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3 Steps Every Millennial Should Take to Advance Their Career

While a fresh start may seem appealing, better opportunities often exist closer to home

Compared to previous generations, millennials expect bigger jumps in compensation and are more likely to job hop. So, much like their counterparts elsewhere, those in accounting or finance are probably weighing the opportunities they have to move to a new company versus the opportunities for advancement in their current post (see chart 1).

While it’s doubtless important for everyone to take stock of the marketability of their skills and experience, millennials should evaluate – and make the most of – what’s possible internally before they decide the grass is greener elsewhere.

Chart 1: Eager to progress  n=604 (baby boomers); 1,403 (generation X); 1,219 (millennials)  Source: CEB 2016 Global Labor Market Trends Survey

Click chart to expand

Three Steps

Millennials can take three steps to assess what’s possible in their current job.

  1. Discuss external and internal career opportunities: Your manager may already assume you’re a “job-hopper,” simply because of your age. When he or she was your age, career paths resembled ladders, and finance employees “paid their dues” by putting in a certain number of years at each rung. But the flatter organizational structures that formed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis are here to stay, and career progression through promotions is more difficult.

    To help your manager see things from your point of view, discuss both internal and external career options. For example, get more clarity on how likely it is you will advance at your current firm by discussing upcoming vacancies, how your profile compares to role requirements, and the anticipated time frame until your next career move. Don’t be afraid to discuss external compensation information like the market value of specific skills and experiences that you either have or would like to develop.

    Looking at all your career options with your manager will give them a better understanding of how your job responsibilities, competencies, and compensation compare to peers at other organizations. With this knowledge, your manager can help you focus your efforts on more valuable activities like improving inter-company accounting processes, and highly-marketable skills like EBITDA leakage analysis. As a result, you will provide more value to the organization, while also developing sought-after skills.

  2. Seek development opportunities to help with leadership competencies you lack: Millennials have a different leadership profile than previous generations, and tend to score lower in the following four competency areas: adapting and coping, supporting and cooperating, organizing and executing, and creating interdependence (see chart 2).

    Before attempting to move into a leadership role on your finance team, have an honest conversation with your manager to identify the leadership competency gaps you need to address. Make sure you also add in your own personal reflections and feedback from peers, coaches, and mentors.

    Once you’ve identified your critical leadership gaps, work with your manager to design a tailored development plan. Keep in mind that experiential learning is more effective than traditional training courses, and make it easier on your manager by suggesting development opportunities. For example, if you’re working on improving your ability to create interdependence (i.e., identifying groups that have an effect on whether you hit your goals or whose goals you affect, and working across different groups to accomplish shared objectives), propose a rotation on a team whose workflow affects yours.

    You may not have a good overview of the work being done in other parts of the business, or of initiatives that would be a good fit. However, drawing up your own development plan and outlining the types of experiential learning opportunities you need will make it much easier for your manager to connect you to the right development experiences.

    Chart 2: Effectiveness of different generations’ leadership competencies  n=4,541  Source: CEB analysis

  3. Offer to lead projects that capitalize on your strengths: As a millennial in finance, you also have a unique set of strengths compared to other generations on your team. Typically, millennials stand out in the following areas: analyzing and interpreting, creating and conceptualizing, and building a network (see chart 2).

    Use the same techniques as above (self-reflection, and 360-degree feedback) to identify the unique strengths you have, and then help your manager see how these strong points complement the skills and experiences on your team. Think of specific challenges facing your manager or your team, and discuss how you could use your strengths to address them.

    For example, if your strength is analyzing and interpreting, offer to pilot new technologies, or to coach colleagues on new analytic techniques. If you’re particularly adept at creating and conceptualizing, propose new ways to diseminate financial information. Ask your manager to give you an opportunity to solve complex problems like reducing your firm’s effective tax rate, while remaining compliant and demonstrating social responsibility. If you’re a gifted network-builder, help your manager attract new finance talent, or seek out a rotation to improve your team’s knowledge of the business.

    Discussing your unique strengths and offering to use them to help with specific projects outside of your day-to-day responsibilities will signal to your manager that you are ready to take on more challenging work. Successfully leading projects that capitalize on your strengths will help you stand out compared to your peers and, depending on the project, lead to more exposure to senior leaders. All good promotion fodder.


More On…

  • Finance Skills for the Future

    Download this white paper to learn more about what skills are needed on today's finance teams, and how managers should develop them.

One Response

  • Vin Messina says:

    Finance skills link is broken and I would love to see the resource as I believe it contains insights helpful to the CFO’s I engage.

    Also, quick question. Do you have any evidence to suggest how Millennials go about finding the perfect job?

    My contention is that companies who compete for talent would find it a whole lot easier if they were able to present a work environment that suits the needs of younger professionals who want more out of accounting work than just counting the beans. ;)

Leave a Reply to Vin Messina



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