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How a 'Career Idol' Can Help You Get Ahead

By Robert Half International
Robert Half International

If you're just beginning your career in accounting and finance, the first few weeks on the job can be both baffling and intimidating. One of the best ways to put you at ease is to find a "career idol."

While new employees are usually well-prepared for the technical requirements of a job, they often have questions about office life. For example, you may be wondering how long you'll have to wait before you apply for a promotion or whether you'll be able to get along with your new coworkers. Or you may be more concerned about details, such as: What should I wear on casual Fridays? How should I answer my phone? What do other employees do for lunch?

One of the best ways to find answers to all of your questions is to look for a "career idol," an employee at your new firm who is obviously successful and well-respected. By observing and emulating this role model, you'll be able to navigate your first few weeks and months successfully, as well as acquire skills that can help you as you move forward in your career.

What to Look For

Your organization may set you up with a mentor who can act as a role model, but formal mentoring programs for new employees are not universally available. In a recent Robert Half International survey, 58 percent of chief financial officers surveyed said that it is "not at all common" for new hires in their organizations to be matched with mentors; only 13 percent said the practice was "very common."

Chances are, you'll have to find your own career idol. Here are some qualities to look for:

* Leadership success. Look for a role model who not only has outstanding accounting skills but can also motivate others to achieve their best. In most cases, this will be someone who has been in the organization for a number of years and has excelled in a variety of management positions.

* Peer respect. To whom do other employees turn when they have questions or need help with a project? Often those known as "go to" people make good career idols.

* Irreproachable ethics. In today's world of increasing scrutiny of financial reporting and internal control processes, having strong business ethics is more important than ever. Look for a role model who has attained a respected position without bending the rules or mistreating others.

* Someone like you. Psychologists report that role models are most effective when others identify closely with them. That may mean choosing someone of your ethnic background or gender to be your career idol or someone who shares your goals and values.

What to Watch

Once you've identified a worthy role model, you can tap into his or her experience by asking questions or setting up meetings for longer discussions. But one of the most effective learning techniques is simply to observe what your career idol does and adopt some of the same approaches.

What types of behavior should you watch and emulate? Here are some suggestions to get you started:

* Time management skills. Do your role models stay late at the office? Arrive early? Do they make "to do" lists? How often do they check e-mail? Take note of any habits that seem to help your career idols make the best use of time.

* Workplace etiquette. If you're wondering whether it's OK to knock on the boss's door or what you should say when answering the phone, follow your role model's lead. Career idols can also provide a good example of when to speak up during meetings and when to keep your mouth closed.

* Unspoken 'rules.' Every workplace has its own set of idiosyncrasies. For example, all reports may use a particular font, or computer files may be named in a certain way. Here again, you can determine which approaches are important to emulate by studying the habits and work products of your career idol. Paying careful attention to these sorts of details can help you fit in more quickly.

* Interpersonal skills. Watch to see how your career idols interact with those who are higher, lower, or on the same level in the organizational chart. Whom do they address by first name? How much time do they spend discussing non-work-related subjects? When do they offer to help coworkers with projects? The quality of your interpersonal skills can have as large an impact on your career as the quality of your accounting skills, so pay attention to the personal style that helps your role models gain the respect of their fellow employees.

* The way to the top. Different organizations value and reward certain types of behavior more than others. For example, at some offices you won't be promoted unless you've earned a particular credential, while at other offices only those who work long hours get ahead. Since your career idol has been in the company for a while, he or she can guide you toward the activities most likely to earn promotions and salary increases.

Robert Half International was founded in 1948 and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Its financial staffing divisions include Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources, for temporary, full-time and senior-level project professionals, respectively.? The company has more than 360 staffing locations in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services on its divisional websites, all of which can be accessed at

Founded in 1948, Robert Half Finance & Accounting, a division of Robert Half International Inc., the world's largest specialized financial recruiting service and a leading authority on workplace and management trends. The company has more than 350 offices throughout North America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region. Learn more at

Copyright 2008 Robert Half International. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.

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