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Why you should plan your finance career

By Mark Craddock. Published on 16 March 2016

Please note: A version of this article was originally written for the CIMA newsletter which is distributed to members at all stages of their careers.

As a specialist in finance executive search, I have been surprised by how many excellent finance professionals do not seem to have fulfilled their career potential. There may be many reasons for this, but I consider one key contributory factor to be that few people treat their careers as a project that needs to be planned and managed.

In this blog, I list six action points you can take to improve your chance of fulfilling your career ambitions.

Put together a long-term career plan

Most people wouldn’t begin a long-term project without putting together a plan with key dates and milestones. Yet few put this effort into their careers, arguably the most important professional project you will ever work on.

Have a clear idea of where you want to end up in your career and plan the steps in-between. So if you wish to become the FD of an SME or Director of FP&A for a FTSE 100, think about the roles and experience you will need to have attained to get there. Keep the plan flexible in case your priorities change and to allow for the occasional setback most careers have at some point.

Always think at least one step ahead

When you apply for roles always consider the role after next in your plan. Then look for a ‘bridging role’ that will develop the skills you need to get there. As an example, if you plan to be a Financial Controller in three years’ time, be sure you will be exposed to regulatory and compliance issues in the intervening period.

Naturally you should commit yourself fully to each position, but it is realistic to recognise you will move on at some point and to prepare for this.

Get involved in projects that will develop your skills and experience

Ideally you will get any development you need in your day-to-day role or via job rotation, management skills training and even coaching. Take up these opportunities whenever possible. Otherwise make it happen yourself by volunteering to lead or participate in corporate initiatives not directly aligned with your role.

Be careful, however, not to become too focused on projects unless this is a career path you wish to follow, or there is defined route back into mainstream finance.

Develop your soft skills

Financial qualifications such as CIMA are a prerequisite for many roles but they will not differentiate you from other holders of the same qualification.

It is the soft skills that separate the great from the good. Organisations are looking for people who can engage and lead a team and who can communicate financial issues with non-finance experts.

Ask tough questions

Job interviews are a two-way process in which the employer is selling to you the opportunity as much as you are selling your skillset and character. This is the best time to ask about how they will develop you, what opportunities are available within the organisation and the coaching skills of the person who will be your line manager.

Keep your CV in shape

As you can never be sure when the right opportunity will come along, it’s worth maintaining your CV, including any measurable achievements and professional development you have completed. It is important to customise your CV for each application, having an up-to-date version will give you time to focus on the role specific elements you wish to emphasise.

These six steps may seem simple, yet in my experience most people will not follow them. Taking the time to do so will not only give you the best chance of fulfilling your career aspirations but also ensures greater clarity on the suitability of your next role.

If you would like to discuss in further detail the initiatives you can take when planning the next step in your finance career please contact Mark Craddock on 01753 303 600 or email mark.craddock@etonbridgepartners.com

Mark Craddock


Mark leads the executive search CFO & Finance Practice at Eton Bridge Partners. His personal area of focus is handling retained mandates to recruit permanent CFOs and their direct reports across the UK, Europe, and increasingly globally.