You’re a CPA. Now What?
Recent YEPs Look Back and Give Advice Moving Forward
What Skill to Develop Next?
By Beth Attebery, CPA
As I studied for hundreds of hours for the CPA exams, I thought, “I am never taking another exam … ever.” Now that the exams are behind me, I find myself wondering, “What can I sign up for now?” As a newly licensed CPA, I feel like it’s expected that I suddenly know everything about tax law. I think most young CPAs feel this way. The truth is that no one will ever know everything, but that should not stop us from building our credentials. The question on my mind is what skill to develop next.
A master's degree in taxation feels like a natural next step. When I review bios of partners in firms, the designations behind their names do not stop at CPA. Almost all partners have either the MST or MSA designation as well, and these are often accompanied by MBA, ABV, CFE, CFF—the list goes on. So, is my next step to enroll in a masters program or do I focus on another, soft skill, that I feel is equally if not more important than having strong tax and accounting skills? I’m talking about developing sales skills.
When speaking with partners in firms, the question always arises: How big is your book of business? How many clients have you brought into the firm? If you don’t have clients to provide services to, do the strength of your technical skills matter as much? Should I join Toastmasters, join the local chamber of commerce, get involved in my college alumni association or become more active with CalCPA? I’ve heard about CPAs participating in all of these activities.
For me and other young professionals I think the answer is to go after both skill sets. If we want to be successful and truly competitive in our field, it’s necessary to have developed both technical and social skills.
Beth Attebery, CPAis a tax manager for Henry C. Levy & Co., CPAs & Consultants.
Why Building Your Network is a Significant Stage of Your Career
By Kristen Contreras
Young. Emerging. Professionals. Whether you are all three, or just one or two of these categories, you’re probably thinking only of the next steps: taking the CPA Exam, getting licensed and surviving the next busy season. These are exciting and changing times, and yet there is one important aspect of your career that you may be neglecting. Your professional network is a powerful tool: one that can ensure success. The best time to begin developing it is now!
One of these days you could very well be called upon to engage your network to advance your career. By starting now and taking small steps in the right direction, you can make this task an easy and an enjoyable one. Too often I hear from managers who are confused and unsure of how to proceed when confronted with the need to bring in new business, or to present a proposal to a new client. The most common complaint is that they were never prepared to be expected of such a thing, and that they have no idea how to even begin. A robust professional network will help you, both by making connections and by polishing your presence in the business world. Your involvement with any of CalCPA’s young and emerging professionals programs is an excellent first step toward building your future network.
Who can tell where your college pals and colleagues will end up five or 10 years? By staying in touch and focusing on your common interests, the arduous task of building your network will seem more like socializing than engineering your future. Keep this in mind as you navigate your way through your first years and you will find your network is a solid foundation that will be there for you when you need it most!
Kristen Contreras is the corporate controller at Bioness, Inc.
Finding Mentors, Sponsors, and More
By Travis Armstrong, CPA, CFE
During the recent CalCPA Emerging Leaders Certificate Program kick-off day in San Francisco, a question was posed to a panel of highly distinguished CPA professionals regarding mentors: “What role has mentoring played in your career? Do you think mentor-mentee relationships can be formalized or do they evolve naturally?”
All four panelists recalled specific individuals who were pivotal to their success, but two concepts in their responses really struck a chord with me.
The first was identifying someone that has the qualities, presence or another similar trait that you want, and engaging them as a mentor. One example involved asking the mentor, “Will you be my mentor?” This can be daunting, especially if you don’t personally know the individual, but chances are you will find the person is flattered to be asked and will likely help. The more important takeaway from this example was the idea of identifying someone that has what you want, or is where you want to be, and beginning to emulate that person. Focusing on the mentor’s strengths and experiences—things that you might be a little light on—will allow for improvement, while maintaining your personal individualities. It can be as simple as taking time to read their bio, exploring an article they have published or asking them to weigh in on a decision you are making.
The second concept was the idea of elevating your mentor into a sponsor. One panelist described a sponsor as going beyond just giving guidance to actively involved in promoting you—not promoting from staff to senior, but for activities that will develop and market your skills. For me, I recognized that a partner was willing to sponsor me when he suggested to an attorney we were working with that I—instead of him—assist in taking the deposition of the adverse party’s controller. Finding such a person willing to use their own reputation to build your personal brand is important to every young professional. So be on the lookout for people inside and outside your firm who may be capable of doing this.
I propose that—as young professionals—it’s just as important to locate mentors and engage sponsors as it is to be a mentor and a sponsor of those below you.
Travis P. Armstrong, CPA, CFE is a manager in the litigation and forensic consulting services group in the San Francisco office of Hemming Morse, LLP.
Not Just Another Bean Counter: Many Career Paths in Accounting
By Brenda Kahler, CPA
Every time I tell someone that I am a CPA, they say, “Oh, I hate math, I could never be a CPA.” Even though I’ve heard this response dozens of times, it always surprises me how little most people understand what it is that CPAs do. There are so many different career paths for CPAs, and very few of them involve advanced mathematics—at least, not many that Excel can’t handle! Moreover, there are so many possible mentors out there that can provide you with some insight into the variety this profession offers. There are so many options, you could:
- Be a public accountant. And even within that you can choose between tax or audit, and focus on numerous different industries or locations.
- Be a CPA in industry. From staff accountant all the way to CFO, all businesses need financial experts.
- Be a consultant. There are many issues for a CPA to add value to consulting projects to help companies address risks, improve processes or strategically structure their business to take advantage of tax incentives.
- Be a teacher. Good accounting professors are always in demand. CalCPA offers a doctoral scholarship for individuals pursuing a Ph.D. in accounting. And the AICPA Foundation also offers scholarships to those pursing a Ph.D. in accounting through the Accounting Doctoral Studies Program.
- Be an entrepreneur. Either with your own CPA practice or something unrelated to public accounting.
I recently put on a speed mentoring event to help those in their early careers decide where to go next on their career path. One of the things that struck me the most about the mentors is that almost none of them had a direct career path where they stayed at one company until they worked their way to the top. Most people early in their careers think that is what success looks like, but oftentimes you can find success in being open to trying new things. Don’t be afraid to fail—you just might find your dream job on the way!
Brenda Kahler, CPA is the controller at Business for Social Responsibility.
Keeping Track of the Intangibles
By A. Christine Davis, CPA/CFF, CVA
As new and soon-to-be CPAs, you have a lot to be proud of: you received the right education, passed one of the most rigorous professional examinations, gained the prescribed work experience for licensure and have figured out a plan to complete required CPE over your next renewal period. A great achievement, no doubt, and you know it!
Years ago, I knew this, too. But now, many years later, what I truly appreciate are the following lessons learned during my ongoing journey as a CPA—things you’re not tested on in the CPA exam, or not necessarily reflected in your periodic work appraisal, but will make a huge difference as you desire to move up.
- Have you thought about keeping track of your behavioral or core competencies? Examples are flexibility, integrity, honesty, good judgment, confidence, responsiveness, accountability and influence/leadership. Are you comfortable or willing to change course or adapt in response to situations or evolving priorities (flexibility)? Are you comfortable expressing your opinion under a challenging situation (confidence)? You should be if you believe in your opinion. Are integrity and honesty overarching drivers? As a litigation consultant, I’ve seen many allegations of professional malpractice where CPAs have had to defend their work in a litigation setting. Are you responsive to your clients and peers? As you progress in your career, monitor your progress in behavioral competencies as much as you monitor your technical competencies.
- Do you have a sponsor? A sponsor is much more than a mentor. According to the Harvard Business Review paper titled “Sponsorship Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling,” a sponsor is someone who “uses chips on my behalf,” and “advocates for my next promotion” and, in addition, will do a few other things, including “promote my visibility” and “expand my perception of what I can do.” This eye-opening HBR paper is particularly relevant to YEPs who are female.
Being a CPA is filled with continuous learning—and it’s about both professional and personal standards.
Christine Davis CPA/CFF, CVA is a forensic accountant and litigation consultant.
You're Just Getting Started
By Jeremy Boucher, CPA
The CPA Exam is cake. I only had to sit for REG twice, BEC three times and I passed FAR and AUD in my first go around—all in less than one sleepless year (and I wiped out my vacation). OK, so it’s not really cake at all.
Becoming a CPA is just the first step in starting your career: the foundation. So now what? Answer: You’re just getting started.
Here’s my advice on what to do once you earn those three letters following your name:
1. Seek mentors who have been exactly where you are now, but not necessarily where you think you’ll be in the future. Mentors provide perspective and keep you grounded. It’s easy to think the grass is greener on the other side, but mentors have been on the other side—and maybe back and forth a few time—and they can tell you how green it really is.
2. Find your bearing by understanding your personality. Try a DiSC Classic test
. This can be a good indication of the types of positions suitable for you.
3. Identify and develop skills necessary to achieve your career goals.
4. Educate yourself on the issues and trends in your industry and company. You don’t need to have all of the answers, but you should know the people who do.
5. Make your mark once you get to where you’re going. Don’t forget what you’ve learned along the way and those that have helped you to get there. In the words of singer Randy Travis, “It’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you. It’s what you leave behind you when you go.”
Now that I’ve lost everyone who hates country music: Congratulations, you’re a CPA! I hope you find great success in your career.
Jeremy Boucher, CPA is a senior audit associate at KPMG, LLP.
Choosing the Road of a CPA: Continuous Learning
By Gerardo Godinez, CPA
Robert Frost’s classic poem “The Road Not Taken” is widely interpreted as an expression of individualism. Two roads. One traveler. One choice. Seems pretty straightforward. At least it was when I first read it in high school. Fast forward 15 years and I am able to interpret the poem with deeper insight within the context of my CPA career.
Frost describes the two roads to the point where both bend into the undergrowth, losing sight of them. One is grassier with little evidence of having been treaded and the other appearing more traveled. As you know, the road less traveled is chosen and, as Frost states, “That made all the difference.” The reader is left with one question: What do the roads lead to beyond the bend? The same can be said of a CPA.
Accounting grads often begin their careers making a choice to become a CPA, yet data shows a majority of them do not continue down the road toward becoming a CPA—the road less traveled. The career trajectory of a CPA and non-CPA is generally predictable up to a certain point, after which it becomes less foreseeable.
What I have learned is that the road the CPA travels is full of continuous opportunities for learning and growth. I have gained knowledge and perspective through roles that are available to me because of my CPA as a:
- Treasurer implementing and shaping financial strategies on a non-profit board;
- Volunteer developing CPA exam content under International Financial Reporting Standards;
- Participant in the 2011 AICPA Leadership Academy;
- Performance coach;
- Consultant to clients;
- Auditor overseeing the delivery of high quality services; and
- Business leader managing financial performance of projects.
The list is longer and will continue to grow.
So, should you choose the road of a CPA? If you do, rest assured that beyond the bend, only you will travel. And that makes all the difference.
Gerardo Godinez, CPA is a senior manager at Moss Adams, LLP.
Flying Trapeze vs. Taking the CPA Exam: A Comparative Retrospective
By Didem "Dee" Komaromi, CPA (license pending)
I believe you have a better chance of reaching your potential, experiencing new things and having a more adventurous journey in life when you take calculated risks. This is what I was thinking both when I took a trapeze lesson and the CPA Exam. Both certainly required me to step out of my comfort zone.
Trapeze is fun, but challenging—especially for someone who is afraid of heights. Being a CPA is rewarding, but the journey to becoming licensed means you have to be self-disciplined and study very long hours for about a year while tactfully saying no to all your friends when they invite you to BBQs, weddings, gatherings, baby showers, birthdays parties and the like.
At one point for both trapeze and the CPA Exam I asked myself, “Dee, what were you thinking when you signed up!?” For trapeze I remember asking this question right when I was ready to jump from the platform for the first time. Studying for the CPA Exam I asked the same question when I spent seven-eight hours everyday in the library all summer. Not pleasant moments, but all I had to do was to remind myself why I was doing what I was doing. Once you know what the reasons are, you will find the strength to go through those grueling months or, in case of trapeze, to jump off a 24-foot platform to do some acrobatic moves.
My last piece of advice: Enjoy the ride because you never have to do it again! You don’t have to be miserable during your CPA Exam journey. There are positive things about the exam: You will learn about yourself more than you think, you’ll become a very patient person (it takes two months to get your results back) and you will soon realize taking it one step at a time actually works and grants you many benefits.
I hope you study hard and realize your dream of becoming a CPA on your very first try!
Didem "Dee" Komaromi, CPA (license pending) was a treasurer accountant with Thompson National Properties. She passed the CPA Exam in May 2011.