Introverts need to move out of their comfort zone to develop their career. With the help of a plan, they can.
Many accountants are introverts and can struggle to stand out in the workplace and progress their careers.
They can feel so anxious about pushing themselves forward that they miss out on professional opportunities and new jobs despite their skills and experience.
Of course, accountancy is well-suited to people who prefer to be behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean promotion and progression aren’t there for the taking. You don’t need to shout the loudest to move ahead – but you do need a plan.
Identify the gaps
Your plan starts with a clear-headed look at where you want to go and what would help you get there:
“No one knows everything, not even those who claim they do. Be honest and decide where the gaps are in your CV and what you need to do to fill them,” said careers coach Natalie Trice. “Do you want to become chartered or is it management that lights you up? Maybe learning Spanish would benefit your client relationships? Do your research, find something that really could help you progress, and then find a way to make it happen.”
Trice said that whether they like it or not, introverts will need to stretch their comfort zone to get ahead at work.
Her advice includes urging individuals to own what they have achieved at work and trying to be innovative to get noticed. This could include finding ways to save the company money or solving a technology issue. Quieter employees should keep a note of the positive impact they are having and refer to it during workplace appraisals, team meetings and job interviews.
Trice also encourages introverts to find a mentor within their business who they respect and trust, and to chat regularly with their boss, even if they find it challenging.
Getting another perspective is important – even a manager can be a mentor.
“Sitting down with someone in authority can be stressful for introverts, but it is a sure way to boost your career,” she said. “Your annual review is an opportunity to get feedback on your performance and to highlight your accomplishments and learnings, as well as exploring your wishes for the future.”
She added: “Introverts tend to shy away from boasting, but if you’ve worked hard and believe you deserve a promotion, put positive energy into those conversations and you may be surprised at how far you can go and who else has spotted your potential.”
Recruiters can be a great source of career advice and Chris Goulding, Managing Director at accountancy recruitment firm Wade Macdonald, said employers have a role to play too. He said they should remember that introverts within their organisation often engage their brain before they speak and observe before acting. In such a high-risk business as finance, this should be welcomed when it comes to career progression.
He reminds introverts that promotion in accountancy is often due to meritocracy. People can do well if they get on with their job rather than becoming involved in office politics or gossip.
Where do you stand out?
“To progress your career, you also have to draw upon your unique strengths,” said Goulding. “If your downfall is public speaking focus on where you excel and others do not. This could be around tax returns, auditing or data analysis. Word of mouth is powerful when it comes to career progression so build one-to-one relationships with colleagues and clients.”
Ultimately, introverts need to be proactive to carve out a successful career.
Ben Aspinall, Director at ECOVIS Wingrave Yeats and a member of the professional services group of accountants and law firms, UK200Group, said people need to be themselves and willing to step out of your comfort zone occasionally.
“Prepare well for meetings and go into each one with a few things to say. Put your hand up for those little extra jobs and be available to help others wherever possible,” he said. “You have to remember that no one cares about your career as much as you do.”
Case study: Inspire Accountants
Inspire Accountants is learning how to value introverts and get the most from them.
Liz Phipps is HR manager at Dorset-based Inspire Accountants and recently her team asked each member of staff if they considered themselves to be an introvert or an extrovert.
Some 69% felt they were introverts and this insight is being used by the company to develop the careers of everyone in the business. She wants her colleagues to demonstrate ambition and said the company recruits people with a growth mindset.
“Our approach is to work with individuals to understand what each person wants to achieve,” said Phipps. “One way we do this is via our quarterly progress reviews with managers. This ensures we take the time to stop, stand back and have a focused discussion on each person’s development and their ongoing contribution to the operational and strategic goals of Inspire. These meetings aren’t optional for anyone – we see them as essential.”
The company will sometimes arrange for an individual to have external careers coaching, but mostly it tries to ensure its line managers are trained to have career-based discussions.
Introverts at Inspire also know they are working for a company that does not want to pigeonhole them into one role, especially in the early stages of their career.
“Regardless of their job title, everyone gets a breadth of experience. This could be doing some accounts work if they are normally focused on auditing. Opportunities for development will happen regardless, and in time individuals will develop an area of expertise, and progress.”
Your personal brand is how others perceive you – and how you perceive yourself. How can it work for you?
Boosting your personal brand is not about blowing your own trumpet but being aware of the positive and negative signals you are giving out to colleagues and potential employers.
How people view the way you look and behave and their understanding of you as a person can have an impact at job interviews, appraisals and whether you are asked to work on specific projects or with certain clients.
It is worth taking time to think about the feedback you have had and what you can change. There might be a perception that you are not a team player or that your time management skills are poor, for example. Maybe you are viewed as scruffy or argumentative?
According to James Abbott, Director at accountancy firm Abbott Moore based in Bedfordshire, your personal brand is all you have to survive role changes, career breaks and moves between employers.
He offers some top tips for accountants:
• Be known as someone who will do what they say they will do
• Volunteer and put your hand up to help your boss, your colleagues and those that work for you. Don’t be a walkover and remember this is a team game
• Remember that your personal brand can be built outside of work too. How you are perceived socially can impact on your professional brand
• Be known as someone who knows people. Build a network of trusted individuals who can help your contacts even if you can’t
• Have something in your life other than work. Accountants aren’t known for being interesting, prove them all wrong by having outside interests
Social media is helpful too when building your personal brand.
Matt Baldwin, Managing Director at PR company Coast Communications, works with accountancy firms and individuals within them to discover future leaders and support rising stars.
“Many people are not aware of their personal brand, but there are things anyone can do to improve theirs,” he said. “This includes networking effectively online, writing blogs or hosting webinars. Confidence comes from reminding yourself of your expertise and finding ways to share that knowledge to boost your brand.”
Steve Hemsley Is a journalist, media trainer, and podcast presenter. .