Seven tips for building a sustainable career

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‘A sustainable career evolves with you as you grow, encompasses your skills and interests, and paves out a clear and fulfilling professional development path ahead,’ explains Chris Goulding, managing director at accountancy and finance recruiter Wade Macdonald.

It is meaningful and aligned with your values, and it endures over time because it ensures your employability even in challenging times.

Last but not least, a sustainable career supports a good work-life balance at every stage of your work lifecycle, as well as good physical and mental health.

‘There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a profound effect on our priorities and desires,’ says Goulding. ‘Increased flexibility and improved accessibility led to people reconsidering their paths and where they really want to be. Many now seek a career that is both challenging and rewarding as well as sustainable.’

This is a lot to consider. Also, where do you start?

1. Take the reins

‘Crafting a sustainable career is only possible when you put yourself in charge of its shape and direction,’ says Goulding.

But first, you really need to understand yourself.

‘No one else knows your values, motivations and interests as well as you do,’ points out Liz Sebag-Montefiore, career coach at HR consultancy 10Eighty.

Also think about your strengths, says Goulding. ‘Only when you identify them, will you be able to tailor your career to you and to your unique skill-set.’

Lee Owen, director at Hays Accountancy and Finance, suggests doing a SWOT analysis: ‘This tool can help you link your aptitudes to your options – ie how your skills can fit into a particular sector in accounting or finance.’

2. Plot the path (or part if it)

Then, you can begin building a sustainable career by defining where you may want to get to in the future and deciding on your first move.

‘Typically, you would start by choosing the sector you wish to work in, so think about what parts of your studies you feel genuinely passionate about,’ says Owen.

He also points out that whatever choice you make regarding your first career move will not necessarily define your career forever. ‘Accountants usually move across industry sectors, developing their skills and experience over time.’

In fact, you needn’t get too hung up on thinking about what you’d like to do in the long-term.

Jenn Fenwick, career coach at Rebel Road Coaching, says: ‘Use those early years in your career to test different things, work out what type of organisation, environment, people and work you enjoy… and what you don’t! This is your opportunity to explore, learn and uncover. So be curious, and have a little fun with the way you approach your career.’

Also, your choices may be restricted at first based on your lack of experience, so planning exactly where you want to get to in the long-term may be a challenge anyway.

‘But you can plant the seeds for a sustainable career by listing and following through with your initial objectives – this way you will at least start on the right path, which will open the doors to career enjoyment and longevity,’ says Goulding.

3. Cultivate a growth mindset

‘To ensure long-term employability, you need to be able to keep up with the skills that businesses require as they are changing rapidly due to advancements in AI and other technologies,’ says Owen.

The financial industry is also very competitive – to stand out, you must think beyond gaining your accountancy qualifications.

‘The qualifications will set a solid foundation for the rest of your career, but a hand at data or policy can give you a competitive edge and maximises your strengths for the long-term gain,’ says Goulding.

There are webinars, workshops, courses and other training opportunities available whatever your level of seniority, although Owen believes that job rotations and secondments are particularly beneficial if you are new to the profession.

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A growth mindset will also help you avoid job fatigue and boredom.

Goulding says: ‘Job satisfaction is extremely important, for a working life without meaning or passion for your vocation is a fruitless one.’

Don’t just focus on technical skills, though – grow your soft skills too.

In this respect, continually honing your communication skills should be a priority, says Sebag-Montefiore: ‘Employers will always expect finance professionals to confidently communicate with clients and other parts of the business, so grow your confidence and eloquence by volunteering for public speaking and leading meetings.’

4. Think how you can add value

‘Investing in yourself by constantly upgrading your skills ensures that you are appreciating as an asset and are a useful person to have on the team,’ says Sebag-Montefiore.

But you need to be doing a little bit more than that.

‘Be proactive and pick up tasks without being asked, and anticipate your employer’s needs,’ says Sebag-Montefiore. ‘Speak up when you have ideas that may help improve procedures, operations and productivity, and try to come up with solutions before any situation becomes a problem.’

She recommends that you also spend time once a week writing down what you’ve achieved (including how you’ve gone above and beyond what is in your job description) and the feedback received.

‘Just five to 10 minutes of doing this will help document your value, deepen your self-awareness, and hone your future career goals.’

5. Be one step ahead

Paying close attention to developments and trends in your profession and industry, as well as keeping up to date with changing regulations and legislation, will also pay dividends.

‘You will spot growth areas and will be able to think about how you can get involved and offer your skill-set as a solution to any potential challenges that businesses may face,’ says Fenwick.

6. Keep the right company

It’s not what you know but who you know

Even though this saying doesn’t always hold true for professionals (it doesn’t matter who you know if you don’t gain the qualifications and the necessary skills and experience), developing and maintaining relationships with certain people can help further your career.

Fenwick says: ‘Seek out mentors and role models who not only inspire you, but who can also show you just what is possible. Grow your network now and it will give you a strategic edge in future years.’

7. Set your boundaries

Life’s not all about work – you also want to be able to accommodate your personal needs and pursue non-work related interests.

‘To set yourself up for long-term success, you need to look after your physical and mental health, starting with creating a healthy work-life balance,’ says Owen. ‘Knowing when to switch off is an essential skill to learn to keep your wellbeing in check. Also, allowing time for your friends and family can lead to you being more productive when at work, which is important for building a sustainable career.’

He recommends prioritising tasks on a daily and weekly basis, which will help you develop sound time management skills.

Author: Iwona Tokc-Wilde, journalist

This article was first published in Student Accountant in October 2021

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