As we welcome a new class of spring interns to our DHG team, I think back to when I was in their shoes- nearing the end of college and in the process of figuring out my career path. At that time, I had no idea I would one day be a partner in an accounting firm. I never even put that down as a long term goal. However, I knew that I wanted to be in the accounting profession and that I aspired for upward mobility. Around this time, as I was being recruited, a partner at the firm where I ultimately ended up working took the time to tell me that he believed I could become a partner. That was the first time I ever really thought of myself as more than just an accounting student. I could actually see the end game of where this could go, and that encouragement really motivated me.
No two career paths are exactly the same. And certainly, the world today is quite different than it was when I began my career. If I could go back in time, these are the things I would tell my 22-year-old self about building a valuable career:
- Focus on developing a broad skill set – Today, having a deeper understanding of technology and data science is as fundamental as understanding debits and credits. It is no longer good enough to just understand tax and accounting rules; today’s professionals must understand how systems and processes produce data that can be analyzed to draw conclusions about a business. They also need critical thinking skills, and the ability to make difficult judgments about the data they analyze. And to be a “trusted advisor” it’s important to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the economy and with current business issues and topics of concern to our clients.
- Prioritize your health and well-being – Over the last 18 months I have learned the importance of physical exercise and healthy eating habits (see Energy for Life ). For me, nutrition and health were always the first things to go when faced with stressful times at work. I should have been more focused on my health and how it plays a role in managing stress. I definitely would tell my younger self to not let food and exercise be anything but healthy and productive – a top priority each and every day.
- Be kind to people – It is so important to be kind to people. I have learned that the time we spend with our colleagues can be short and fleeting before moving onto another project or another role. It is draining and counterproductive to be spiteful, self-centered, egotistical or anything but nice. Instead, we should think about what we can do to improve the lives of other people. The result is a happier outlook on our careers and our lives, while making our workplace and our community better places. A kind word, call, or note costs me nothing and may just be what changes someone’s day or their outlook on life for the better. I am not sure that I have always thought this way, but it is certainly on my mind today.
- Be prepared to make investments and sacrifices – Understand and accept the fact that there is no way to build a valuable career without making investments and sacrifices. Integrating your career with your life is important, but if you are seeking a career that allows you to grow and optimize your potential, you have to make investments and you have to make sacrifices. I encourage you to take the unexpected assignments and approach them with confidence; sometimes those projects that are exceptionally difficult are actually career changers that give you new opportunities to challenge yourself and grow. As the saying goes, there is no shortcut on the road to success.
- Remember to keep it all in balance – It was a different day when I began my career - I was of the late baby boomer generation and we were conditioned to have a work, work, work mentality. If I could do it over again, I would not necessarily advise myself to work less, but I would coordinate my work with my life completely differently. I would tie the concepts that we are so passionate about at DHG - Energy for Life, Life Beyond Numbers and many others - into my career planning. My job search today would focus on a firm like DHG that would help me integrate my life aspirations with my career aspirations. Today, I better understand the importance of taking care of oneself. I state above that you need to be prepared to make investments and make sacrifices, but I also want to point out that you need to know when and how to unplug and unwind. Maybe it is not always balanced – but it should be integrated so that there is give and take on both sides of the equation.
- Do not be afraid to set long-term goals – We live in a short-term society, but you should not be afraid to set long-term goals. Everything you do day in and day out should be driven by long-term goals; otherwise you are wandering aimlessly without a destination. That direction can change over time, but it is very important to set goals and evaluate them frequently.
I did not know exactly where my career path would lead me, but I did know that I wanted to challenge myself. I saw myself moving up somewhere, and ultimately I was coached to believe that I could succeed and one day become a partner. Whether you are just starting your job search or you are already settled into your career, it is never too early (or too late) to refocus and make adjustments that will ultimately benefit your personal and career aspirations.