From Changing Industries and Offices to Becoming a Mother: Tips From My 13 Years at 1 Company

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Emily Courter. Photo courtesy of KPMG.

Emily Courter. Photo courtesy of KPMG.

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Fairygodboss
May 29, 2024 at 4:47PM UTC

Emily Courter’s 13-year career at KPMG has been an exciting one. She started her career in Baltimore, MD, before marrying an officer in the U.S. Army and beginning a series of transfers to several offices as her husband was assigned to new duty stations. During this time, she gained leadership skills, learned new industries, and became a working mother. She’s also spent the last six months figuring out life as a family of four.

Now, as an Audit Managing Director (a role she was promoted to while on maternity leave!), Courter reflects back on the journey she took to get here — and a core theme within her journey: people. “I would not be where I am today in my career without the people surrounding me,” shares Courter. “I have built a great Board of Directors that take interest in my career and help me succeed. And I met most of those individuals at KPMG. I am so grateful to each mentor, peer, and friend for their advice, guidance, and camaraderie.”

What about the other key factors in her continued success? Outside of her network, Courter notes that her drive to learn and improve has helped her grow, no matter the circumstances. “Additionally, relocating to new offices several times over my career has broadened my industry knowledge and provided many opportunities,” she states. 

KPMG, too, has supported Courter throughout her journey. “Our career paths in Audit at KPMG have a lot of structure and set promotion timelines,” explains Courter. “Generally, if you are meeting the expectations of your role and demonstrating that you can take on the responsibilities of the next role, then you are promoted. A key piece to my career advancement is this set path for promotion.” 

From growing a career, to becoming a leader, to how to move between teams and industries with grace, to finding balance as a parent — Courter has done it all. And, today, she’s sharing her story and best advice with you!

To begin, you’ve transferred to many different offices over your career with KPMG. How have you managed to readjust and continue to grow your career while moving locations?

Before the moving begins, my husband and I work together to figure out which of his duty stations would also work with my career. One major advantage to working for a large accounting firm is that there are offices all over the country. So, we would map out the closest KPMG office to each Army Base on his job list and rank his preferences based on criteria for both of our careers. Then, once he received orders, I would talk with leaders, mentors, peers, and others to find connections in the new office and start networking! 

Having an open mind about new opportunities that arise with each move was and continues to be very important to my career growth. I also have had to adjust my expectations. I know that I can figure out the new job/role/etc, but I'm unfamiliar to the people in my new office. That may affect the opportunities I am offered right away, but I know that it just takes time to build a rapport and establish connections that will help me succeed.

Do you have any advice for other military spouses in similar situations?

Be flexible — no one’s career follows a linear path, and what you want is not always available right now. I’m pretty sure all of us know this because Military spouses are some of the most resourceful, patient people I have ever met, but it's always a good reminder. Also, I suggest reading the book Range by David Epstein, which can help military spouses feel empowered to use their wide range of skills in any career to which they aspire.

Part of your career growth has involved being tasked with learning about a new industry while on the job. How have you done this?

I ask a lot of questions and do a fair bit of reading. One helpful aspect of my job is that audits usually have prior year files that document the audit team’s understanding of the client and their industry. That was always a great place to start in a new industry. I also seek out individuals with industry knowledge and ask their advice or guidance in areas where I am unfamiliar.   

Outside of Audit, you’ve also served in a variety of leadership positions such as being a National Instructor. What about leadership do you like?

I love energizing and inspiring others. As a National Instructor, I had the arduous task of getting young professionals to engage in a classroom setting and helping them learn seemingly dull technical content. I took it as a win when my students started participating without a lot of prompting from me. I have also served as a leader on my audit engagement teams. Helping my team members learn and reach their own professional goals is another aspect of leadership I have always enjoyed.

What are your top pieces of advice for others who are looking to move into leadership roles?

  1. You can start working on your leadership skills at any time. I began leading others on my team two years into my career. While I didn’t think I was ready for any leadership in year two, taking on gradual roles over time has helped me hone a lot of my leadership skills.

  2. Look for opportunities that will help you get leadership roles you want. Building a resume of experience helps to prepare you for those next steps.

  3. Observe and take inventory of the different types of leaders you have worked with to help you determine aspects to which you aspire and others you want to avoid.

  4. Ask for the new leadership role, and if you get turned down, ask again. Women aren’t always top of mind when a leadership role becomes available. It’s getting better, but reiterating with your bosses and mentors that you are interested in a role and capable of succeeding helps to change that mindset.

Moving on, as a new mom who is figuring out life as a family of four, what have you learned about being a working parent and finding work-life balance?

It's hard. Having a family has never been easy, and having a demanding career has never been easy. So, in putting the two together, I am constantly debating if I’m making the best choice in having both. Is the stress from my career taking away from my kids and husband? Is the distraction of my kids taking away from being productive at my job? Why am I so tired? The self-doubt goes on. 

I have learned that by removing the things that I don’t need to do (I finally hired someone to clean my house) or zap my energy (such as scrolling certain topics on social media), I can better focus on my kids when I’m with them and my job when I’m at work.

Is there anything about being a working parent that has surprised you?

How flexible I need to be in order to be both the mother and employee I want to be. Sometimes, the solution is suboptimal, but that’s what happens when you have several competing priorities and I have learned to be okay with that.

Throughout your career, how has KPMG supported you both in your career growth and in regards to your work-life balance as a mom and military spouse?

KPMG is a great place to work if you are a military spouse, mom, or both! I have found the local leaders in each office where I have worked to be supportive of me and my career, even though I’m only in each office for a few years. I have also worked several alternative work arrangements for KPMG when personal circumstances necessitated. Such arrangements included taking intermittent leaves of absence and telecommuting (which occurred pre-pandemic and was uncommon at the time). 

As a mom-to-be, KPMG has a great parental leave policy and several ways to support working mothers upon their return from maternity leave. Most of all, I have a great network of KPMG working parents that I am able to contact for advice and as a sounding board



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