Continuing education isn’t just an important part of the accounting profession; it’s essential no matter what career or industry you work in. A commitment to lifelong learning will keep you up-to-date and ahead of your peers when it comes to new ideas, new skills, and new ways of working.
For accountants, this commitment needs to go beyond technical skills. While technical proficiency will always be important (and you’ll always have CPE requirements to fulfill), the accountants who successfully move up the career ladder are generally those who’ve taken the time to develop other skills and abilities—business acumen, networking and business development, financial and economic knowledge, etc.
Here are a few topics that I’ve spent time learning as I’ve progressed through my career, and their lessons have served me well.
There will come a time in your career when you’ll transition into some kind of a management role, whether that means managing staff, a client relationship, or something similar. This move will feel a little less daunting if you’ve taken the time to learn about essential leadership traits.
A quick search on Amazon for leadership books yields over 192,000 results. Where do you even begin? Interestingly enough, the first search result is John C. Maxwell’s “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” which is one of my personal favorites. In fact, I would recommend any of Maxwell’s books (“Leadership 101” is another great one). They’re well-written, not overly technical, and you can get through them pretty quickly. I’ve found a lot of great leadership information in Maxwell's books that I’ve been able to apply to my career.
This may come as a surprise, but clients will often expect you to have some level of knowledge and awareness of personal finances. Even though you may not necessarily be advising clients on things like investing or retirement planning, the reality is that many business owners’ personal and business finances are closely intertwined. So having some knowledge of personal finance will help you be a better overall advisor to your clients. Bonus: It will also be incredibly useful when it comes to managing your own finances.
One book I found especially insightful is “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” While the book has a particular emphasis on real estate investing that isn’t necessarily applicable across the board, the general concepts about saving, investing, and debt are universal.
Business Development and Networking
Uncovering new business opportunities and successfully managing a proposal process are critical skills to advancing your public accounting career and being promoted to partner. And even if your career takes you on another path, networking is a skill that is important for every professional. “Selling” and “networking” are two words that make a lot of people cringe, though. It’s true – they can be intimidating. But if you start small and continually build on your skills, you’ll put yourself on a great path.
Two sales books that I found especially helpful are “SPIN Selling” and “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive” (I promise that second one is nowhere near as scary as it sounds). From a networking standpoint, you can’t go wrong with the classic Dale Carnegie book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” While this book isn’t solely about networking, its concepts will certainly help you in that regard. Plus, it will help you learn to more effectively work with others, express yourself, and convince others of your ideas—skills that are vital throughout every stage of your career.
General Business Knowledge
I could probably spend hours giving recommendations about topics that will help you become a better business advisor. But I’ll keep it short by saying that you should try to find a few sources of business news and information that speak to you and that you can devote some time to on a regular basis to stay current with what’s going on in the business community and in the economy, as well as to provide some inspiration and fresh ideas.
Some sources I personally gravitate toward are the Wall Street Journal, Ted Talks, and biographies. Like a lot of people, I found “Steve Jobs” and its lessons about innovation fascinating. And probably a lot more surprisingly, I loved Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography, “Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story.” Arnold doesn’t have much to do with accounting, but his story about transitioning from small town Austria to competitive bodybuilder to Hollywood A-lister to Governor of California offers some valuable lessons about hard work and perseverance.
A Note about Finding Time
While all of these areas offer valuable career-building lessons, it probably also feels like a very long and overwhelming list. Between building a career and studying for the CPA exam (not to mention having a life outside of work), where in the world will you find the time for all this reading?
The short answer is to start small and find what works for you. No one can be expected to read 20 business books a year. I think two or three is a good goal. Personally, the best way I’ve found to meet this goal is through audiobooks. I listen to a book in my car on my commute to work a few days a week and have found that the time really adds up—and makes my drive go a little faster. Over the last 10 years I’ve been able to “read” a total of 20-30 books this way, and it hasn’t felt like a drain on my free time.
Also, remember that your career is a marathon, not a sprint. So when it comes to professional development, just aim to learn a few nuggets of information from everything you read and make it work for you based on your own personality, work style, and interests. Over time, you’ll see a cumulative effect of all the knowledge you’ve acquired and put into practice. And you’ll be setting yourself on a good path for long-term career success!
Steven E. Staugaitis is a director in Kreischer Miller's Audit & Accounting practice and leads the firm's Entrepreneurial Services Specialty Area. He is also a specialist with Kreischer Miller's Center for Private Company Excellence and leads its Family Business Structure content hub. Steve joined Kreischer Miller in 2004 and has over 20 years of public accounting experience. Contact Steve at Email.