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By Ronald Stone
Over the past 42 years, I’ve seen many accounting graduates begin their careers in public accounting and advance from entry level staff to partner, or start their own firms. Why are some more successful than others? I think it’s because the successful ones are able to stay focused and handle what comes their way—both good and bad. They maintain a positive attitude, are willing to take on responsibility, are willing to work hard, don’t hesitate to ask questions, are life-long learners and get along well with others.
Developing and keeping a positive attitude isn’t always easy when working late on a tough assignment, where the client is not as cooperative and friendly as you’d like, where the time budget is tight, the deadline seems unrealistic or you don’t particularly care for the people you are working with. Rather than complaining, just say to yourself and your supervisor, “No problem, I can do it.”
With respect to taking on responsibility, accept as much work as you can realistically handle. The hardest part is learning when to say, “No,” so you don’t get overloaded and can’t deliver. Try your best to meet deadlines. People will notice and appreciate when you deliver on time. Don’t forget to keep your supervisor regularly apprised of your progress. If you’re going to go over the time budget, don’t wait to tell your supervisor. No one likes surprises.
Believe it or not, working a lot of overtime has its benefits. Some firms pay bonuses based on how much overtime you work and some let you take more vacation time during the slow season. A former student told me that working long hours benefited her because she learned a lot more than she would have in a normal, eight-hour day. The knowledge she acquired helped advance her career.
Don’t hesitate to ask questions because it decreases the possibility of doing things wrong and wasting time. There’s a middle ground between asking too many questions and asking too few. It’s better to ask too many questions than too few. The worst thing is to not know how to resolve a problem and not asking someone for help. Listen carefully to explanations from your supervisor and client personnel and be sure to take notes.
You may be finished with college and the Uniform CPA Exam, but you aren’t done with your education. You need to know what’s happening in the world, particularly about the economy, business, the industries you serve and the accounting profession. This includes reading material prepared by your firm, business newspapers and periodicals, as well as accounting and tax publications. Most everything is available in digital format. The world is ever-changing with new accounting and tax rules—and your firm and clients expect your knowledge base to be up-to-date.
Finally, getting along with other people is probably the most important ingredient of success. In a large office, learn who’s who and how people at different levels within your firm interact. When you go out to a client, review its organization chart so you’re familiar with key personnel. Be courteous and friendly with everyone, including support staff at the client. Let people know what you are trying to accomplish to get their cooperation.
The express train to a successful career in public accounting is about to depart. Are you on board?
Ronald S. Stone, Ph.D, CPA, CFE, is a professor of accounting and information systems at California State University, Northridge, and longtime CalCPA member.
By Amber Setter, CPA, PCC
Networking is viewed as a must have professional skill. It’s one that can be essential at the earliest stages of our career, because we learn of employment opportunities by meeting other professionals at networking events, and it continues to help us as we progress in to new areas of expertise.
Yet as valuable as networking can be, in all my years of coaching professionals and job candidates, I rarely hear people describe networking activities as enjoyable. In fact, I often hear just the opposite: people find networking events to be uncomfortable and some individuals even dread them.
This is why I encourage people to reframe networking and instead think of connection. Connecting with others is a fundamental human need. Relationships with others provides us a sense of belonging. So how does one shift their way of thinking to connection?
Choose the Right Events
Some people feel more connected in smaller, one-to-one interactions, and others are energized by a large group setting. Take time to think about where you know you show up confidently and align your activities to your preferences. Also, choose events where your genuine interests or passions will be showcased. For example, I love mentoring students coming in to the profession. This is why I attend local CalCPA events targeted to students and candidate members. You won’t find me, a CPA who works with hearts and not numbers, networking at a technical roundtable discussion because I won’t show up excited, engaged and as my best self. By choosing carefully, you can position yourself to connect with less effort and have a more positive impact.
Push the Boundaries of Your Comfort Zone
There may be times when you will need to get out of your comfort zone so you can connect with the people that can support your career progression. Maybe you prefer more connecting in small groups, but you need to attend a large job fair. Consider how you can get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you are going to attend a job fair, are there opportunities to meet the professionals in attendance before the event (e.g. an office tour) or pair up with a friend so that you aren’t in it alone?
Remember We’re All Humans
Sometimes I’ve seen people get hung up on what to say at a networking event. We want to demonstrate that we’re smart and we want to come off as confident. But if we get too caught up in our heads, people don’t experience who we are and see what’s inside of our hearts. True connection occurs when we allow others to really see who we are and also have them feel truly heard. Yes, you can talk about accounting principles if it’s something you are truly passionate about, but don’t be afraid to ask others about other domains of their lives beyond careers, such as their family and their personal commitments (like running a marathon or being involved in their community.
By focusing on how to truly connect with others, you not only take the work out of networking, but also you will prepare yourself to show up with impact—and you may even enjoy the experience!
Amber Setter, CPA, PCC is the chief opportunity officer at Intention Setter: Leadership Coaching and Consulting. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Ani Galyan, CPA
The CPA profession holds a great deal of confidence within the community. As the title implies, your biggest client is the public. This includes your peers and the business community at large. Therefore, as a newly minted CPA, you must immerse yourself within this community and come to be a trusted adviser to your colleagues.
The greatest reward as a new CPA is receiving a call from your network or a referral. But this only comes if you’ve taken steps to build a network for yourself. To do so, you must be proactive in your career.
So, you ask yourself, what is the next step to building your network? My advice would be to look to your peers who have been practicing for a minimum of 10 to 15 years and identify with an individual who you can come to see as a mentor. A mentor adds great value to your network because they respect you and see potential in your growth, and they’re willing to assist you in growing as a professional.
As a new CPA, I looked to my mentor as someone I could go to for guidance on issuance questions. A mentor can be a source of comfort in new experiences. For example, if you would like to attend an event, but are hesitant to go on your own, a mentor can step in and either attend with you or give you the confidence to attend yourself. When I made the decision to attend law school, I spoke with other tax attorneys in the field, and it was my mentor who knew who to connect me to. My mentor vouched for me, and in turn, I had access to his network, which now added to mine. While in law school, I continued to look for professionals who could guide me in the right direction and add value to my career.
Congratulations on taking the first step in your certification process. It’s a great achievement to present yourself as a CPA. Continue to strive to add to your achievements. Look for opportunities where you can grow professionally and brand yourself as the go-to person in your community. As you advance in your career, always look to offer guidance to those coming up behind you. The greatest feeling as a professional is having the opportunity to give back.
Ani Galyan Esq, CPA, LLM is a tax attorney at MillarLaw, a Professional Corporation.
There is no right answer to the question, “Now what?” The choice is yours. In taking the responsibility of these new letters attached to your name, there’s a work ethic, quality and integrity that corresponds with every action you take. You’re in an exclusive club. So, despite your entrance and acceptance into this club, there’re expectations from your members and community that come along with this license.
If you need help with your next step ... oh, the possibilities! Remember when Bubba Blue from the movie “Forrest Gump” spouted off, “You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. Dey's uh, shrimp kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo...” and on and on and on. Well here’s the CPA version of the opportunities before you now that you have your CPA license (I have only listed 20, opportunities to focus on; I'll spare you the hundreds of pages I could list):
If you reviewed and thought about the short list above and still can't figure out what to do next, quit everything you’re doing and do the following:
When you work hard and do the things you love, while working within a team that supports you and your efforts, you will without a doubt be successful.
Whatever path you choose, please, please, please follow these three rules:
1. Always believe in yourself;
2. Challenge yourself and your community; and
3. Live as if everyday is your last day.
Congrats on your licensure! Live and work to your fullest!
Adam Blitz, CPA is a tax and consulting manager at Wiebe Hinton Hambalek, LLP. You can follow him on Twitter via