24 Nov 2020 14:42 IST

It’s a good time to be a professional accountant

Industry is seeing a seamless coalition of information, innovation, and tech and those with skills can be winners

When you step out of the Institute, as a young professional, you must realise you have walked out of a protected environment into one where survival is of the fittest. You may have got an inkling of this during your internship days, but the full force of it will hit you when you step out into corporate India or professional practice.

I believe three things are of importance to you.

Knowledge

In the early years of your career, the experience is essential. Remember, you are a foot soldier in the company, and you are being recruited based on the knowledge you have. Be strong in your subject, and keep updating.

The forces of technology are changing the way we work. There is massive inundation of information in audits, standards, jurisprudence, secretarial practice, cost management, and so on. So, be at the leading edge. In this phase of your career, do not look for money; look towards assimilating knowledge and using it. This is the time when you should volunteer to take up as much load as you can. You must be seen as a go-to person. Of course, you must be tech-savvy and learn how AI is put to use.

Remember, your professional career is not a terminal qualification, but only an entry card into the big bad world of business.

People

As you grow in your career, say after five years of qualification, you will be required to manage teams. This is what is broadly referred to as roles in middle management.

You should slowly become a generalist at this time, as in getting to know something of many topics and more of one particular subject. For instance, be an expert in, say, finance; and have a reasonable understanding of the law or standards, so that you can respond to team members' queries. You should be in a position to help them solve their problems.

This is the time when you begin to show leadership skills. You must build a network of people to who you can turn if you need help. It is also the period when you should start having a mentor, a person who can be a sounding board on matters relating to career and life.

Leadership and vision

Ten years after your qualification, if you have the right combination of knowledge, skills, and attitude, you could look for senior positions. Here more than having deep expertise in the subject, you need to have the art of getting things done. My take is that you will have to command respect either for your knowledge or for your networking and problem-solving skills to be in that position. This is also the time when you should be in a position to handle change management roles. For instance, your organisation is getting into AI more extensively. You may be asked to lead that initiative. You should know how to handle this, who will move on, and who will be left behind.

However, if you want to sit in the corner room, become the CEO, though there is no reason why everyone should want to be so, you will have to develop cross-functional skills. Before that, let me tell you that you don't have to aspire to be a CEO. You should be in a role where you can contribute your best and be happy. Remember, Sachin Tendulkar, widely regarded as the god of cricket, gave up his captaincy, the equivalent of a CEO in international cricket.

Cross-functional

Over time, if you get lucky to handle multiple roles across functions, you would get earmarked for really senior slots. Therefore, you must always be willing to explore the cross-functional role, like working in marketing for some time in planning for some time. This kind of exposure marks you as a candidate for top slots.

In all this, a few things just cannot be forgotten. It may be clichéd, but it needs to be said. You must have good communication skills. This means being articulate enough to put your thoughts across. You also should have reasonably good writing skills. The ability to seamlessly use newer technology and be ready for change is also critical.

Be up-to-date, be a team player, have perspective, and a holistic understanding of how the business works and how it should move forward. It will literally take you places.

You are lucky to be making your career at perhaps one of the most happening periods of history. We are looking at the seamless coalition of information, innovation, and technology. There cannot be a better time to be a professional accountant.

(The author is a CA, an author, teacher, and public speaker.)

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