How to be indispensable at work

Although we are starting to see the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel and may soon be able to return to the office, we are facing a tight job market. In this article, we look at how you can become indispensable in your existing role or prepare for a new one while working remotely.

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on accountants. It’s likely you’ve had to tackle a range of new demands, including an increase in your workload and unfamiliar tasks (such as helping access emergency funding or managing furlough), all while working remotely. 

As businesses strive to handle what they see as more pressing issues, for many, learning and upskilling has been put on the back-burner for now. 

However, it’s now more important than ever to stay relevant and valuable – whether you are looking to demonstrate your ongoing value, take on new responsibilities within your company, or find a new role in a tightened job market. 

We have gathered some helpful advice from recruiters, HR professionals and accounting careers advisers on how you can accelerate your career in the current working environment. 

Demonstrate your ongoing value 

If you are looking to stay in your current role, there are still many opportunities to develop and improve, explains Carol McLachlan, chartered accountant and founder of career coaching consultancy, 

“Think beyond the technical tasks you can do,” she says. “With any accounting qualification, the technical skills are taken for granted, it’s what you can do with those skills.” 

“Leverage your current job and get the most out of the opportunity you have at  the moment by doing a skills audit and figuring out where you have skills gaps. Similarly, you can try out some other things. If you are taking a risk and trying to adopt new skills, it’s actually better to do that in the security of a current job, rather than over-stretching for a new one.” 

As finance teams (like other departments) shrink, some more senior-level skills are now required in more junior roles. This is something Natasha Kearslake, director at HR consultancy Organic P&O Solutions has noted – particularly around communication skills. 

“[Accountants] can’t be passive,” she says. “The challenge is getting the information that they need out of people that they can’t readily observe.” 

Tom Wood, recruitment consultant at Morgan McKinley, agrees. “Over the past few years, accountants have had to be more outgoing and commercial,” he says. “That’s become more important since the pandemic hit, as it’s even harder to build client relationships as an accountant when there’s no face-to-face interaction.” 

Tips for demonstrating value

  • Create a working document of your skills, expertise and experiences. 
  • Do an audit of your skills and figure out where you have gaps. 
  • Set up regular calls with your line manager to establish clear lines of communication to gain all the information you need. 
  • Take advantage of the security in your current role to learn new skills and grow your knowledge. 

Taking on new responsibilities 

The most obvious impact of Covid-19 on jobs for many accountants has been assuming new and additional responsibilities in their work. This can be sudden and place greater demand, not just on time and resources, but on skills, too. 

If you feel overwhelmed by your new responsibilities, it’s important that you reach out and ask for help. Communicate regularly and proactively with colleagues, Carol explains, and feel comfortable asking for help. 

On the flipside, if you notice that your teammates are having trouble with new tasks or struggling to keep up with their workload, offer to help them out if you can – or even just lend an ear for them to talk to. 

“There needs to be a lot of touch-points and creation of that trust so you can ask questions, but by the same token, I’ve come across a lot of people who feel isolated,” she says. “That’s what you really have to overcome.” 

Although it may not feel like it when you are overloaded with work, having increased job responsibility is not a bad thing – pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and taking on new and additional tasks is a great way to help you grow faster in your role. 

However, while taking on additional responsibilities is great for your career, if you have too much work on your plate, the quality of your work can start to suffer. Being too busy at work can also begin to affect your relationships and commitments outside of work as well. Make sure you regularly consider whether you are still performing your main duties to a high standard. 

Tips for taking on new responsibilities

  • Get clarity on exactly what your additional responsibilities entail to ensure you are able to deliver on them. 
  • Consider whether your new responsibilities detract from the core responsibilities of your role and compromise your ability to deliver a high standard of work. 
  • Communicate regularly and proactively with colleagues, and ask for help if you feel a little overwhelmed. 
  • Approach a senior colleague and ask them to act as a mentor for you, to help with development in your role and career. 

Finding a new role  

While the job market has tightened recently, the profile of candidates sought has also changed. Specialist recruiter Robert Half has observed high demand for candidates with the financial modelling, data analysis and forecasting experience required to help guide business strategy. The firm has also noted an increase in demand for technically-savvy candidates with soft skills. 

Tom warns that accounting firms “are being more picky” when hiring, partly “because they know they can be”, but also because it’s harder for them to provide training to new hires. 

“They need to be even more trusting that someone knows what they are talking about,” he explains. “Particularly in the current market, not only do you have to be good in-person, you have to be as technically strong as you can, because it’s more difficult [for employers] to onboard someone when you can’t physically meet them.” 

To overcome this, ensure your soft skills are strong and make the most of CPD. “I get the sense that a lot of accountants don’t utilise all the training and CPD open to them,” Tom notes. “I’d urge accountants looking for work to do everything they can to make sure they’re technically up-to-date, and to improve their soft skills. When it comes to an interview, if a candidate says, ‘I’ve been doing CPD through AAT’, it shows that you’re up-to-date, and you’ve got a good attitude to better yourself.” 

Natasha adds that emotional intelligence, communication skills, the ability to manage a workload well and organisational skills have all become of greater importance. “These were all desirable traits previously, but they have now become essential.”  

Tips for finding a new role

  • Ensure you keep up-to-date with CPD to keep your technical skills sharp – AAT’s Lifelong Learning Portal is helpful for this. 
  • Don’t forget to work on your soft skills. 
  • Make sure your CV is up-to-date, clear and most importantly, relevant for the job you are applying for. Highlight your recent experiences, skills and responsibilities you have taken on. 
  • Update your LinkedIn profile and remember to upload a professional picture. 

Why CPD is important

Whichever direction you are looking to take in your career, keeping up-to-date with your continuing professional development (CPD) will help you remain relevant and overcome short-term hurdles. 

Keeping abreast of CPD and similar personal development endeavours helps maintain learning and performance, explains Carol McLachlan, chartered accountant and founder of career coaching consultancy, 

“It keeps the cogs turning,” she says. “It has to be rounded and it has to be continuing professional education in its broadest sense. It needs to cover things like problem-solving in a virtual environment, for example.” 

It’s key for accountants to avoid the trap of treating virtual and in-person working as binary opposites, she adds. 

“There are shades of grey, where you would do things exactly the same online as you would in the office. Equally, you shouldn’t assume that everything translates to the other environment as well.” 

Further reading:

Hannah Dolan is AAT Comment’s Content Editor.

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