How to Find the Right Accounting Mentor to Boost Your CPA Career
Mentoring newer CPA candidates and CPAs is recognized by many organizations and businesses as a means of improving job skills, building employee confidence, increasing company loyalty and providing both short-term and long-term career counseling.
The Undeniable Importance of Accounting Mentors
As reported in Accounting Web, “86 percent of the more than 2,200 CFOs surveyed said having a mentor is somewhat or very important for career development.” However, only about 26% of professionals have a mentor, indicating that many firms are not developing supportive inhouse mentorship programs, and many potential mentees “still find the prospect of asking someone to be their mentor too overwhelming.”
The AICPA has developed guidelines for companies to use to establish mentoring programs, with a focus on one-on-one mentoring. The guidelines explain the responsibilities of both mentors and mentees plus the importance of managerial “buy-in.” Clearly outlined expectations, periodic reviews plus open, professional communication are the framework for an inspiring mentoring program, but the process of connecting mentors and mentees is key to its success.
Finding the Right Combination of Goals & Experience
Bill Driscoll, a district president of Accountemps, stated in Accounting Web, “To find the perfect mentor, you need to take an inventory of your career goals and aspirations, your strengths and deficiencies, and the skill sets, behaviors, or even work styles you’d like to emulate.” A mentor inside the organization can provide guidance on company policies and procedures and how to “navigate the nuances of your particular firm,” whereas a mentor from outside the organization can be a neutral sounding board, providing “long-range, independent advice.”
Having both types of mentors at different points of career growth can be highly beneficial.
How to Network & Gain Exposure to Influential Groups
The AICPA advises those looking for mentors to gain visibility via trade groups, volunteer opportunities, activities in committees and other professional organizations. These contacts can establish relationships that can open the door for mentorships, but be prepared to “stick it out,” as these connections may take time to develop. Not only is being willing to reach out important to establishing a mentoring relationship, but equally important is being willing to graciously accept “no” for an answer. If your request is declined for whatever reason, “Be bold and ask them to recommend another mentor.”
Additionally, if the mentoring relationship isn’t working out for you, “don’t be afraid to change mentors or have more than one.”
Cross Country Connections: Using Digital Technologies to Communicate With Top Mentors
Choosing a mentor doesn’t need to be limited to only professionals in your locale. The Journal of Accountancy explains the highlights of the AICPA’s Online Mentoring Program which works to connect newer professionals with role models who have already successfully navigated the path that the mentee is taking. To make best use of these telephone mentoring sessions, “all of the participants recommend that mentees come to the conversation with questions or an agenda.” Research and preparation before a call, taking notes during the conversations and sticking to an agenda allow for focused, meaningful exchanges and the ability to set and meet realistic goals.
The AICPA’s program “matches volunteer mentors and mentees with similar backgrounds and enables them to work together online or over the phone.” One participant noted, “It was very helpful to get advice from someone who’s faced the decisions I’m facing.”
How to Ask Someone to Be Your Mentor
“Once you have your sights set on a mentor, ask for guidance,” says Driscoll.“Keep your request uncomplicated and straightforward. Mention that you’re impressed by his experience and you’d love the opportunity to learn from him. Explain your career goals and which skills you’re most interested in developing.”
How to Establish & Maintain the Mentoring Relationship:
- Discuss skills and techniques the mentor has accomplished that you want to gain.
- Establish the frequency for communications.
- Whether you meet in person, on the phone or by email, keep in touch regularly.
- Show your gratitude and tell your mentor how you applied his or her advice and what successes you achieved.
- If possible, help your mentor by sharing insights you’ve gained and, if appropriate, recommend him or her for advancements and promotions.