3 Steps Every Millennial Should Take to Advance Their Career in Finance

Posted Date  22/05/2017

Compared to previous generations, millennials expect bigger jumps in compensation and are more likely to job hop (See below)

If you’re a millennial in accounting or finance, you’re probably weighing external opportunities against opportunities for advancement within your current organization. It is important to proactively assess the marketability of your skills and experience, but before you decide the grass is greener elsewhere, take advantage of the opportunity to evaluate (and make the most of) what’s possible internally.

To do so, millennials in finance and accounting should do three things:

  1. Discuss external, not just internal, career opportunities with their managers
  2. Seek targeted development opportunities to close leadership competency gaps
  3. Go above and beyond by offering to lead projects that capitalize on their strengths

Discuss external and internal career opportunities

Your manager may already assume you’re a “job-hopper,” simply because of your age. When she was in your shoes, career paths resembled ladders, and finance employees “paid their dues” by putting in a certain number of years at each rung. But the flatter organizational structures that formed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis are here to stay, and career progression through promotions is more difficult to achieve today.

To help your manager see things from your point of view, discuss both internal and external career options. For example, get clarity on the likelihood of advancement at your current company by discussing upcoming vacancies, how your profile compares to role requirements, and the anticipated time frame until your next career move. Don’t be afraid to discuss external compensation information like the market value of specific skills and experiences that you either have or would like to develop.

If you look at your career options holistically with your manager, they will better understand how your job responsibilities, competencies, and compensation compare to peers at other organizations. With this knowledge, your manager can help focus your efforts on high-value activities like improving inter-company accounting processes, and highly-marketable skills like EBITDA leakage analysis. As a result, you will provide more value to the organization, while also developing sought-after skills.

Seek targeted development opportunities to close leadership competency gaps

Millennials have a different leadership profile than previous generations, and tend to score lower in the following four competency areas: adapting and coping, supporting and cooperating, organizing and executing, and creating interdependence (See Below)

Before attempting to move into a leadership role on your finance team, have an honest conversation with your manager to identify the key leadership competency gaps you need to address. Supplement this discussion with your own personal reflections and feedback from peers, coaches, and mentors.

Once you’ve identified your critical leadership gaps, work with your manager to design a tailored development plan. Keep in mind that experiential learning is more effective than traditional training courses, and make it easier on your manager by proactively suggesting development opportunities. For example, if you’re working on improving your ability to create interdependence (i.e., identifying groups that impact your goals or whose goals you impact, and working across siloes to accomplish shared objectives), propose a rotation on a team whose workflow impacts yours (see below)


You may not have visibility into the work being done in other parts of the business, or into initiatives that would be a good fit. However, if you own your development plan and proactively discuss the types of experiential learning opportunities you need, it will help your manager connect you to the right development experiences. 

Go above and beyond by offering to lead projects that capitalize on your strengths

As a millennial in finance, you also have a unique set of strengths compared to other generations on your team. Typically, millennials stand out in the following areas: analyzing and interpreting, creating and conceptualizing, and building a network.

Use the same techniques as above (self-reflection, and 360o feedback) to identify the unique strengths you bring to the table, and then help your manager see how these strongpoints complement the skills and experiences on your team. Think of specific challenges facing your manager or your team, and discuss how you could use your strengths to address them.

For example, if your strength is analyzing and interpreting, offer to pilot new technologies, or to coach peers on new analytic techniques. If you’re particularly adept at creating and conceptualizing, propose new ways to diseminate financial information. Ask your manager to give you an opportunity to solve complex problems like reducing the Effective Tax Rate while remaining compliant and demonstrating social responsibility. If you’re a gifted network-builder, help your manager attract new finance talent, or seek out a rotation to improve your team’s knowledge of the business.

Discussing your unique strengths and proactively offering to use them to help with specific projects outside of your day-to-day responsibilities will signal to your manager that you are ready to take on more challenging work. Successfully leading projects that capitalize on your strengths will help you stand out compared to your peers, and depending on the project, lead to more exposure to senior leaders.

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