Becoming FC of an SME (Part 3)
Over recent weeks we have explored the considerations of those looking to make the exciting step into their first FC position within an agile SME environment.
The next channel we consider is taking a step up the rungs of the SME ladder – staying within the same business and stepping into the shoes of your former boss.
This route can often allow individuals to progress to FC level at a relatively early stage of their career provided they find themselves ‘in the right place at the right time’…. So we would like to consider are there steps you can take / decisions you can make early in your career to optimise the chance of being in that sweet spot early doors…
Some very basic advice is always act as though you are an FC / FD of the future (even if you are currently the Assistant Accountant). Often candidates we meet feel that they will never be ‘seen as the FC’ because they have progressed in the business from a grass roots role. This is a challenge but you should be mindful of putting yourself in the best position possible.
Top of your to-do list should be gain exposure to your bosses’ boss. This is key. This doesn’t mean standing up right now, pushing open his office door and shoving your sweaty palm into his / her perplexed face! It means having an awareness of the opportunities for interaction / exposure to the senior stakeholders and decision makers in your business (in an SME the MD, Ops Directors, Owners, Investors, etc.).
It doesn’t necessarily mean they need to physically ‘see’ you they simply need to be able to clearly recognise where you add value. If there is a project that gains exposure volunteer for it, if there is a conference and they are there then engage with them at an appropriate juncture.
Another valid point to consider is that early in your career you typically have some leeway to be overzealous in your approach. Being upbeat and over-assertive is more often than not a better approach to sitting back and waiting for it to happen. Be bold – let the incumbent FC know that you would love to follow in their footsteps / slipstream… they can pull you up / pull a step out for you in some cases. Be diplomatic, again “I will be sat in your chair next year” might not get the desired response…
Get out and about – write down the names of the heads of every department in your business. Do they know you, would they be able to describe you to a colleague. Could you describe what they do and a little about them? If not then treat it as a professional project – work through them in set time frames. As systematic and impersonal as that sounds you have to control your own perception, exposure and reputation.
To get to FC without waiting decades to some degree is about being in the right SME in the first place… take an objective view of channel open to you… if you work for an FC who is 10 years from retirement who loves the business and sees themselves staying there then common sense prevails… no matter how much you will it to happen it probably won’t.. you need to get as much experience as you can and move to another business…
BUT before you do can you use the internal network available…. Do the owners of your business own others – do they see you as FC material? Does the business have investors – do they have other interests that could open to you? Does your current FC have a peer network that could give you a step to FC??? You have little need to manage your career moves with a cloak and dagger approach provided you have professionalism and tact.
You need to fill your CV with completely responsible for / heavily assist with… find a job specification for FC of and SME (if you don’t have one call me and I will send you comprehensive details 07802 236 713 / firstname.lastname@example.org). Work through the requirements and remit – how much do you do now and what aren’t you gaining exposure to. Now set yourself a timeframe to plug those gaps and manage your CV to get as close to mirroring the brief as possible. Maybe you don’t produce the statutory accounts but ask your FC if this year you can have more involvement – you don’t need to do it every year and step on his / her toes but you need to do it at least once!
Get Qualified (an appropriate recognised professional body) i.e. ACA ACCA or CIMA. Is it imperative – No. Are there some incredibly talented QBE FCs and FDs in the world – Yes. Will it help if you are qualified – Yes. Should you crack on with it – Yes. Just bite the bit and get it done.
Help others, then mentor them, then manage them. Being accepted as a manager by former peers usually starts well if you took a healthy and helpful approach to helping them when they were busy / stuck on a challenge. If you see your peers in finance struggling them without patronising them lend a hand.
Don’t be the person that lets their professional guard slip at office drinks etc. If you have that tendency then go for drinks with friends from outside of your professional network and go crazy but it is surprising who is watching while you are partying with colleagues.
Go the extra mile early in your career. Enthusiasm counts for a great deal when promotions are being discussed and to get to FC you need to have internal advocates at all levels. Working hard, finding sensible problems to solve and solving them, being polite and assertive… people will notice and make a mental note if you are in the right business.
Be confident – it is unnerving to be promoted to a leadership role – often even moreso amongst people who you have known for some time. It will feel uncomfortable but your outward confidence will be reassuring for others around you (above and below).
This route tends to be one of the fastest when it works well – the business knows you, you know the inner workings. The key is taking control of your CV/skillset and your career path early. You have to shape your experience and exposure wherever possible in a measured and objective fashion. You also need to accept if the door is closed, take it with a smile and use the opportunity to progress elsewhere.
If you have recruitment needs in finance / seek support from an A&F recruitment expert please contact our office or email me directly email@example.com