From the Corner Office 2012 Archives

Fall 2012

Big Firm Experience, Small Firm Expertise
By Perry J. Forschino, CPA
Despite the fact that small firms account for the vast majority of CPA firms, I give all my interns the same advice: If you get an offer from one of the Big Four, take it. The training and experience you’ll receive is unparalleled. Just don’t plan on spending your entire career there, as the odds of making partner are challenging. Fortunately, their names carry significant cachet on a résumé, and post-Big Four opportunities are readily available in industry, government and local CPA firms.

If you stay in public accounting long enough, chances are you’ll end up at a small firm—many of which are littered with Big Four alumni, including mine. To be successful at a small firm you have to able to attract and retain clients. You can’t get by on technical expertise alone. When it comes to accounting, clients at small firms tend to be less sophisticated than at large firms, so even principles that are basic to a CPA can be completely foreign to a client. You shouldn’t have an issue impressing clients with your knowledge. The problem is, neither will any other CPA at any other firm.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” I find this holds true with my clients on those days I feel more like a psychiatrist than an accountant. Building and maintaining client relationships is critical at every level, from staff accountant to partner. This is especially true in a small firm where, often, the client contact is not some clerk, but the owner or spouse of the owner. Nothing will impede or progress your ascent in a small firm faster than your ability to interact with clients. And, if you have the ability to bring in new clients to the firm or generate additional services to existing clients, you’ll be worth your weight in gold.

I like to think of building and maintaining client relationships as part marketing and part hospitality: Both are skills not typically taught in an accounting curriculum or required for CPA licensure, but extremely beneficial for success at the local firm level. Luckily, CalCPA and the CalCPA Education Foundation offer several programs and courses where you can hone these skills.
“Perry J. Forschino, CPA” is partner at Veyna & Forschino Certified Public Accountants.

Summer 2012

The Importance of ‘People’ Skills
By Johanna Sweaney Salt
Recently, I attended a CalCPA discussion group and the conversation took an interesting turn, confirming what I’ve been hearing from various firms. One of the participants, who works for one of the larger firms in the area, mentioned that their firm has changed its screening practices when it comes to new hires. In the past, they would strictly hire applicants with the highest GPA, the highest exam scores, etc. What they found, however, was that those candidates weren’t always the best fit for the firm. What are they doing differently? They actively seek candidates who rate high on the people skills scale. Technical proficiency is of course still important; however, it is secondary to what is sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence.

It seems this is a common theme among local firms—including our firm. So what exactly are people skills and how do you rate emotional intelligence? Here are a few things firms are looking for:
  • Ability to engage with a wide variety of others. During your career, you will interact with co-workers, superiors, clients and many more. Develop conversational skills, learn to ask leading questions, show genuine interest in those you meet and be aware of what is going on with others. And smile!
  • A strong work ethic. Go the extra mile to get a job done. Show enthusiasm for even mundane tasks. When we were hiring interns this past tax season, the final cut for the candidates was whether they had any previous employment experience—not necessarily in the accounting field.
  • Humility. You’re not going to know it all. No one does. Ask questions, find a mentor, sign up for additional training and admit when you’re in over your head.
So perfect those people skills and brush up on your emotional intelligence. It could make all the difference when looking for a good job.
_“Johanna Sweaney Salt, CPA” is partner at Gray, Salt & Associates, LLP, and 2012-13 CalCPA Chair. _

Spring 2012

Great Expectations!
By Cameron Kauffman
Whenever I meet college students at recruiting events, or coach young emerging professionals in the workplace, one question seems to always come up: What does my firm or company expect of me?

As a motivated professional, you want to know how your success will be measured. You want to understand what standards are being used. You want to do the right things and feel that you are performing at or above the level that is expected.
During my experience in public accounting and the industry sector, I have discovered a few simple—yet powerful—drivers on the road to exceeding all those great expectations.

Speak Up: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Learn what is important to managers and leaders in your firm. Review your job description and ask how your performance will be evaluated. Remember to consider what clients expect, too.

Be Patient: Give yourself time to learn the rules. Your college education is just the first step in preparing for your career. Your real learning happens on the job when you get to apply your technical knowledge in the workplace. You will continue to learn during your career. No one expects you to know everything the first day or year or two.

Learn From Mistakes: Accountants are expected to get the correct answers and be accurate. Don’t try to be perfect, though. Mistakes are learning opportunities. If your work is near perfect on a consistent basis, you are probably not being challenged or learning new things.

Be Consistent: Build trust with others by being consistent. Keep your word and respond quickly to managers and clients. Being honest about what you can do for others and when you can deliver is critical.

Understand Yourself: Find out what makes you tick. What do you enjoy doing most? What motivates you? What are your greatest strengths? What are your unique abilities? What differentiates you from everyone else? What do you value? The answers will help you leverage your abilities and align your strengths with the expectations of your firm.

Set Goals and Track Progress: Goals are the destinations that you want to get to along the way. Know what your goals are. Ask if you need help in clarifying them. Make sure they are consistent with your firm’s goals. Track your progress so that you can make necessary adjustments and achieve those milestones that will define your success!
“Cameron Kauffman” is COO at Eichstaedt.

Winter 2012

Networking for Dummies
By Eduardo Jordan, CPA
I’m not sure if I have a good network, but go ahead and compare yours to mine: I have more than 800 contacts in my database. Yes, I said more than 800—and that was pared from more than 1,000 just a couple of weeks ago.

How did I accumulate that many names?
1. These are not just names, but people that I have a relationship with. In other words, I have some sort of connection—personal or business—with each of these people.

2. As stated above, it’s easy to just add names and related details to your database without any real connection to that person. But it’s largely useless because it’s only when you establish a relationship with other people that you can—at some point in time—develop sufficient trust to do business.

3. I don’t business with all my contacts, but I do make myself available so when opportunities present themselves, I’m ready and willing. For example, they may be looking for a fellow CFO, controller or just seeking my advice regarding a job opening. Occasionally, banker friends will call me to inquire confidentially about companies that I have been exposed to and I answer as many questions as possible.

4. When should you start your network? Now! If you feel the need to start a network, it’s already too late. It’s much easier to establish relationships when you can share some beneficial relationship with other people and, when you’re unemployed, you have very little to offer and a lot to ask for.

5. How do you start a network? I’m truly amazed at how many people tell me they do not know anybody and, therefore, they are unable to network. It’s your responsibility to change that. Here are a few places where you can start:
  • Join CalCPA and explore its many networking opportunities!
  • Your hobbies: sports club, soccer, bicycle, basketball league, etc.
  • Your dance club or social activity.
  • Your fellow alumni or fraternity/sorority.
  • Fellow employees from prior jobs.
  • Teachers and professors from your school.
So, can you get started with the above or do you need further help? If you’re still having a hard time, please reach out and let me know. I will be happy to share any insights with you. Happy networking!
“Eduardo Jordan, CPA” is a former CalCPA chair and senior vice president of operations and CFO at Nolet Spirits U.S.A.