For the inaugural “CFO Insights” column, I spoke with Ben Mulling, CMA, CPA, CITP, CFO at TENTE Casters Inc. and member of the IMA Global Board of Directors who earned his title of CFO at age 28. We discussed the increasingly strategic role accounting and finance professionals are asked to perform and the skills necessary to advance in the profession. For more advice on how to succeed in today’s marketplace, watch the extended video interview below.
This column will offer CFOs, and their teams, insights, and ideas related to challenges of the position, in light of market demands and global economic conditions. I’m excited to start this column and welcome any thoughts or comments.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jeff Thomson: What’s the biggest issue holding back today’s young accounting and finance professionals?
Ben Mulling: There are actually two main issues I’ve experienced with today’s young professionals. One is soft skills – communication and leadership skills. Taking the initiative to say “Hey, I want to be involved in things! How do I work with team members?” It’s something not a lot of people are coming out of college with and it’s noticeable when you interview students.
Also, we have an internship program at TENTE Casters Inc. and you can tell the majority of students are very uncomfortable with communication and talking to someone face-to-face. Without those basic communication skills you can struggle as you move up the corporate ladder; it’s an important skill that limits your opportunities.
From a technical side, there’s a deficiency in problem-solving skills. In being able to look at something abstractly and say “How do I approach this? or “How do I solve it without having a how-to book in front of me?” It’s that next-level thinking that will help advance your career.
JT: What can CFOs do to adapt to this new generation of employees?
BM: There are different means of communicating – with someone who’s been in the profession for 35 years versus someone who has been in it for five years. Generations change and the way we approach things change. For example, my way of looking at problem-solving would be to utilize something new and innovative and possibly use technology to my advantage. On the other hand, someone who’s been in the profession longer may go at it from an entirely different approach and grab the marker board.
This is where continuing education becomes so important. Continuing education doesn’t stop at the age of 35 because you have 15 years of experience – it continues. So whether you’ve been in the profession for five years or 35 years you have to continue to push yourself to learn new things.
JT: What is the single best thing you did to help your career in finance and accounting that you feel would benefit others?
BM: I think there are actually two important things. One, certifications are key. Going after continuing education and the Certified Management Accountant (CMA®) credential is essential to helping people move up in their organization and advance their career. Personally, it has helped me a lot from a skills standpoint.
Two, was getting involved in the profession as a whole. Whether different volunteer activities or involvement in member organizations like IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), getting involved allows you to do a couple of different things; 1) it builds your network. Different people have different skill sets and building a network gives you the ability to tap into each individual as a resource for advice, 2) it puts you in different scenarios where you can work on communication and team building, and 3) it allows you to take a leadership role outside of your organization. The constant refinement of skills – communication, leadership and teamwork – is key to career development.
JT: Knowing what you know now, what career advice would you give to young accountant’s just starting out or people looking to make a career change?
BM: There are four things I’d recommend; 1) get involved in the profession, whether it be volunteering, attending a local chapter meeting or networking events, through a professional association. Build a network you can rely on, 2) approach yourself as a brand. Many people forget how important it is to protect your brand – especially with the ability for perspective employers to see everything you’re doing online, 3) find your niche. In college you learn a lot of everything and it’s important to know which direction you want to take. Do you want to be an IT-minded accounting professional? Do you want to get into tax? Or cost? You have to experience these types of things to know and 4) never stop learning. Always participate in different continuing education events – conferences, webinars, lunch-and-learns, etc. These types of events not only increase your learning, but allow you to get involved with other people and build communication skills.
In the end, strong communication and leadership skills will set apart a senior accountant from a CFO and a good candidate from a great candidate.
This column offers CFOs, and their teams, insights and ideas related to challenges of the position, in light of market demands and global economic conditions. Jeffrey C. Thomson, CMA, is President and CEO of IMA (Institute of Management Accountants), one of the largest and most respected associations focused exclusively on advancing the management accounting profession. Follow IMA on Twitter and visit its YouTube channel.
By Jeff Thomson, CMA. This article originally appeared on Forbes.com: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffthomson/2012/09/07/cfo-at-28-career-advice-from-a-seasoned-professional/