in the area of project management will also give you visibility of other areas of the organisation and improve your overall commercial knowledge.

 People management skills are important

As your career progresses, you will become more reliant on a team and others around you. Your ability to recruit, retain and develop a team will influence your career path. The focus groups firmly believed that developing your capability and impact in the area of people management is important in terms of career development. You will need to have the ability to motivate and influence others and to gain their support and buy-in. An awareness of your management style and the impact it has on others will help to determine your career trajectory.

9. Listen skills are crucial

In a busy world full of distractions it can be difficult to take the time to really listen. However, the members participating in the focus groups felt that advanced listening skills were an important factor in determining your career success. Taking the time to really listen to others will enable you to develop stronger relationships with others and to also hear about important matters that you might otherwise have missed out on. Real listening also includes picking-up on non-verbal ques which is often where actual learnings come from. The focus groups agreed that developing the art of reading people and situations effectively can be career defining.

Seek and act on feedback

Another essential component of listening is seeking and acting on feedback you receive from others. None of us like to hear negative comments but embracing these and implementing positive changes as a consequence can help to advance your career. The feedback you receive can often help you identify and deal with career inhibiting behaviours or actions.

10. Get a mentor- have your own trusted advisor

A significant number of the members participating in the focus groups mentioned the importance and the potential impact of a mentor. They felt that the support and guidance that they received from a trusted mentor had a very real and positive impact of their career as they benefited from their experience and perspectives. Their advice was for every member to seek a mentor and to avail of the Career Mentor Programme offered by Chartered Accountants Ireland. The support of a mentor can contribute to your career success.

11. Embrace technology

Technology is impacting on all aspects of the world around us including finance. The focus groups firmly believed that it was career critical to embrace technology and to leverage it to your advantage when looking to add more value in your role. It was felt that Excel was now a minimum requirement with many roles and organisations requiring higher level expertise in the areas of financial and data analysis, process improvement and even robotics. It was agreed that embracing technology provides members with the capability to add more value and in turn enhances career potential.

12. Don’t be too busy- Are you a busy fool?

In a world where work pressures are immense and expectations are increasingly higher we can fall into the trap of over committing, taking on too much and not taking time out to reflect and plan. There can be a tendency to become completely immersed in your role and miss the more strategic and significant matters that are going on around you. Members felt that it was important to take time out and to give yourself ‘headspace’ to think rather than to be stuck in the ‘doing’ of your role. It is when we take time out to really think that important decisions, plans and strategies can be formulated. Overcommitting can obviously also lead to burn-out. The pace at which you are working needs to be manageable and sustainable to allow you to achieve your full potential over the longer term.

Focus on your well-being and resilience levels

Following on from the topic of ensuring you are not a busy fool, there was a strong sense amongst the focus group participants that a real commitment to your well-being was a key component of career success. There was a significant awareness of the need to incorporate self-care and stress management into your life and career. In other words it is important to spend time doing the things that you enjoy and that help you to recharge and maintain your mental health and overall well-being. Mindfulness has proven to be beneficial for members as have various self-awareness exercises.


I hope you have found this article of interest and benefit to you in terms of planning, developing and maintaining your career. It incorporates many key messages and advice from members and I would recommend that you save it and revisit it periodically to remind yourself of the points that are most relevant to you. Remember that the Career Development and Recruitment team are available to meet with you to discuss your individual career plans with you.