Career success: top tips to help you progress – part 1

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Depending on what your priorities are, ACCA member Sarfraz Nadir suggests steps you can take that will help boost your chances of success within your current job, help you grab something new or both.

Digital profile

I cannot emphasise how important this is and while most users have a good presence on professional platforms like LinkedIn, people don’t realise many employers also monitor all social media platforms when hiring new talent. It is easy to find someone with good technical skills for a role but employers these days are equally concerned about getting someone who is the right cultural fit. They establish this through assessments and interviews and may also review a candidate’s public profile (Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, etc) to confirm what they have learnt.

Your social media presence should therefore be reasonably consistent in terms of basic information (name, gender, location, email, etc). You must take it for granted that your online presence will be used to profile you for any job application and take care to ensure that your personal social media posts and opinions do not contradict with what you do or say in your professional life.

Communication skills

Take any job posting these days and good communication will feature in the top three desired skills. A qualified accountant will eventually be expected to manage a team and work with senior executives. With the hybrid work model here to stay, many of us work from home at least one to two days each week. I find it much more challenging to have effective video meetings than when you’re in the room with someone. There are many reasons for this such as poor bandwidth, patchy audio or the fact that someone has their video turned off and you cannot assess how they feel about a particular issue.

All these situations make it vital for us to be able to communicate clearly and concisely. Unsurprisingly, I have seen a growing number of instances where a candidate with better skills and experience was overlooked in favour of someone who was technically acceptable but had better communication skills.

Getting the language right is only the first step; there are several other areas to look at such as empathy, political correctness and listening. While great strides have been made by accountancy bodies to uplift the syllabus around this area, I would recommend everyone to properly prepare for and take an independent and internationally recognised language test. There are many tests one can attempt but the best ones are those required for getting into universities or form part of international skilled migration requirements.

While being able to read and speak a language well is desirable, it is easy to overlook the importance of listening and writing. These tests challenge all four areas, are reasonably priced and provide an impartial and globally comparable insight into one’s linguistic prowess. Use the results to focus on your weak areas and put in place a development plan. Maybe even discuss it with your manager as it demonstrates initiative and willingness to grow. Remember that, for soft skills, it is equally important to apply what you have learnt – and what better place to do that than at work?

There are scores of short courses available online (Coursera and YouTube are free, whereas LinkedIn Learning requires a subscription) on communicating with empathy, active listening and the like. There is an increasing focus on micro-credentials, short training sessions that one can cover in a single sitting (15–30 minutes) and there is some excellent content out there.

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Not to be confused with social or online networking, I am referring to real, face-to-face interaction here. Admittedly, the pandemic made personal interaction challenging, but it is an essential pillar of personal career management, especially after you’ve qualified. The people who have helped me out most in my career are those who knew me personally. The biggest source of career leads comes from recruiters, seniors and batch mates (peers). I will explain each below:

Batch mates: This is the easiest yet most neglected group. If you studied and/or worked together, it creates shared experiences and memories that last a lifetime. Your classmate will always be a classmate, even if they have risen faster than you on the corporate ladder. They should be your first point of contact when scoping new opportunities at a preferred employer. Yet, once we commence our professional lives, other priorities take over such as relationships, kids, mortgages, etc, and we fall out of touch. It is awkward, but not impossible, to refresh those contacts when you need a job referral or introduction. While it’s best to remain in touch with all your fellow ‘grads’, this is not always easy and you should be honest about your intent when reconnecting with someone after a long time – most be will only be too happy to help out an old friend.

Seniors: Senior colleagues at work will probably qualify before you and enter the corporate world earlier. Keep in touch with them, as you would batch mates, but be mindful of the more formal relationship. You would be less likely to ‘cold call’ a senior about a job within their organisation or team if you haven’t been in touch with them all along. Better to stick to a few with whom you directly worked or enjoyed good rapport. A good referral from these could propel your resumé to the front of the queue or get you noticed quicker if working in the same organisation.

Recruiters: Most good jobs are rarely advertised directly. The hiring manager does not want to go through hundreds of applications to create a shortlist. A good recruitment agency will provide their client a list of suitable candidates (normally six to 10) and the client will select (shortlist) between three to five for the interview process. If you get a job interview call through a recruitment firm, it means your chances of getting hired just shot up from one in 100+ to around one in five. Therefore, it is in your interest to nurture good contacts with well-known recruitment firms.

The good news is that it is equally in the interest of recruiters to connect with the latest talent in the market as that is how they make money. You should have no qualms over contacting the top agencies in your area and letting them know you’re in the market. However, this should not be a casual exercise; research the firm/individual including their recent job posts and the sectors they work in. Find out if any of your friends have worked with them and try to get an introduction. Be sure to play up your recent exam success.

Most contacts start with an email or phone call (make sure you are well prepared). Eventually, most recruiters would want to have a face-to-face (or a video call) in order to assess how marketable you are and to whom. This is an opportunity to showcase your skills, experience and accomplishments. Dress smartly (even on a video call) and be mindful not to over-sell yourself or get fact-checked because, once that happens, you will not hear from them again. Once you manage to create a good impression, the opportunities will start rolling in.

Don’t miss the second part of this article for further tips to help you achieve your career goals.

About the author

Sarfraz lives in Sydney and has been an ACCA member since 2001. He draws inspiration from the lives and careers of people around him and is fascinated by what drives people to succeed. Sarfraz employs real-life examples and anecdotes in his articles and can be reached at or on LinkedIn.

More information

This article was first published in Student Accountant in March 2023 | Get the SA app now

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