Put Yourself to Work (Pay it Forward)

As published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

One of the things that can happen as you progress in your career is the feeling of a sense of distance from where it all started.  A few years in the corporate world can seem much longer, and as roles and responsibilities change and careers advance, it can be easy to forget what it was like back in the day, when you were sitting in that trench (oops; cubicle).  Wow; putting yourself to work, through things like professional development, volunteer opportunities, and workplace assignments, has really helped to move you forward from where you were just a few years ago.

Remember how frustrated you were when the “people at the top” didn’t seem to have any appreciation for the front line working folk?  “They don’t know how difficult it is down here!”  “It was so much easier to get ahead in their day.”  “I work like mad and no one seems to notice, much less appreciate, my efforts.”  Many people starting their careers and trying to get ahead have felt this way, and probably swore they would do things differently if given the chance.

Now that you are one of the “people at the top”, you have that chance; to take the put yourself to work attitude and pay it forward by creating the business environment that you always wanted to be a part of back when you were just starting out.  Remember that employer that you left behind because they didn’t create an environment that fostered achievement and career development?  Take a good look around and make sure that you are not contributing to creating a similar environment.  You can take steps to create a workplace that motivates staff members to perform at their best, stay engaged, and move forward.  How?  By putting yourself to work; this time, on the employer and leadership side of the equation.

Put Yourself to Work:  Pay it Forward

  • Be a learning organization: companies that encourage continuous learning through events such as workplace seminars and training not only keep their staff members up to speed, they also attract high performers who value this type of environment. Staying on top of industry, product and service, and regulatory developments not only makes good business sense, it also creates a shared responsibility to be in the know (just think, no more of that “it’s not my job to know about that” attitude).
  • Promote achievement through professional development programs: encouraging staff members to complete relevant designation programs and other types of courses and rewarding those who are successful is a great way to enhance your corporate knowledge base and motivate at the same time. Companies that fail to recognize the importance of professional development put their business at risk in terms of losing high potential staff members, as well as being less competitive in the marketplace.
  • Encourage meaningful workplace assignments: it’s often been said that education is only half of the mix, when it comes to becoming truly skilled in a particular area.  The other half of the equation is practical experience.  Workplace assignments can take the form of temporary responsibilities, special projects, cross training, and job rotation.  Whatever the approach, both the company and the staff member win: through enhanced skill, depth, and interest level.
  • Be a mentor: remember how it felt when a more senior person took an interest in you and your career development? You probably learned lessons through their experiences that you couldn’t have otherwise accessed at your current level of development.  Benefit from taking the time to be a mentor; you might just be surprised what you learn from your mentorship partner.
  • Encourage volunteerism, both internally and externally: it might be hard to believe, but there are actually people out there who don’t volunteer or even stop to think about the benefit of doing so. Translate this attitude into an organization and you can end up with a pretty uninspiring place.  Encouraging volunteerism, either through in-office campaigns or external postings not only motivates staff members, it also provides the opportunity to develop new skills, particularly in the area of leadership.  And one of the really great outcomes is that the company, the employee, and “the cause” all benefit

Congratulations, you made it!  You put yourself to work and made a number of promotions your own.  Now, you have the great privilege of creating an environment to put the next generation to work.  So, do it.

Put Yourself to Work (Volunteer Positions)

Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

One of the biggest challenges you might face when building your career is a plain old lack of experience.  Although you probably have taken lots of courses and have a great deal of education, in the business world, experience matters (in a huge way).  As seasoned business people will tell you, it takes years to gain the experience and professional judgement to successfully ascend the ranks, and perhaps more importantly, to know what to do when you get there.  As a result, junior level staff members are limited in terms of how far they can progress, as experience is required to effectively undertake the decision making and problem solving that is so critical in more senior roles.

When you’re in an entry or even mid-level position, it can be a challenge to have the opportunity to practice skills that are of a more managerial, decision making, or strategic nature.  Guess what?  You’re in luck!  There are many organizations that depend on volunteers to support their efforts, including board and committee members.  The benefit to you is that these types of opportunities can give you the chance to do things that you are not able to do in your current job, such as helping to plan and run events, serving on committees that analyze information and make recommendations on particular issues, or learning how a Board of Directors operates.

Volunteer positions represent a real opportunity to get involved and start increasing your knowledge, experience, and personal value.  Thus far in this series, we have considered the benefits of in-house seminars, training, & networking, professional development, work experience & assignments, and mentorship opportunities.  Here’s how to make the most of volunteer positions.

Volunteer positions

Although volunteer positions are a great way to make a contribution to your community, choose well and they can be the gift that keeps on giving.  But, in order to benefit, you have to get started.

Put yourself to work

  • Boards and committees provide the opportunity for gaining an excellent level of experience, but also involve a considerable amount of responsibility. This is not a bad thing, as long as you focus on getting involved with a strong organization that provides the real potential for getting a good level of experience (so, choose carefully!).
  • Start paying attention to the non-profit organizations in your community, as many make it known when they are seeking volunteers. Professional associations also represent a good volunteer opportunity.
  • Let others know that you have an interest in volunteering and approach organizations that are of interest to you.
  • It pays to do your due diligence before agreeing to serve; meet the principals of the organization, understand its state of affairs (including financial position), and the current issues and challenges. Inquire about Directors’ and Officers’ insurance, indemnities, and financial obligations.  Ask around to ensure that you would not be entering a “troubled organization”; if board member turnover is high, for example, there may be reason for concern.
  • Find out who else is on the particular board or committee, as it’s a good idea to surround yourself with experienced people who can transfer knowledge to others.
  • Be realistic about the amount of available time that you have and work within it. Over committing too often results in not being able to fulfill the role, and it’s better to make no impression than to make a bad impression.
  • Expect to start at an entry level (if you don’t have any previous experience), but hard work gets noticed and can create opportunities to move up to more senior roles.
  • Those with a business background (accounting, in particular) are valued for the ability to serve on Finance and Audit Committees. Given that this is typically an area of short supply, it’s a good way to get involved (and one of the easiest ways to learn about an organization is to start by understanding how and where the money flows).
  • Once you get involved, ensure that you fulfill your role well, through thorough preparation and thoughtful contribution to meetings. When you are getting started, it’s a good idea to listen carefully to become acquainted with the organization, instead of spending too much time talking.  Seek to impress, and offer to take on additional roles or tasks only once your initial responsibilities are fulfilled (and only if you have the time).
  • If things are not working out, trust your instincts and consider moving on. If you find yourself in this type of situation, it’s advisable to seek advice from someone with a good level of board experience who can assist you in making a professional exit.

Remember that the benefit to you is the opportunity to get the experience you need to move forward in your career.  It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t gained in your “day job”; what matters is that it’s on your resume and you did it!