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Vikram Rajan
 

Branding Your CPA Career

Three successful strategies show you how.

December 17, 2009
by Vikram Rajan

Certified Public Accountants are in demand especially during tax season. Unfortunately, sometimes accountants are regarded as a “dime a dozen” commodity (like white bread). Unless you fortify what’s come to be known as your ‘personal brand’, you may find yourself ebbing as the flow slows.

CPAs are already subject-matter experts. The implication, however, is that you are no better than any other CPA. Of course, this need not be the case. To command higher pay, greater responsibility and visible leadership you must distinguish yourself from your peers.

You can do so using these three strategies. While are not mutually exclusive, these strategies reinforce each other.

  1. Technical Specialization. New CPAs generally begin as generalists. Depending on the firm, your technical responsibilities may be varied or focused. What is your (future) employer looking for? What can you offer them?

    The best interviews are conversations; you should ask pertinent questions. Your first round of inquiry should be around technical subjects. Are they looking for you to have experience in any one area of accounting? During tax season, all hands are on deck; your specialization may not be their top concern.

    Will there be an opportunity to develop technical focus? Express your desire to do so anyhow it benefits the employer: By nurturing specialists, the strength, productivity and thus reputation, of the organization can grow. You will become a more visible player on the team as a specialist. As the go-to CPA, you will assume more leadership responsibilities. Eventually the title and pay will catch up.

    If you are a seasoned CPA, then focus your résumé on any technical specialization. Even with varied experience, you can cull a cluster of years dedicated to one area of accounting over another. Your résumé can even be arranged by areas of focus. As you brand yourself around your expertise, you set yourself apart.
  2. Industry Understanding. Very often, technical expertise goes hand-in-hand with the nuance of a particular industry. Think about the unique concerns of accounting for retailers versus construction projects. While technical expertise focuses on areas of accounting, industry understanding shows off your client insight.

    Second only to conversational interviews are case-based interviews, in which you showcase your achievements through actual scenarios. As you mention specific types of client projects (problems or needs), you should discuss the subtle or glaring differences between industries and within the industry. For example, accounting within restaurants can vary if it’s a small independent or a multistate chain.

    Industry understanding, remember, isn’t really about your accounting knowledge. It’s being able to speak to the lingo, standards and culture of the client. If you know them the best, you avail yourself to interfacing with (more) clients. As the face of the firm, you are its brand. Your people skills, thus, are paramount.

    As a seasoned accountant on an interview, you should bring out your client-interface experience. Through specific anecdotes, you can share the industry’s peculiarities. Your personal insight will distinguish you from other CPAs.
  3. Professional Leadership. There are three ways to grow your personal brand through professional leadership. It is honorable to be involved in civic and charity organizations. As you take initiative, you will be invited to become a leader on the nonprofit’s board. CPAs are often asked to be the Treasurer of the Board, fundraising chair or comparable financial role.

    Charitable endeavors should be highlighted on your résumé. Volunteering can speak to your personal values, interests and work ethic. Of course, it may not increase your technical expertise or bring in new business. The other two forms of professional leadership may be more valuable for your employer.

    Leadership within the accounting world increases your personal brand and the firm’s prominence. As you become active in the AICPA (and/or your state society), you can organize, educate and write on the committee’s or program’s areas of interest. You will develop valuable relationships that can progress your career in the long run and increase your employer’s visibility in the short-term. Professional involvement can help you hone your technical specialization.

    To further your industry understanding, you should become active in its trade associations. Like the AICPA, every profession has (multiple) organizations that educate and network its members. Start introducing yourself at local chapter meetings. As they get to know you, you will naturally be asked to share your accounting expertise, especially as it relates to their industry. Again, your speaking and writing will further your personal brand and your employer’s visibility.

Conclusion

Whether you are looking to advance your career beyond your current employer, or within your current firm, you can further your personal brand with these three strategies. Technical specialization often lends itself to understanding industry nuances. Likewise, you can capitalize on your industry experience (and advance it), through your professional leadership. As you focus your résumé on these three key areas, you will distinguish yourself as a remarkable CPA.

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Vikram Rajan is a Practice Marketing Advisor™ with CoGrow. Rajan’s clients range from solo CPAs to small firms. He helps managing partners and their associates implement Marketing Action Plans, within professional codes of ethics and compliance obligations. You can read more at PracticeMarketingBLOG.com.