The Best Kept Secret to Advance Your Career
By Patrick Tam, CMA®, CPA, Member of IMA® Young Professionals Advisory Committee, Manager, Financial Planning and Analysis at Property Casualty Insurance Industry, Creator of The Constant Analyst Blog 
As young professionals, we’re always looking for new opportunities to grow and improve our budding careers. Some of us are fortunate to work for companies that offer opportunities where we can take on additional responsibilities. However, for those of us who do not work for these types of companies, we have to look outside our office walls to find opportunities that give us a chance to separate ourselves from the pack.
One differentiator is a professional certification, such as an MBA, CMA, or CPA. An additional opportunity, and one that is often overlooked, is being a volunteer leader within a professional organization.
The ability to develop leadership skills is the key to long-term success in any career field. If you can’t work well with others or motivate team members to achieve results, then you will ultimately reach a ceiling in your career – even if you have top academic credentials.
Volunteer leadership opportunities within professional organizations are an invaluable resource for young professionals for many reasons. These opportunities allow individuals to test out and develop leadership skills in a safe environment. Young pros can try new things and ideas, and if they don’t work out, will be able to learn from the experience without worry and stress of potentially risking their job. Leadership lessons are best learned first-hand, and volunteering with a professional organization is a great place to start.
Volunteer leadership involves working with a group of leaders to collectively make decisions. This type of collaborative decision-making is vastly different from most companies, where decisions are often handed down from the top. Because collaborative decision-making depends on developing consensus as a group, this type of experience can provide great insight into how to navigate politics in the corporate world.
With a number of opinions being brought to the table, the prospect of gaining a consensus can be a challenge. Therefore, to achieve results, you will need to practice the art of compromise. This can be very difficult, especially when surrounded by professionals who are passionate about their work and ideas.
Knowing how and when to compromise in order to build consensus is an important skill to master as you advance in management roles. The earlier you can begin to practice your collaboration skills and learn how to get buy-in from co-workers, the better off you will be in the long run.
Collaborative decision-making also means that as a contributor, you will have a unique opportunity to impact the organization. By being a part of the decision-making team, you can propose and develop your thoughts with those around you to refine them before putting them into action. This can be very helpful for young leaders looking to build confidence in their ability to speak up and share their ideas.
Diversification of Experience
Every challenge you face, environment you work in, and relationship you build helps create depth and perspective. If you’ve worked for the same company for several years, you can probably see how the company’s culture has shaped your approach to work. Leadership experience outside your organization helps you maintain an objective perspective by giving you insight into how internal issues may be affecting your company and impeding your progress.
Diversification is also important in the relationships you build. Working with the same people day-in and day-out at work can narrow your perspective and limit your contacts over time. Gaining experience with different types of personalities and management styles enriches your overall perspective. Unlike working with those in your company, many professional organizations are composed of members across a variety of industries. This diversity brings a rich variety of opinions and perspectives on business and leadership that is valuable to learn from.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you to seek out a professional organization to become involved with. For me, volunteering for a board position at my local IMA Chapter led me to create my blog and landed me a spot on the IMA Young Professionals Advisory Committee. Chances are that the organization you choose will be more than willing to let you become immersed in leadership opportunities, especially since you are an energetic young professional with fresh ideas. I hope you take advantage of these opportunities, because you never know where they may lead you.