Hello and welcome to our guide on “how to become a successful management accountant”. As you can guess by the title, this article aims to help management accountants (and soon to be ones) to be (even more) successful. This comprehensive guide will look at the following five main areas:
How to become a management accountant (paths)
The following illustration highlights four common routs into the field of management accounting:
One of the most seen routes, or even the standard route of entry, begins with a university degree in business or finance. After graduation, these people start working in companies’ finance departments as assistants or trainees. After some time and realizing finance is what they really want, they move towards obtaining a professional qualification. One of the world’s leading qualification is the Chartered Management Accountant (CIMA). Although, there are many other well-recognized, sometimes country-based, qualifications. Having completed a degree in business before a professional qualification often results in an exemption for some subjects. This can be a valuable benefit timewise.
Another common way is to work towards a professional qualification right away after deciding that management accounting is the desired destination. This route is taken by people who were first working in other fields and now want to change into finance. One of the main challenges is to find an initial job in management accounting when coming down this route. This entry route is also available for people without a university degree. For example, after finishing an apprenticeship.
The third way into management accounting is less common and normally only open for people with some years of practical experience. It is simply a change of work field from any finance job into management accounting. For example, a financial accountant or an analyst may change to management accounting. This opportunity is often available for transfers within the same company as part of human development. After changing to management accounting people may strive for a professional qualification or some executive diploma to consolidate their experience.
The last way we describe here is less structured. It is an entry path by luck or connections. You may not fit for a job based on your current experience. However, through connections or pure luck, you manage to secure a job in management accounting. To strengthen the position, such a person should aim for a professional qualification as soon as possible.
After looking at these four different paths, there is one thing they all have in common. After starting as a management accountant it is essential to gain more and more practical experience. Only working in the field will lead to the seniority needed for further progression.
You are in, welcome to the show!
Personal quality of management accountants
Since we know now more about possible entry routes, it is important to understand which personal qualities a good management accountant needs. To illustrate clearly, we generated five groups of qualities essential to a successful management accountant.
As a management accountant, you are in a responsible position. You deal with confidential figures and information, you have access to sensitive company data and you are often pressured from different sides. Furthermore, you generate reports and you communicate in an influential way. All this results in a certain burden and risks of, let’s call it, misconduct.
Ethics or sound moral behavior will help you navigate through your work. It is essential that you are aware of your power and the risks misconduct brings with it. You should always act according to ethical standards. The Institute of Chartered Management Accountants (CIMA) publishes a sound code of ethics which lists the following five fundamental principles:
- professional competence and due care
- professional behaviour
Click here to visit the CIMA’s code of ehtics and learn all the details.
It is simply a fact that Excel skills are essential for management accountants. They were, they are and they will be in the future. The market is full of software solutions for the finance department and they become more and more sophisticated. This is great news for management accountants. However, such systems are not capable of replacing all Excel analysis, calculations and reports. This fact we need to embrace whether we like it or not.
This is the reason why we explicitly state Excel skills as an important personal quality. On your way to becoming more senior, you will also gradually increase your Excel knowledge. We recommend you being open, trying to understand formulas, ask questions to more senior employees or research formula syntaxes and explanations in Google.
Analytical skills are a core competence of management accountants. If you decided to work in this area you most likely have some flair for figures, comparisons and analyses.
Whether in Excel, in accounting systems or during talks, a management accountant should apply sound analytical skills. You can increase your skills through continuous practice. Analytical skills are exactly what matters and characterises a successful management accountant. With that base skill and in combinations with communication skills, you generate immense value for a business.
Communication skills are getting more and more important. One reason for that is the shift in the scope of management accounting. Where in earlier times looking at past figures was the main task, nowadays predicting and influencing the future increasingly gains in importance. In order to do that effectively, you need well-developed communication skills.
These skills will grow automatically with your experience in the field. However, you should proactively support the progress by studying concepts and analyzing your own behavior.
Core concepts of management accounting
The final personal quality is obviously essential and this is the reason we mention it last. If you work in the field of management accounting, you also need to have a proper understanding of its core concepts. Depending on your entry route, you learn such theories during your university studies or whilst obtaining your professional qualification.
Do not worry about having all elements of every single concept in your head. It is important you have heard about the concepts, you can classify them and understand the whole picture. If you need details, you are always able to look them up.
Career progression for management accountants
An important part when looking at being a successful management accountant is career progression. For many people, success means career progression. Although we think success includes personal satisfaction and general mastery of management accounting, we see career progression as a close derivation of succeeding.
There are different career paths in management accounting. The following graphic shows the classical route, a second version of the classical route as well as another interesting possibility.
As you can see the classical career path starts from the first station as a junior management accountant. Experience leads to a job on a professional level. This includes more responsibilities and consequently a higher pay. Following that is the senior level. At this stage, a management accountant is very well educated and highly experienced. In this position, it is also common to look after more junior team members. The final stage of the classical path is being the team leader.
Having mentioned these steps, it is important to note that they may not all take place at the same company and they may not be linear. For example, a person may change the company when being a professional management accountant. When working for the new company he or she may still be a professional accountant working on a progression or have been recruited as a senior-level employee and thus succeeded with a progression when changing company.
As shown in the illustration, a management accountant can also strive after a CFO position. This is normally possible when the person also obtains work experience in other financial fields, like financial accounting, financial project management or group accounting. This set of wider financial knowledge will then support a progression towards a CFO role.
Whichever career path a person strives for, it is clear that progressions do not just happen. Devotion and a certain level of development are needed. In the following paragraphs, we discuss areas of development that support career progression for successful management accountants.
Management accountants’ personal development to progress
Ask yourself what you want to reach. What is your goal? What means success for you? Maybe look a the illustration with the career paths from the previous paragraph. Imagine yourself in 10 years. Where would you like to be?
Asking yourself these questions is a good exercise to plan your future. When you know where you would like to be, then you can start evaluating your options and needed steps.
While there are many forms of possible developments steps, we like to highlight the two most common and impactful areas:
- On-the-job learning
Education in order to progress
Education has a massive impact on potential progression and thus success. This is why it certainly deserves a separate heading.
Looking at the landscape of education, it is hard not to get lost. There are numerous possibilities out there. Finding the right way to go can be overwhelming. This is why we formed three groups which we think are very useful for management accounting career progression.
- Professional qualification: If you do not already possess one, this is the way to go. We recommend CIMA – the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.
- Master degree: Already having a professional qualification, a Master’s degree can give you the notch you need to bring your career to the next level.
- Diploma or other programs: There are many diploma or other programs out there. You can use this way to fill a knowledge gap in a very specific area or to get a quick executive education.
All educations come at a price. Firstly, in a literal meaning. Education has a monetary price. You pay tuition and exam fees. Secondly, it is a time investment. You trade your free time to educate yourself.
This is why we think it is extremely important that you ask yourself where you want to be in 10 years before aimlessly deciding to start an education.
Often the combination of finishing education and changing the job will lead to the desired career progression.
On-the-job learning to progress
Let’s focus now on the second area which helps you climb the management accounting career ladder. On-the-job learning is not just a catchphrase but a compelling method.
First of all, it is important to understand that seniority is essential to reach a higher step on the career ladder. However, seniority can not be bought nor be fully compensated with education. What that means is simple. You need a certain amount of practical experience, on-the-job experience, to move up to the next career level.
Apart from simply working and gaining experience you should aim for maximizing your on-the-job learning. This can be done by being open to special tasks and projects, keeping an intriguing mindset and maintain a desire for learning.
One additional possibility to learn on the job is actually changing the job without necessarily seeking progress. Imagine one of your team members leaves the company. You could ask to take over this job or some parts of it. This will catapult your on-job-learning to a new level. A close variation to that is to change to a similar role but with a new company.
If you work for a larger company, you may also benefit from company-wide programs that help employees develop. For example, your superior could give you a great review and sign you up for a management development program. Completing such training gives your CV a boost and opens up new opportunities.
Job hunting as a management accountant aka selling your skills
Selling my skills? Yes, selling your skills! It does not matter at which stage of the career ladder you are, a successful management accountant will sell his or her skill well. Let’s be honest, no matter what your personal definition of success is, income surely is at least a part of it.
Look at job-hunting as it would be a personal marketing campaign. Your aim is to showcase you and your abilities in the best possible way. Companies and recruiters should “fall in love” with you. Your CV, your presentation, your past, your look and your answers should fascinate them.
If you can do that, then you are on an excellent way to sell your skills well and open the door to become a successful management accountant with a very competitive salary.
Now let’s look a the individual parts.
A management accountant’s CV
In most cases, your CV is the door opener. It is the one thing you need and it is the one thing a sourcing specialist sees first. This is valid for all jobs not only for management accountants.
So, if you want to increase your chances of scoring a nice job as a management accountant, make sure your CV is neat and stands out from the crowd.
It should be neat in order to show that you are a responsible and organized person. Make sure you have no typos, the structure is clear and it looks inviting to read.
Your CV should be something special. Imagine the sourcing specialist skimming through a pill of 50 or more CVs. How refreshing is it for him or her to find a CV that looks a bit different from the mass? Our tip is to use color and incorporate something special. We, for example, like logos of former employers on a CV. What a nice change to plain text CVs.
Having said all that, do not forget that you are applying as a management accountant. You can overdo it on your CV as well. Find a way to stand out but still matching the finance field.
Your past experience in finance
Whether it is on your CV or later on during an interview, make sure you prominently mention your projects, special tasks and all things that extra qualify you for the job.
A successful management accountant is always looking to expand his or her knowledge. All these things you have done are important and can make a difference in the recruiting process.
Your appearance – management accountants should look smart
Did you secure an interview? Congratulations, this is your chance to show yourself from the best side and make the company “fall in love” with you.
Apart from preparing yourself well for the interview, like researching the company or preparing smart answers to common questions, you should consider your personal appearance.
For your success, it is crucial to look smart at interviews. Successful management accountants dress well. At least that is the signal you are going to send. If you do not possess proper interview clothes, then get some. Make sure your outfit looks good on you. Arrange your hair, shave, cut your nails and all those things. Keep in mind, the first impression counts.
Mindset and negotiations
Keeping a positive mindset is essential. A recruiting process can be a stressful phase. Try to accept that but stay positive. Do not forget that the process is the same for all candidates. So, all go through the same.
When you are invited to an interview, you can be sure that you are a possible match. So, be happy, proud of yourself and prepare well. When you are in doubt, keep in mind that you are a possible match. Why else would a company invest time talking to you?
When you successfully pass the first interview and you are invited for another one or you have already been presented an offer, then consider negotiating. This is a tricky part but it becomes easier the more experience you have in it.
We believe that you should negotiate where appropriate. A good management accountant provides massive value for a company. So, make sure that you talk about your desires and negotiate if they are not matched.