I started a customer service role at IMAIPL® (Institute of Management Accountants India Private Limited) in 2010, which gave me an understanding of the products and services that the organization offers our members. This helped me immensely during my career progression, which included a shift to the operations team in 2014.
Customer service specialists serve in one of the most important functions, as they’re the first point of contact with clients or members. All the work carried out by the other departments would be wasted if customers or members don’t have a good experience. Certification candidates make a huge investment of time in preparing for the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam, trusting that earning the credential will make a positive difference in their career. Even though I’m no longer in member services, a few members still reach out to me to this day with questions or for support; that illustrates the level of trust and the strength of the relationships I built working in customer service.
Moving from customer service to sales and marketing was an easy transition. I understood customers’ wants and needs because I had been talking to them and exchanging emails with them every day, which gave me the confidence to go out to the market as a representative of the business development team. I was responsible for developing and cultivating relationships with course providers in my sales and marketing role, and many times course providers shared concerns or issues raised by certification candidates. My customer service experience helped me to provide them with a solution, which in turn helped me to build stronger relationships and trust within the course provider network.
I was responsible for most tasks in the Middle East region, including marketing, public relations, business development, global promotions, retention campaigns, chapter formation, regional conferences, corporate events, student case competitions, and local office finance. Working cross-functionally helped me to move seamlessly into an operations role at IMAIPL.
Lessons for Early-Career Professionals
I recommend that early-career professionals work on different roles and teams to increase their versatility, figure out what type of work they’re most drawn to, and build a diverse skill set. It typically takes at least three to five years to identify one’s career path and primary areas of interest. Once you identify your preferred role or department, then get specialized training by taking courses and pursuing certifications to set yourself apart as a candidate in a highly competitive marketplace.
You need to be passionate about the work you do and execute your role with 100% commitment. Don’t do anything halfheartedly. Try different roles and be open to new experiences. Never be afraid of failure. If you’re committed to a particular career path, then view every failure or setback as a learning opportunity and turn it to your advantage. Be proud that you at least gave it a try.
Stick to your commitments and be ethical, both within the organization and with your clients and members. Earning a reputation of trustworthiness and integrity plays a very important role during the career journey. Keep learning new things, whether it be work related or not. Maintain a good work-life balance and healthy lifestyle; health should always be your top priority.
Identify and Close Skills Gaps
The best method for identifying skills gaps is self-awareness; no one knows you better than you. You know what you’re good at and where you lack skills and knowledge. Managers, coworkers, and family members can help to identify skill gaps but typically only when you initiate an open discussion with them.
When I started working for IMAIPL in 2010, I had no knowledge about professional associations or non-for-profit organizations, but—eager to learn—I pursued training and continuing professional education opportunities. I had a discussion with my boss, who suggested the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) course “Principles of Association Management,” which helped me immensely. I’ve since taken many other courses to improve my knowledge.
Having skills and knowledge beyond the basic requirements of your current role can provide a professional advantage. Identify the in-demand skills for the roles you aspire to. Professional development courses and certification programs can help to expand your skills and learn new subject matter. Become a member of professional associations and attend their events to network and gain insights from industry leaders.
Being self-aware of skills gaps and educating yourself about what’s going on in your chosen profession and your organization’s industry remain the topmost priorities to thrive in your career. Be ready to accept changes wrought by technology and other factors and adapt to them by acquiring new skills. Practice your new skills, apply lessons learned, assess your progress, and identify areas where you have improved and need to improve further. Finally, consider participating in a mentor/mentee program to get another experienced perspective helping to evaluate yourself in each stage of your professional development.