Art of Accounting: What it takes to grow your career

Published in Accounting Today
  • October 22 2018, 1:33pm EDT

Bill Hagaman, Withum’s managing partner and CEO, sends an email to everyone at Withum every Monday morning. Some are informative, some are inspiring and some update us on how we are doing. I look forward to reading each one as I am sure is mostly everyone else at Withum. Last month one of Bill’s emails presented a sort of roadmap of how staff can grow their careers, and I asked Bill if I could share it here.

While he is addressing our staff, I believe this is sound advice for anyone employed in public accounting; and actually for anyone in any type of business who wants to grow professionally. Enjoy!

Good morning, everyone. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a few of the team evaluations conducted this past May and June. It confirmed what I already know: we have many talented, great people working here at Withum in all departments – professional staff, administrative support, and the Finance, IT, Marketing and Talent Departments.

Our people also have great ambition with a desire to build satisfying life-long careers, and not just have a job. We are well aware that opportunities outside of the firm are continually being presented to our staff. However, we want to take this time to remind you that there is much offered here at Withum in terms of leadership opportunities and compelling career paths. When I came to our firm in 1980, I expected to stay five years as part of my own professional development plan, and then move on elsewhere. But what I discovered was that the best long-term plan was to stay right here at our firm. Throughout my career, I received many calls from recruiters and offers from clients to join them. But after careful consideration of each opportunity, I decided to remain with Withum. And on many levels — intellectually, professionally and financially — that consistently reaffirmed my decision to stay has paid off. Now, granted, we are a different firm compared to when I was making these decisions. But in many ways, the career opportunities offered today are even greater. We are a growing, thriving firm in an intellectually stimulating profession, and the long-term financial rewards can be significant.

How can you demonstrate that you are interested in a career versus a job? In the spirit of professional growth and opportunity, we want to share the “Top 10 Ways to Get You Moving Up the Withum Ladder:”

1. Find out everything you can about the roles and responsibilities associated with the next level of advancement you want to achieve. Feel free to ask your Career Coach (see #5), PIC or department leader on what is expected of you in order to move up to the next level. Then ask yourself if what you are doing is helping you stay on the path to that promotion. A rule of thumb we like to offer is that you should walk-the-walk of the next level to get that promotion you want.

2. Go above and beyond the call of duty. Exceed your charge hour budgets. Be known as being willing to take on extra tasks when asked. Many times people make the mistake of just trying to fulfill their current job requirements, putting in minimal effort. If you want to move up, you need to perform the tasks necessary for the next level.

3. Feel confident and know every aspect of the position you have now. Always ask questions when you aren’t sure how to do something. Performing your current role 110 percent makes you an asset to your team and the firm and we always need to remember to provide value to our firm and clients.

4. Be a team player. Know your schedule and seek opportunities to learn and keep busy. So much of our work is accomplished through teams — departmental, niche or cross-functional — and we depend on each other to “pull our weight.” This includes constant 360o communications with partners, managers and other team members. Don’t let yourself get bogged down with an issue, be idle or inefficient without letting someone know the issues and help you work through them. By being a team player, you build a positive reputation and increase your value to the firm.

5. Cultivate a relationship with a mentor. One recent study found that in four out of five promotions, those promoted had a mentoring relationship with someone higher in their company who helped spread the good word about them. We have formed a successful Career Coach Program to encourage the professional development of our accounting staff. If you do not have a Career Coach, please speak with your PIC or department leader about having one assigned to you.

6. Keep a positive outlook on things, even when in tough situations. Show ambition and enthusiasm in all your interactions and day-to-day activities. Remember, enthusiasm for the job is infectious, and a smile and a pleasant attitude can work wonders.

7. Be punctual, responsive and accessible. Promptly return emails and phone calls, to both clients and your Withum colleagues. It is a very good thing when a partner or client calls or e-mails you with a question, and you are there to respond right away. Always show up to meetings 10 to 15 minutes in advance and call into conference calls five minutes in advance.

8. Join one of our industry or service niches. There’s no better way to build your personal brand as a thought leader and a professional — both inside and outside of the firm — than by getting involved with one (or two max) niche groups. Take advantage of the many networking and education opportunities the niches present by attending internal development meetings, industry conferences and networking events, or by joining a committee. We understand that these events sometimes take place outside of normal business hours, but they create tremendous opportunities for you to grow in your career and expand your business network. Participating in these activities helps to convert your efforts from “doing your job” to “building your career.”

9. Join a board or committee of a community-based or professional organization. Part of our mission is to give back to the communities we serve and to support our profession. We strongly encourage our staff to get involved in both areas. This is also a great way to expand your network.

10. Take all training opportunities offered and stay informed. It goes without saying that one of the best ways to succeed in being promoted is to expand your knowledge and skill sets in areas that are critical to our profession. As laws and regulations — and even technology — change rapidly, you need an ever-increasing skill set to perform your job. Attend the CPE programs we offer (pay attention while there) and keep apprised of accounting profession news by reading publications such as Accounting Today and NJ CPA, in addition to mainstream business news.

We want you to build your career at our firm, and eventually look back on a long, satisfying, successful journey with us as many of our partners have the gratification of being able to do. Following these suggestions will put you in a position of strength when being considered for future advancement at Withum, and help us all to build a better firm for the future.

Remember, we look for everyone (including myself) to provide value every day so that we can continue to “Be a Catalyst for Growth and Success”… for our firm, our clients and as individual professionals.”

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is partner at WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He is on the Accounting Today Top 100 Influential People List. He is the author of 24 books, including “How to Review Tax Returns,” co-written with Andrew D. Mendlowitz, and “Managing Your Tax Season, Third Edition.” Ed also writes a twice-a-week blog addressing issues that clients have at along with the Pay-Less-Tax Man blog for Bottom Line. Ed is an adjunct professor in the MBA program at Fairleigh Dickinson University teaching end user applications of financial statements. Art of Accounting is a continuing series where Ed shares autobiographical experiences with tips that he hopes can be adopted by his colleagues. Ed welcomes practice management questions and can be reached at (732) 964-9329 or

By Heidi Wrighton
Heidi Wrighton Heidi Wrighton