£50k to £100k: 5 differentiators to double your finance salary
These are the personal development focus areas I recommend to qualified accountancy and finance professionals looking to turbocharge their career progression.
1. Simply make decisions
This is number one in our list with good reason. Many people throughout businesses (not just finance) are simply not naturally comfortable standing up and making a call. This is something you may not have noticed previously, but make a point of observing how frequently people around you routinely seek unnecessary validation. It presents you with a great opportunity to stand out and boost your perceived value – let the buck stop with you. Instead of going to your bosses with a question like:
What do you want to do about situation X: option Y or option Z?
...try an assertive alternative such as:
Re: situation X, I'm going with option Y because...
...or even better:
...I've gone with option Y because...
See number two below before worrying about landing in hot water as a result or thinking about covering your back! Leaders value people willing to step up and lead: they are a rare commodity.
2. Coach your mindset: ‘The worst that can happen’ ain't that bad!
Without realising, you can quickly find yourself expending energy on servicing organisational customs and features that you know are restrictive, cumbersome and/or ludicrous! You will inevitably also encounter situations where you are just not bought in to the direction things are being taken. This sort of stuff can breed frustration and even resentment. An ultimate deep-down fear of losing one's job is often what fuels the fire here – a subtle degree of ‘comply or die’ concern! It helps to step back and remind yourself of your situation: you have letters next to your name, there are many businesses demanding the skills you possess, there are excellent recruitment agents out there who can help you progress, and even if the world goes belly up, accountants are probably still going to be in demand to sort out the mess! Free yourself from any subconscious shackles in this respect and you will approach things differently, be more effective and ultimately cut a more confident and promotable figure!
3. Remember what strikes a chord with you along the way (and what annoys you too!)
This is about being a great leader. Great leaders command high salaries – you've got to at least be a good one! Hopefully you have crossed paths with one or two great leaders on your career journey to date. The soundbites that you remember potentially set you apart from peers who weren't exposed to them. Expecting excellent standards (and not shying away from difficult conversations when your high expectations are not met) is a massive part of commanding a salary of the magnitude we're conversing about. In my first job after qualifying, the CEO was a guy called Nigel Scorey. On the wall we had three clocks, one for each of timezones in which we operated (UK, USA, UAE). Nigel went crazy at us one day when one of the clocks had stopped and it wasn't picked up on and dealt with immediately. This lesson has stayed with me ever since. Allow the clock to have stopped, Nigel said, and the next thing you know it's acceptable for there to be no milk in the fridge, and before you know it our consultants think it's OK not to make that key phone call until tomorrow morning, and the whole thing comes crashing down. Standards standards standards – they set you apart.
4. Roll your achievements off your tongue, elevator pitch style
Finance people worth their salt often aren't great at promoting themselves. Some of the most convincing interviewees I've encountered haven't actually delivered much (hence my emotional investment in the Orecor product!) If you are someone who consistently delivers quality outcomes, please for goodness' sake be prepared to shout about it! We British can be self-deprecating types, but the £50k to £100k transition will be much smoother if you are prepared to confidently communicate what you've done and what you're all about. I encourage people to practise running through each of the last few calendar years and stating the achievement that defined each one: "In 2016 I did an amazing job delivering X; in 2017 I turned around Y..." Similarly, practise running through the organisations you've worked in and the key career learning that you took from each: "At organisation A I learnt X, then at B I came away with Y..." As an aside, these also make excellent interview question angles.
5. Consider leftfield roles
No question, finance qualifications give you amazing opportunities. Working your way around the different components of finance departments is almost worth an entry in its own right – not enough people accumulate true 360°, full-cycle departmental exposure. The fact that business partnering tends to be considered the role with the va-va-voom doesn't always help people here, but that's one for another day! It is empowering to be able to genuinely hold your own as a ‘native’ in other teams and areas of the business. This comes from putting yourself about and taking opportunities to gather hands-on experience elsewhere, be that as part of operations, IT, marketing or elsewhere. It brings a wealth of benefits including credibility of challenge, an alternative ‘end user’ perspective of the finance function, more rounded decision making, and a stronger network. And when you start to think about doubling your now £100k salary to £200k, these aspects will be even more crucial!
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