Don’t expect things to just happen in your career or expect others, especially employers, to know what you are thinking.

It’s wise advice I heard recently from Mark Koziel, director of specialized communities at the American Institute of CPAs, during a conversation we had about career customization.

Koziel, who’s been with the AICPA for almost four years, spends his time traveling the country, speaking about CPA issues. He’s got his finger on the pulse of it all — or at least among the accounting set — considering he focuses on the development, ongoing improvement and delivery of services to AICPA members in the Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS)/Firm Practice Management and the Financial Planning, Technology and Forensic & Valuation Services niche areas.

Ask him about how hot forensic accounting is — especially among the younger generation — and he’ll gladly talk your ear off.

He’ll also say (you may want to sit down for this) that even in this down economy, we should get off the kick of expecting people to be grateful they have a job. “We don’t want [good people] to just be waiting in the wings for the first open window to go fly the coop,” he said.

But, that aside, Koziel has a neat story about how he started off in public accounting (three years at one CPA firm before heading to another where he stayed for nine years), and then landed a job as a director of media planning for a political consulting firm (that wasn’t his intention, he was headhunted by a business development client of his) where he worked for three years.

“I used to kid firms and say if they wanted everybody to stay and their retention to be 100 percent, then they should stop sending their people to clients,” he said, adding this is a common way for people to get recruited to industry. “As ridiculous as that sounds.”
After an exciting stint in media planning, where he worked on congressional, Senate and presidential campaigns, Koziel decided to come back to public accounting but in a different capacity — with the AICPA — because, well, the hours were better.

Yes, you read right.

“The media job was a very volatile and unstable type of position,” Koziel explained. “I was going to leave the political profession to come back to the CPA profession for work life balance. In [terms of] tax season versus political season, I will tell you political season is worse.”

Koziel originally wanted to get into public accounting to work for the FBI. He grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., where all his friends were becoming cops and decided to take it one step further.

“I got into accounting always thinking I would never be an accountant or a CPA,” said Koziel, who didn’t really learn about the profession until his junior year in college. “My friend’s father, who was also a cop, said you’re doing the right thing. Go to school and get an accounting degree for the FBI so you can show up and tell everybody else what to do.”

Ultimately, Koziel started to learn more about life in a public accounting firm and realized it wasn’t just about sitting at a desk all day. He liked the ways CPAs could interact and engage with businesses, so he climbed onboard and, after some years, landed in the areas of human resources and business development consulting.

One particular business development client, however, caught him on the right day and convinced him to jump ship.

“For more than a year this client was after me,” Koziel said. “It’s not a knee jerk reaction decision. There was a trigger at that current position to cause it to happen. When you are ready to leave, there is no turning back and getting a counter offer from your existing employer. If you’ve made the decision, you’ve checked out, you’re done, and you have to move forward.”

His CPA status at the media planning gig brought a new level of trust to the campaigns, he said, but still he found the grass on the industry side of the fence wasn’t greener, just a different shade of the color — especially since many CPAs lose the camaraderie that go along with working side by side with other CPAs in an accounting firm.

“Now I have the benefit of that camaraderie and I have some input of how I would see firms be better,” he said.

Part of that is helping to set up structured systems in place via the PCPS and talking to firms about what it is they are doing to move forward.

“Firms today are more willing to hang onto people longer,” he said. “It used to be two years and you’re out the door, whether you’re moving up within the organization on that fast partner track or out the door because they don’t ever see you having the potential. Those days are gone. We need the technicians.”

That said, Koziel believes the right job is out there — it just takes a bit of exploration.
“There’s enough room out there to define flexibility and where you want to be,” he said. “There’s not the right or wrong. There are very few bad CPAs out there, but there are definitely the wrong positions for some people. Understanding where you fit and what culture fits you best is all part of what you need to find.”

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