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Day 11: Your career is in your hands

"Remain a lifelong student. Don't lose that curiosity" Indra Nooyi


While doing articles at PwC Bloemfontein, I woke up to a paper on my wall written "2014 - CA(SA). Now what?". I didn't know it then, but that would be my first lesson in goal-setting. While working hard to pass my board exams and finish articles, I realised that qualifying as a Chartered Accountant was a means to an end and not itself. For many young people, the goal may seem to merely achieve a particular qualification or complete a specific educational certificate. But as soon as you've completed one thing, you'll realize that it is just the beginning of the journey and not the end of it, which is where many people. Now that I am a chartered accountant, what do I do next?


Firstly, we need to know that only we can answer that question and that no one else can answer it on our behalf. Unlike in school, where you are forced or "encouraged" to take a particular bouquet of courses to reach a specific path, or not given a choice at all (like we accounting students), there is no one waiting at the finish line of your qualification who can carve a perfect career path for you to follow. It is up to each one of us to decide what experiences we want to immerse ourselves in, based on the skills we want to acquire along the way. We need to set a vision for our career that supports the rest of our goals.


When I speak to people I mentor, I like to talk about looking at each job role or experience as an opportunity to put tools in your "toolbox" that can help you to grow into the person you want to be or that can position you for the job or career of your dreams. The tricky thing is that we don't know what we don't know in our professional development journey. In other words, our ability to dream about our dream job is limited to the knowledge and understanding we have about the world. This means we need to leave ourselves sufficient space to be surprised by job roles, companies, people, and experiences - especially in the first ten years of our careers. We don't really know where the path will lead, but if we are present for our experiences, we will be able to draw meaningful lessons and skills from each experience that can help us carve out the next goal in our career journey.




Talking about mentorship, one of the things that helped me in my career journey was mentors. What is a mentor in this context? This is an older professional with way more years of experience than you, who is willing to sit down and understand your aspirations, your fears, your desires and to support you through giving you advice, referring you to opportunities, and opening up their network to provide you with the exposure you need to achieve your career goals. I got my first mentor by approaching him and asking for mentorship. He and I served in the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants in Southern Africa (ABASA). I observed the kind of professional he was, and I wanted to be like him. He was confident, inquisitive, challenged norms, and genuinely cared for people's interests. I went to him with a clear proposal - I needed his mentorship, I wanted us to meet at least once a month, I had specific goals (I needed to pass my board exam, I tried to have good performance ratings at work), and I needed him to hold me accountable for those goals. Not only did he help with my work goals, but he nominated me to serve as ABASA Free State Treasurer just a year after I had joined as a member (he believed in me that much), and I got voted in. He supported me throughout my boards and was one of three people who attended my graduation when I passed my honors at UNISA. The list of ways he helped me is endless, and I value his contribution to my career to this day.


Once our vision is set, we need to develop a path of learning experiences that can get us onto that path. Our professional development is a function of our academic qualifications and professional backgrounds. Although not needed as much as in the past nowadays, I believe that academic qualifications give us certain credibility that can prove valuable throughout our careers. As a chartered accountant, particularly qualified through the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), I find that people are more willing to trust me whether I am working on their finances or working on a consultancy project, or leading a strategy session. I have gotten opportunities as a consultant and incorporate simply because of the CA(SA) qualification. The same applies to people of certain professions, for example, Doctors who have gone into entrepreneurship. If you are Doctor who starts a health company, people will be willing to invest more in you than someone without any health expertise or background. Therefore, qualifications still matter in professional development.


Life and work experience also matters. I believe that what makes me a valuable professional is that a year after qualifying, I quit the corporate world and pursued consulting and entrepreneurship for several years. While I know that I'm not a hardcore risk-taking entrepreneur, I have also gained valuable business acumen, stakeholder management, and other skills that I wouldn't have been able to gain in a traditional career path. As a result, I add unique value today as both a businesswoman and a corporate professional because of my experiences working in non-traditional environments for four years. Knowing that we live in a time where it is difficult for people to gain experience in their desired environments. People usually need to volunteer in a few jobs before getting paid, whereas professions that provided "guaranteed" jobs no longer do. It is crucial to establish that the kind of experience we get matters less than our ability to extract and articulate the value of that experience to our "toolbox" as young professionals. If you spent your high school years doing odd jobs to get yourself through school, can you articulate the skills you learned from those odd jobs in an interview? If you can, then you can stand out from the next applicant.


Finally, I'd like to say that we need to allow ourselves the flexibility and open-mindedness to have enriching careers and not put ourselves in a box. When I worked at PwC, everyone wanted to audit a listed client instead of a public entity. If you asked us why we wouldn't tell you the answer. We had just adopted the flawed idea that specific clients would guarantee you a fantastic career in the long term. This was not the case. I enjoyed being part of the IT audit team and the usual financial audit team, and I believe part of the digital savviness I am known for is because of that experience. It gave me a unique skill set to understand business processes in an automated environment, which has been helpful in my current role. However, being part of the IT audit team was avoided as the perception was that it would keep you from the much more esteemed clients. In the almost eleven years of my professional journey, I have been an auditor, a financial planner, an independent consultant, a businesswoman, and a Head of Department. I am not married to a job title, but my focus is to impact, use my skills to add value and learn as much as possible where I am. Whether in a start-up or a multinational company, that doesn't matter to me. All that matters is that I am growing into the person I want to be. And if at any point I feel unhappy with the path my career is taking, I can always pivot.


Career development is a big topic, that I am super passionate about so if I could write, it would literally take a book. But here are a few more short tips:

  • Develop a great work ethic.

  • Prepare for opportunities by getting qualified (through academics, life and work experiences).

  • Don't be afraid to take risks. There is no failure, only learning opportunities.

  • Build a valuable career network - get to know other professionals in your industry and beyond.

  • Always take the opportunity to go abroad.

  • Apply for opportunities you are interested, even if you don't feel qualified for it. Don't eliminate yourself before others do so.

 

Journal Reflections:

1. Reflect on what you want to achieve in the long-term from your professional journey. One day when you retire, what would you like to say about your career?

2. Do an audit of the skills you have acquired in your toolbox.

3. What other skills do you still need to acquire based on your vision for yourself? Prioritise those skills into skills you need in the short-term (to deliver on your current role) and long-term (to function in your desired position).

4. What experiences/jobs/projects / academic qualifications can give you the skills you still need to acquire?

5. Develop clear career goals based on the above. Remember the SMARTER goals principles.

 

Recommended books


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Hi, thanks for stopping by!

I am a passionate leader, accomplished professional and a mentor. I believe that nation-building depends on how well we build people. Therefore, my mission is to contribute to the personal, professional and leadership development of people to empower them to reach their highest potential.

I do this through a mentorship program that I founded and through this blog where I share principles I've applied and insights I've gained in the past twelve years of my career and leadership journey.

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