Top 100 Extra: Advice for Young Accountants
As part of our Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting report, we asked the candidates: "What one piece of advice would you give young people entering the profession?" Their answers are given in full below.
One piece of advice I give to McGladrey’s young professionals is: “It’s your ability to build relationships that will set you apart.” Outstanding technical capabilities are table stakes in this business. To truly stand out, you need to build your professional network inside and outside the firm, and form strong relationships with your clients while remaining objective and independent. At McGladrey, we teach our new professionals to do this in a variety of ways. In addition to traditional training, career coaching and career development activities, we also provide many opportunities to learn relationship-building skills on the job through our client experience programs, first-choice advisor challenge and our new “take one” initiative where partners bring younger professionals along on important client visits.
-- Joe Adams, Managing partner and CEO, McGladrey
Be entrepreneurial! There aren’t enough young people in most firms who want to be owners. There is a lot of opportunity given the retirement of the Baby Boomers if you have the drive and desire to go for it.
-- Gary Adamson, President, Adamson Advisory
In the book “Lean In,” author Sheryl Sandberg shares an important piece of advice she received when she was trying to decide if she should join Google. She was counseled to consider a company’s potential for growth when weighing options. “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on,” she was advised. The idea is that when there is growth, there are opportunities. “Those in more established industries can look for the rocket ships within their companies divisions or teams that are expanding,” she writes.
I believe this is very good advice for young people looking for a firm to join in the profession.
-- Charles Allen, CEO, Crowe Horwath LLP
Understand that business innovation in an Internet age will not wait for accounting regulatory bodies to develop appropriate rules. In that context, it is vitally important for accountants to be ever more mindful of their ethical responsibilities to all users of financial information.
-- John Ams, Executive vice president, NSA
Be like a sponge and absorb all the knowledge you can about how the firm operates, how it makes money and how you can become a more contributor.
-- August Aquila, President and CEO, Aquila Global Advisors, LLC
I think the selection of where you work is critical. Choose a progressive firm or company that embraces technology and lifelong learning.
-- Erik Asgeirsson, CEO, CPA.com
1. Learn, don’t memorize.
2. Understand your personal responsibilities and the public’s expectations of an individual CPA.
3. Endure, remain curious, yet resilient and objective.
-- Billy Atkinson, Chairman, Private Company Council
That they are knowledge workers, not service workers. This means: They own the means of production (80 percent of the developed world's wealth resides in human capital, according to the World Bank); firms need them more than they need any firm; they are responsible for creating an outcome for their customers, not performing a series of tasks; the value that they create cannot be measured by hours; the office is their servant, not their master; effectiveness (doing the right thing) is far more important than efficiency (we can be efficient at doing the wrong things); judgment is far more important than any measurement; and ultimately, they are volunteers who will decide to invest their intellectual capital in firms that pay them a reasonable economic return, and treat them with respect and dignity.
-- Ron Baker, Founder, VeraSage Institute
Embrace opportunities that are outside your comfort zone.
-- Tommye Barie, Incoming chair, AICPA
Take advantage of every learning opportunity you can, ensure that you have technology skills that are at least the equivalent of the average consumer today, and stay on top of new trends. Most importantly, join a progressive firm that understands the positive impact and future implications of being truly relevant to their client base.
-- Jonathan Baron, Managing director, Professional Segment, Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting
Don't follow in the footsteps of the Baby Boomer generation. Think of your license not only as a passport to success and a lucrative career, but also as a privilege that allows you to help people who may not have been afforded the same opportunities or developed the same tools you did to succeed. Don’t let it be that only your clients benefit from your financial acumen. There are many people who could use your help; find the nonprofit whose mission you believe in and volunteer. Maintain the core principles of your profession--think of your license in the way that the very first CPAs did as a promise to the public, clients and fellow CPAs that its bearer will always act ethically, independently and objectively.
-- Joanne Barry, Executive director and CEO, NYSSCPA
First impressions count. Start proving yourself from Day One through hard work. Nobody expects you to know everything.
-- Wayne Berson, CEO, BDO USA
Having a thorough knowledge of your field is necessary for success, but not sufficient. Having knowledge of something that your peers lack will give you a true competitive advantage.
-- Chandra Bhansali, President, AccountantsWorld
The younger generation has one significant advantage: They are more tech-savvy than their older counterparts. They have to learn to leverage this advantage by taking advantage of the cloud, bank feeds, and social media to perform their accounting work. Younger employees can advance their career by continually looking for ways to apply emerging technologies in their organizations. But at the same time, younger people also must develop personal effectiveness and interpersonal skills to succeed.
-- Sharada Bhansali, Co-founder and EVP, AcccountantsWorld
My first piece of advice would be to wholeheartedly embrace the profession they are entering. A look across the spectrum of vocational opportunities clearly indicates that the accounting profession offers a viable opportunity for success and fulfillment. However, embracing the profession includes an understanding and dedication to the ethical underpinning that is foundational in accounting.
-- Ken Bishop, President and CEO, NASBA
My advice to people entering the profession is to take measures early in your career to develop a broad knowledge base. This means moving between departments, e.g., accounting to tax to IT, and between industries, if possible, e.g., real estate to retail to manufacturing.
Though I have been an advocate of specialization in one’s pursuit to rapidly increase their inherent value and, correspondingly, one’s income, I firmly believe that the best employees, partners, and leaders in a business enterprise have some diversity in their background. They tend to grasp and understand concepts more quickly, be a little more creative, and are more likely to contribute to the collective wisdom of an organization.
Frankly, in my business, I place more value on prospective employees who bring broader experience to the table than I do than on someone who has done the same thing throughout their career, whether that be a young or long-experienced career.
-- Parnell Black, CEO, NACVA
The bigger firms are not your only, or even your best, option. There are other strategic and creative firms that can teach you more about serving customers, being innovative, and leadership.
-- Jason Blumer, Chief innovation officer, Blumer & Associates
It’s the people you meet and the books you read that will determine who you will be five years from today. Develop a network and be a lifelong learner. The opportunities have never been greater for CPAs who are willing to listen to their clients and provide value through leadership, relationships and creativity.
-- Gary Boomer, CEO, Boomer Consulting
These are exciting and frustrating times for young people in our profession. The excitement is driven by the fact that there is a ton of opportunity to quickly move up to a higher-impact role as existing leaders leave the profession. The frustration stems from the fact that that many firms haven’t adapted their business models, technology and processes to keep up with the changing times. It is easy for the young professionals to look at the current model, label it as antiquated and suggest replacing it with completely new thinking. My advice is that while we do need to do things differently, be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. Young professionals need to step back and understand a few things about those that have come before us.
- First, they have years of wisdom and professional experience that we can and should tap into if we are smart business people.
- We also need to appreciate everything they’ve done to set up the opportunity that is currently ahead. It would not exist if not for the hard work they put in throughout their careers.
- We need to realize it’s hard to let go of something you’ve been doing your whole life. We may have to temper our expectations of how quickly we are going to ascend in the firm.
- We also need to present our new ideas with respect and ask how they fit in with current leadership’s view of the environment.
- Finally, don’t push too hard. This is an emotional transition that takes time. They need to work through it personally before they can work share the plan or roadmap with anyone else. You might need to tap the breaks while also nudging current leaders to accelerate.
-- Jim Boomer, CIO and shareholder, Boomer Consulting
I would recommend that they come equipped with a working knowledge of the technology tools used in our profession. Young professionals with a good understanding of the Microsoft suite of products (Word, Excel, etc.), data extraction tools (IDEA, ACL, etc.) and cloud-based accounting systems (QuickBooks Online, Xero, etc.) will be able to hit the ground running and will offer a level of value (and demand greater compensation) over their peers. In addition, I would recommend that they fine-tune their “professional” social networking presence and put forth an image on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., that portrays themselves as true, young “professionals.”
-- Jim Bourke, Partner, WithumSmith+Brown
I would advise them to always think of themselves as being a " professional” and not just an employee, and all that, that means—using their intellect on varied assignments, and always exercising discretion and good judgment. It means understanding the many hours and attention to detail required of them as a professional in this field. And after striving to be the best “professional” I would then advise them to do more. Be more. Stand for something and always work to make a positive difference in doing so.
-- Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global vice chair, EY
Specialize in an area that you are passionate about and that can provide value to your clients -- then become the expert in that area. There are many choices: specific areas of taxation, specific industries, or even technology. When you do something you love, you never work a day in your life, and clients reap the reward of your passion.
-- Jim Buttonow, Director of tax practice and procedure services and software, H&R Block
We are not bean counters; we are the group who our clients turn to for the sound advice they seek. Therefore, people entering our profession need to be well read on a multitude of topics and stay abreast on national and world issues that impact our profession and their clients. In short, never stop learning and studying.
-- Edward Caine, National president, NCCPAP
Find a mentor who can guide you not only on the technical aspects of being a CPA but on soft skills -- building relationships, questioning, listening and networking. Becoming a well-rounded advisor will provide enhanced career opportunities and job satisfaction.
-- Jean Marie Caragher, President, Capstone Marketing
Study and work hard to keep your technical mastery.
-- Paul Caron, Publisher and editor-in-chief, TaxProf Blog
The complexity of financial information and internal controls are increasing as economies across the globe become more interconnected. Now more than ever, young accounting professionals need to be knowledgeable about international trade, international finance reporting standards, and international mergers and acquisitions. Developing and maintaining expertise in these areas will make you more marketable and a high-value asset to current and future employers.
-- Richard Chambers, President and CEO, The Institute of Internal Auditors
Be global. The increasingly intertwined global economy requires our profession to have a deep understanding of international and global standards, business issues, audit and tax requirements, and cultures. The quality of talent from around the world is improving dramatically. That talent is going to change the landscape of our profession. Embrace opportunities to travel and work abroad as well as be part of cross-cultural teams. Be well-versed in global affairs and business dynamics. Play a role in the creation of a world-class pipeline of globally minded, diverse accounting professional who are intellectually curious and capable of broad, critical thinking.
-- Stephen Chipman, CEO, Grant Thornton
In a day and age where human interaction grows increasingly impersonal, it’s critical to remember that great client service is still very personal. Young people need to step away from the computer, put down the cell phone, and engage face to face.
Exceptional client service is based on a foundation of trust and credibility. Taking the time to build relationships face-to-face is essential to building long-lasting relationships and will be a true service differentiator.
-- David Cieslak, Principal, Arxis Technology
Young people entering the profession right now want leadership
and they want it their way. Take it from me -- I am one. I get it. So many are less interested in running a large company and more interested in running their own. They need to find a balance. There’s a balance in working your #%@ off and living your passion.
Young people need to put the time in. They need to live and ask for new, exciting leadership assignments, training and coaching. Ambition is always the first step to success. They have to want it, but most importantly, they need to love it. Young people need to be transparent with their passions within the industry with their niches, services, projects, types of clients
It can be a tough profession with tough hours and high demands. It’s more than a fact -- people are drawn to good energy. And by people, I mean clients. Good energy directly translates into good client service. Steve Jobs said it best: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” The secret is -- everyone around you knows when you find it. It will only make or break your success.
As I speak around the country all year long, what I have found is that people are most drawn to my passion for the profession. I have found that the accounting profession is not what brings home my weekly paycheck. The accounting profession is what I’m put here on earth to serve, with such passion and intensity that it becomes a calling. If young people can find their calling they’ve done it.
-- Sarah Cirelli, Marketing manager, Interactive Marketing WithumSmith+Brown
I would suggest that young people entering the profession need to exercise patience and tenacity in pursuing their career choices. It is important that they complete their educational path by attaining the CPA credential. The rewards for their perseverance as their career progresses will far outweigh the challenges they encounter beginning their careers and opportunities will be plentiful.
-- Michael Colgan, CEO and executive director, Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs
Hone your communications skills. We live in a world where communications is king -- both verbal and written. Without those skills, your career potential is limited.
-- Gale Crosley, President, Crosley+Co.
I would suggest they spend time thinking about their strengths what are they really good at and passionate about doing? What can they do to build on what they do best before they begin their careers?
Because most accounting work is done in teams, managers need people who can bring unique skills to the group and help drive client satisfaction and productivity. They don’t have to be outstanding at everything, but being strong in a few areas it could be technical skills, project management or industry knowledge will help them add the most value to their teams.
I would also advise them to seek out and build relationships with colleagues who can serve as sponsors and mentors during their careers. They can be peers, managers and senior leaders. These are people who will go to bat and advocate for their professional development and advancement, provide coaching and advice, and help them network both inside and outside of their organizations. We like to say that we’re “colleagues for life” and relationships that are built for mutual, long-term benefit are ones that last.
Finally, they should strive to be authentic in the workplace. We recently released research by the Deloitte University Leadership Center for Inclusion that found when people hide the unique qualities about themselves, such as their appearance, they “cover” aspects of their authentic personality. More than 40 percent of Millennials surveyed in our research reported covering in some way. They will feel more engaged and able to provide high-quality service if they are comfortable being themselves in the workplace.
-- Deborah DeHaas, Vice chairman, chief inclusion officer, and national managing partner of the Center for Corporate Governance, Deloitte
Be involved. Get to know as many influential people and business decision-makers as you can. Be present. Place yourself in arenas that lead to opportunities.
-- Loretta Doon, CEO, California Society of CPAs
See the changes in your profession as signs of growth and an opportunity for creativity. Learn your craft, keep your ideas and standards high, and the rest of your career choices will take care of themselves.
-- James Doty, Chairman, PCAOB
We’re fundamentally in the people business. And whether you’re dealing with a colleague or client, success depends on your ability to connect—understanding and relating to the other person and then figuring out how you can help them achieve their goals.
When I meet new clients, the first thing I say is, “Tell me how you got here.” They instinctively think I’m talking about their resume, and how they worked their way into the org chart box they’re in now. I usually have to stop them and clarify that I want to know about their story — where were you born? What was your journey? What is your passion? When invited, people like to share their story, and your relationship will be built on a strong connection.
The relationships I built early in my career have been crucial in my journey from line auditor to CEO. And, on each client project, and in every new position, I made it a priority to connect with new people and grow my network.
-- Joe Echevarria, Immediate past CEO, Deloitte
I believe it is very important that everyone, especially young people entering the profession, understand the resources available to them and how to locate information. Knowing where to find insightful information can help them understand any issue and form a thoughtful response. One of my favorite quotes is from Samuel Johnson, who said, “Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”
-- George Farrah, Executive editor, Tax and Accounting, Bloomberg BNA
Keep your eyes wide open. There are more ways to make a positive impact within your organization today than ever before. From social media to the deployment of new tools, everyone in the organization can be an agent for positive change.
-- Chris Farrell, CEO, Tallie
From the outset, work to develop an understanding of professional skepticism and its role in the audit.
-- Lewis Ferguson, Board member, PCAOB
Be ready for change. Regulators and standard-setters are exploring proposals that could dramatically alter the auditing and accounting profession, including efforts to update the auditor’s report and an increasing focus on corporate disclosures more broadly.
Meanwhile, technological developments, the impact of emerging markets, and changes in the regulatory arena will alter how information is delivered, how auditors engage with public companies and regulators, and how capital markets operate and interact.
Change will bring challenge — and exciting possibilities. To be prepared, they need to bring a diverse background in communications, writing, and team skills to their work. The next generation of accountants and auditors should also keep their technical skills sharp, stay flexible, and embrace opportunity.
-- Cindy Fornelli, Executive director, Center for Audit Quality
Seek to understand why you are doing something a certain way and then ask yourself if there is a better way. This will accelerate your career and personal growth, but more importantly, what you discover will become the fabric for the future of our profession.
-- Brian Fox, Founder and president, Confirmation.com
There is no “one” piece of advice that is sufficient for young people entering the profession. So here is some of what I say to students when I present at colleges and universities and during mentoring meetings with early career professionals.
- Be inquisitive, and continually learn and adapt.
- Always do your homework in advance of meetings and assignments.
- Develop strong ethics and core values.
- Be alert to situations where you need to step back and really think about the right thing to do.
- Reflect on and learn from difficult times and mistakes.
- Be open to accepting new assignments or other duties as assigned. These open many doors and will expand your perspective, experience, and professional network.
- If you have the right approach and attitude, your most miserable assignments will provide you with the best learning experiences and personal growth.
- Work now to develop the skills you will need as a future executive, including business acumen, strong communication skills, vision, and the ability to build coalitions and instill trust.
- Find mentors and other professionals who will support you because you will need them.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Support others in their success.
- Try to change what presented problems for you along the way so that others don’t have the same obstacles or difficulties that you may have encountered.
- Give back to the profession through volunteer work in professional groups and mentoring young professionals.
- Be passionate about your work and have a great time!
-- Jeanette Franzel, Board member, PCAOB
Only work for a firm that has the following attributes:
3. Mobile technology;
4. Electronic workflow;
5. Document management system;
6. Client portals;
7. Exciting and varied work; and,
8. Rewards measured on outputs not inputs.
-- Chris Frederiksen, Chairman, The 2020 Group
Knowledge and integrity are the keys to a successful career. The continuous pursuit of knowledge is essential for professional development. A reputation that includes ethics and integrity is one of the most important characteristics any professional can possess.
-- Timothy Gearty, National lead instructor and national editor-in-chief, Becker Professional Education
The opportunities with accounting are tremendous. Especially if you have leadership interests, are naturally driven to explore and apply broader (non-CPA firm) business approaches, and if you have the guts to challenge the status quo, even early on in your career.
You are the future of accounting ... accounting is the backbone of business therefore you are the future of business. CPAs cannot stay on the periphery, but belong in the core if the industries they work in. And CPAs mustn’t remain focused on historical performance but are perfectly poised to help create the future for businesses and industries they touch.
-- Michelle Golden, Member, Kennedy and Coe LLP
I would advise CPAs to always remember that they are working for the investing public, which brings with it the responsibility to always maintain their ethics and integrity.
-- Russell Golden, Chairman, FASB
Work hard to become a well-rounded business advisor, and not just a technical expert. Find an area which you are passionate about and pursue it in earnest, i.e.; manufacturing, small business, entertainment, etc. Learn as much as possible about what drives these businesses, and the market dynamics. Ask a lot of questions and always work to improve your listening skills.
-- Jeff Gramlich, President, AccountantsWorld
Think like an owner. Read everything you can get your hands on. Stretch yourself to improve constantly.
-- Angie Grissom, President, The Rainmaker Companies
Here’s advice from my May keynote speech at the New Mexico State CPA Swearing-in Ceremony: "Becoming entangled in inappropriate business situations, directly or indirectly, will be costly to you personally. You may say, Not me, I know better.’ But mistakes happen and being naive or too slow to react can cause terrible unintended consequences. I spent eight years on the Colorado State Board dealing with many enforcement cases. I’ve seen smart CPAs do many very dumb things resulting in tragic consequences to them and their families. It happens, believe me. So, be smart, use your resources. If you don’t know what to do
reach out and ask for help. Don’t be passive about anything involving ethics just because you think you have the technical answer. Your reputation and ability to practice demands it."
-- Gaylen Hansen, Immediate past chair, NASBA
If you look through the speeches I have given during my tenure at the PCAOB, you will see that I have a lot of advice for accounting students! One of my favorite activities in my current role is to visit universities to speak to accounting students and faculty, in order to promote the accounting profession and to provide some real-life perspectives on auditing and audit regulation. But if I have to pick just one piece of advice for new accountants, it would be: “Give the public accounting profession a chance.”
The job of an accountant is more challenging today than ever. A new accounting standard covering revenue was recently issued, and fundamental changes in accounting for leases and financial instruments are in the works. Collectively, these changes have the potential to affect every company's processes and cause fundamental changes in the numbers reported by many companies. Fair value measurements and management estimates are found in almost every area of the financial statements. Economic uncertainty raises questions about the viability of companies that just a short while ago were seen as leading powerhouses in their respective industries. Entirely new industries are evolving, while others are fading into the sunset. Investor expectations are higher than ever for the work of auditors, audit committees and regulators.
At the same time, accountants and auditors particularly those who work on public companies are under more regulatory scrutiny than ever, including by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the PCAOB. The PCAOB routinely inspects the work of public company auditors, and chances are high that new accountants who enter the audit profession will encounter our inspectors. Audit firms have increasingly rigorous internal inspection programs, and the quality of auditors’ work, more and more, affects performance reviews and compensation decisions.
On top of those challenges, the study of accounting is challenging, the CPA Exam is difficult and time-consuming, and the work of new accountants involves long hours and work that, at times, can seem tedious and repetitive (though its importance should not be underestimated.) Public accounting is not an easy career, but I can safely say that the rewards are worth it.
Along with the increase in complexity, the work of accountants and auditors has also become increasingly important. Although this number dropped in the wake of the recent financial crisis, even today over 54% of American adults are invested in public companies, either through direct stock ownership or mutual funds. (Back in 2007, the number was at an all-time high of 65%!) Others may benefit from pension plans or other investments, such as life insurance plans or college scholarship funds, that rely on a healthy securities market. Reliable financial information about a company's performance is the cornerstone of this system and is critical to the evaluation of management's story or prediction about what the company's future may hold.
Public accountants also gain unique skills and expertise that provide benefits throughout one’s career, whether they remain in public accounting or, at some point, pursue another career. Public accountants learn how to work in teams and, in many cases, receive training not just in technical matters but also project and people management, problem solving, marketing and many other important business and life skills. And, with appropriate diligence and the all-important skepticism required for auditors, public accountants earn a well-deserved reputation for integrity and quality work.
So, of course, new accountants should do all of the things that all newly minted professionals should do: work hard, learn the ropes, become well organized, be open to new experiences, and so forth. But, given the challenges faced by the accounting profession, my most important advice is not to let the challenges scare you off. Using your strengths to develop deep expertise in this important field will take you far. Take advantage of the potential rewards of this career choice, stick with it at least long enough to become an expert in your field, and enjoy the ride!
-- Jay Hanson, Board member, PCAOB
I think we all understand that in today’s world being good at what we do is a given. We must have the knowledge that is expected of us if we expect to be successful. But what I think will separate us is what we do with that knowledge. The industry will face many challenges in the next few years, but what matters is how we confront those challenges. The advice I would give is to take on these challenges head on. We should use our knowledge to reach out to the marketplace and become the solution to the problems our current and future clients will face. So my advice is don’t complain about the complexity of the Tax Code, the lack of IRS support, the confusion that surrounds the ACA and all the other issues you see. Don’t complain; use this opportunity to build your business by helping others navigate through these confusing times. Somebody will profit during this confusion and it might as well be you.
-- Roger Harris, President and COO, Padgett Business Services
Never allow someone to extinguish your dreams. I’ve been told “no” so many times in my career, and each time I’ve attempted to turn that around into, “If no now, what needs to change to make it yes?” Looking back on the past 10 years, I can see each role I’ve stepped into had to be fought for -- and sometimes it meant steering in a completely different direction. Being told no has become the ignition to my passion to say “Watch me!”
-- Kim Hogan, Business development manager, strategic accounts, Intuit
Because of the expanding requirements and growth of this profession, there is an excellent opportunity for recent graduates.
-- Marie Hollein, President and CEO, Financial Executives International
You want to establish and grow your network and develop your own RPD (Radical Personal Development Plan). The winners in this profession will be those who can keep their rate of learning greater than the rate of change and greater than their competition.
-- Tom Hood, CEO and executive director, MACPA
Begin your career with your end goal in mind. What’s your overall career ambition? What kind of role, responsibilities, and experiences do you need to achieve that ambition? Once you determine this, then you choose the path that’s going to help you get there. Don’t settle. Go after what you want. If you strive to be a valuable business advisor or consultant, don’t solely build a tax practice. It’s hard to switch gears once that becomes your “bread and butter.”
-- Pascal Houillon, President and CEO, Sage North America
Be ready to learn and develop yourself. Your education is just beginning. We believe this profession is the absolute best place to develop skills and knowledge—to understand the importance of business vulnerabilities, risks, mitigating controls, multi-location/international issues, accounting standards/principles, and what at its core distinguishes a healthy company, a current or future industry leader, to one that will struggle. This is the best basis for young people to develop a career. But you have to be willing to learn for a lifetime.
-- Stephen Howe, Managing partner, Ernst & Young
Integrity is not easy nor cheap — but it is the backbone that allows us to withstand our daily successes and failures.
-- Trey James, CEO and Co-founder, Xcentric
Build your non-technical skills. In addition to technical abilities, the management, leadership, communication and business development skills are essential to elevating careers. Also, respect and learn the profession -- especially how your firm operates. Leaders are also not afraid to initiate change.
-- Sarah Johnson Dobek, President and founder, Inovautus Consulting
Be flexible with your expectations and take advantage of the opportunities presented to you while maintaining a good work-life balance.
-- Carlos Johnson, Chair, National Association of State Boards of Accountancy
Start with broad experience across the accounting profession and then choose a specialty or niche, focus your efforts and become a knowledge leader in that area. You may be able to deliver services in your specialty within your geographical market, or cloud technology can eliminate geographic restrictions. Make sure you understand business processes, development and management along the way.
-- Randy Johnston, Executive vice president and partner, K2 Enterprises, CEO, Network Management Group, Inc.
The narrow entry-level view sometimes appears severely limiting, when in reality the opportunities of our diverse profession are limitless. Learn and grow and keep your eyes pointed at the stars.
-- Edward Karl, Vice president of taxation, AICPA
There can be too much of a good thing when it comes to technology and the fast pace of electronic communications. In order to provide the best possible service to our clients, we need to begin by listening to and clearly understanding their pain points, their goals, important information about their business operations, and even the information they share with us about them personally. This requires the ability to set aside all of the “instant gratification” technology and live calmly in the moment so that we can hear and process what is being shared with us. As importantly, we need to demonstrate that we have the professional skills needed to effectively communicate on behalf of our clients as part of the services we provide. That means being able to draft complete letters with correct grammar and punctuation, and includes remembering that sometimes a hand-written note can be much more effective than any typed correspondence, and it means that we need to be able to carry on conversations that are grammatically complete and correct. The only way these things happen naturally is through ongoing practice and discipline.
Technology has leveled the playing field, which means that in many ways it is hard for any individual to create their own brand and “stand out” from the pack. Professionals who will be positioned to succeed will be those who are able to position themselves as thought leaders in a given area. Thought leaders need to be able to express themselves in public in a polished manner, write well, and present a positive image in any setting. It’s unfortunate that this has become something that can be discussed as a differentiator, but it has become a big one. I’m hopeful that new professionals will make this a priority and as a result continue to provide clients with the sense of partnership and support they really need.
-- Jennifer Katrulya, Accounting operations director, H&R Block Small Business; founder and managing partner, BMRG Advisory Services
I would urge them to speak up, ask lots of questions and show your enthusiasm for learning and gaining experience. If your desire is to become an owner, express that desire early on and ask for help.
-- Rita Keller, President, Keller Advisors
Get on as many different engagements as you can to find out what you are good at and what type of work you like doing the most. Then learn everything you can about that niche and figure out how it can be improved. The straightest path to success is being known as the “famous person” doing work that you really enjoy. I served on many AICPA committees with Wayne Harding who summed it up with, “Have fun, change the world, and the money will follow.”
-- Roman Kepczyk, Director of consulting, Xcentric, LLC
Same thing I tell older people entering the profession: Get online or get left behind. Find your niche -- something about the business that you LOVE doing and becoming the expert in that area. Network -- always have people that know more than you that you can reach out to and refer the clients that need work you’re not experienced in doing. Own your mistakes, and be yourself. Most importantly: Don’t work with clients that suck.
-- Stacy Kildal, Owner, Kildal Services
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. By this I mean that in today’s competitive world, it’s just a given that you are technically competent. Start early in your career building your network of third-party influencers and referral sources, as well as potential clients. Additionally, have a game plan to transform your best clients from customers to raving cheerleaders.
-- Allan Koltin, CEO, Koltin Consulting Group
Be in charge of your own destiny. This profession offers incredible opportunities for growth and financial security. One could have an incredibly prosperous career provided they found the right firm out of school and have provided the appropriate level of feedback on their career to the firm. When things aren’t lined up with what their career path expectations are, it’s up to the professional to make that known to the firm. If the professional voices their expectations and the firm doesn’t deliver, then there should be no question as to why the professional left.
Even at that point, young professionals should understand that not all firms are the same and staying in public accounting is an option if they find the right firm with a comparable culture.
-- Mark Koziel, Vice president of firm services & global alliances, AICPA
Accounting is not just debits and credits—it is the backbone of capitalism. Accounting facilitates capital to flow robustly, which, in turn, creates jobs and vibrant economies. Think of your role in that context.
-- Jim Kroeker, Vice chairman, FASB
This can be one of the most rewarding careers (personally and financially) if you choose your path carefully. Avoid the trap of low-margin, high-volume work, understand the power of trust-based relationships, and work to build your client base with the kinds of clients that you love.
-- Art Kuesel, President and owner, Kuesel Consulting Inc.
Skinny jeans are bad for circulation.
-- Greg Kyte, Founder, Comedy CPE
If you’re not leading, you’re following. Technology is changing quickly now much more quickly than it has in previous decades. If you’re new to the profession, you must figure out how to leverage new technology so that your career is positioned for faster growth and leadership.
-- Rene Lacerte, Founder and CEO, Bill.com
Accounting is a rich, diverse field. In school, don’t focus on the educational requirements for a single career path. Prepare yourself with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for the various career opportunities you will encounter. By doing so you will be better able to have a satisfying and successful career in accounting.
-- Raef Lawson, Vice president of research & policy, IMA
To adapt the timeless adage, remember your ABCs: Always Be Curious. Be curious about those around you by building a strong network of mentor, peer, and client relationships. Be proactive about your personal and career development by honing a well-rounded skill set. This is more important than ever as the audit becomes an even richer field, drawing on disciplines like risk management, supply chain, forensic and IT. In addition to financial data, the auditor of tomorrow will need to increase their understanding of these non-traditional disciplines and a wide range of business issues. Our future leaders will have an enriched professional experience providing guidance, counsel and insight to both public and private market clients.
-- James Liddy, U.S. vice chair and regional head of audit, KPMG
Go to a public speaking class, join Toastmasters and get started speaking at every opportunity
-- Taylor MacDonald, Vice president of channels, Intacct
Fresh entrants to the accounting profession are beginning their careers at a very exciting time. More firms are dynamically embracing technology and offering their staff opportunities to be more flexible and efficient.
We are also seeing new staff receive opportunities to work on challenging assignments earlier in their tenure. Since many firms reduced or stopped hiring during the recession, there is a noticeable shortage of senior staff levels today. This gap creates a powerful learning opportunity for new members of a firm to be paired with more experienced professionals on client deliverables.
I would tell young professionals to take advantage of this learning opportunity and recognize what a gift they are being given. They should also reciprocate with their unique knowledge and perspective. Younger generations are more comfortable with technology and efficient workflows, and these assumed methodologies can be quite thought provoking to established ways.
-- Teresa Mackintosh, President and CEO, Wolters Kluwer, CCH
The same as what I listened to 45 years ago when I chose this profession in high school: that accounting is a prime educational foundation for any career future involving business, financial transactions or the well-being of our society. That message has not changed.
-- John Malone, Founding partner, MaloneBailey LLP
Seek out good mentors and leaders. Mentors that share your career objectives will help you better understand what you want to do in the profession and the opportunities available to you. These skilled and experience leaders can help solidify a career path and provide a new perspective on opportunities that a young professional may not otherwise identify on their own. Take the initiative to search out and engage mentors and established thought leaders in order to grow and flourish from their knowledge, guidance, and focused direction.
-- Sean Manning, CEO, Payroll Vault Franchising LLC
Young people entering the accounting profession are uniquely qualified to embrace the emerging technologies that will change the industry. You are the connoisseurs of digital, mobile and social experiences. You have defined the expectations for immediacy. You can challenge the roadblocks that impede improvements in rules and processes. While building your career, remember to remain flexible as opportunities will appear in a variety of shapes and sizes—the path forward is rarely a straight line.
-- Jason Marx, President, CCH Small Firm Services
Seek to learn from veteran accomplished accounting leaders through reading, education and networking at conferences.
-- Charles McCabe, Founder, president/CEO, The Income Tax School Inc.
New technologies are re-inventing work and the workplace, allowing greater flexibility around when, where and how work is done. The challenge for young accounting professionals will be learning to balance the productivity and 24/7 advantages technology offers with the potential pitfalls, such as over-relying on IT and neglecting the importance of building relationship with clients.
-- Jim McGinnis, Vice president, Accountant and Advisor Group, Intuit Inc.
Recognize the history and standing of the profession and build on it. Get involved. Join a state society and the AICPA, an organization of more than 400,000 competent, ethical and committed professionals.
For the typical new CPA, a work career of 40+ years lies ahead. The CPA profession will give you a foundation and opportunity to propel you in whatever direction you choose but you must also embrace your role as a steward of the profession. Bring the same passion, commitment to values and expertise that have been a hallmark of CPAs that came before you.
And in doing so be adaptable. We are going through great change in the profession; getting there will entail some uncertainty and turmoil, and younger CPAs will have to be agile and smart to leverage those opportunities.
-- Barry Melancon, President and CEO, AICPA
Be as proficient at leadership, relationship and communication skills as you are in technical skills
-- James Metzler, Founder, Metzler Advisory Group LLC
To not only focus on their profession/job but also to get involved outside the office whether that be professional/trade organizations, community outreach or other civic activities. In order to become a well-rounded businessperson and future leader, you need to be more than a highly trained accountant, and finding outside ventures that are not only fulfilling but also are fun is important.
-- Stan Mork, President, Information Technology Alliance
Don’t be afraid of failure. There are important lessons to be learned from failure that can augment your business savvy and build critical thinking skills.
-- Zach Nelson, President and CEO, NetSuite
To read Going Concern daily.
-- Caleb Newquist, Editor-in-chief, Sift Media U.S.
The best advice I would and do give young people entering the profession is to become “extraordinary at something.” Focus on an aspect of the profession and know everything there is to know about that aspect, whether it be tax, audit or an advisory service. They should also think about industries or specific niches they would like to serve and become “all knowing” in these areas. Success in this profession is built around “expertise” and providing value-added information to clients. To do this, young people must specialize in some area of this profession.
-- Jay Nisberg, President, Jay Nisberg & Associates
Young accounting professionals should understand the importance of being client-focused. Beyond having the right educational background and technical training, client satisfaction is paramount to a firm’s success. In today’s environment, where clients often conduct their business online, accounting firms must be plugged in to various channels in order to deliver additional value. The professionalism of your Web site, client portals, mobile apps, and other online media present your firm’s face to the world. Listening to client feedback, incorporating new technology as a means of better connecting with your clients, and adapting your corporate strategy to reflect modern expectations all play an essential role in providing a seamlessly integrated overall client experience.
-- Brian Peccarelli, President, the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters
Embrace the opportunities by working towards specialty credentials.
-- Carl Peterson, Vice president of small firm interests, AICPA
Be humble and enter the profession with an open mind. You have to realize that your colleagues have been in the business for years, and you are at the bottom of the totem pole. The best thing to do as a new employee is to consider yourself a sponge take advantage of the fact that you are surrounded by incredibly intelligent people and learn all that you can from them! You never know when you’re going to need to squeeze that sponge of knowledge and utilize all of the information you’ve learned. And, of course, don’t forget to enjoy what you do!
-- Roger Phillip, CEO and owner, Roger CPA Review
Accounting students should intern with all of the following: a Big Four, a regional or local firm, and in-house at a company. Get exposure to as many different environments as they can because in this job market, they have the luxury of choosing where they’re going to work.
-- Jeff Phillips, CEO, Accountingfly
I would tell them that they are entering the profession at an exciting time—developments on the international and private company fronts are keeping things interesting right now. Furthermore, over the course of their careers, technology will continue to bring significant improvements to financial reporting. As our future industry leaders, they’ll help usher in an era of reporting systems that are much more timely and efficient.
-- Teresa Polley, President and CEO, FAF
There are going to be tremendous opportunities for young people within public accounting in the next 10 to 15 years. Firms are starving for future leaders. Young professionals that are willing to invest in their own development and demonstrate the desire to assume these positions should find many opportunities open up for them. Young people that focus on developing their proficiency in supervision, communication, and practice development in addition to professional skills will have a high probability of success.
-- Terry Putney, CEO, Transition Advisors
It is essential that young people entering the accounting profession establish an ethical standard and continuously strive to maintain that standard.
The recent rash of financial statement frauds, while orchestrated by senior executives, were perpetrated by accountants after receiving pressure and threats from those same senior executives.
It is essential that the young people entering the profession have a firm ethical foundation and realize that they are responsible for their own actions, regardless of the pressure they receive from above. They key is to stress personal accountability for your actions, not just in a legal sense, but in a moral and ethical sense as well.
-- James Ratley, President and CEO, ACFE
I tell young accounting professionals to create the firm, the brand, and the life they want for themselves and not to buy into the traditional career path for accountants just because they don't feel that they have any other option. Hand in hand with this advice, I would say that you need to have the courage to think differently if you are going to be happy and successful.
-- Darren Root, President and CEO, RootWorks
Small businesses need “professional” accountants and tax practitioners! Take the challenges given to you because you never know where life’s journey will take you.
-- Harlan Rose, Past president, National Society of Accountants
You have an opportunity of a lifetime within your grasp. CPA firms are desperate for upwardly mobile, young talent. These opportunities are sitting there, waiting for you to take them. Take a look at the partners at your firm. Take a very close look. These are men and women who love their job, love their clients (and their clients love them) who solve critically important, challenging problems for their clients every day. As owners of small businesses, these partners are entrepreneurs. And a final plus -- their average annual earnings are $350,000, higher than 99% of all people working in the U.S. Partners in CPA firms are cool, so grab the opportunity while it’s there.
-- Marc Rosenberg, President, The Rosenberg Associates
To spend some time learning “soft” skills in your job. As you advance, it is those who have some business development skills and overall people skills who tend to rise to the top and make partner more quickly. Do your best to be well-rounded.
-- Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, President, BBR Marketing
Success is dependent upon adding value. That’s true whether you are talking about nations, corporations, firms, or individual professionals. Find an area or specialization that you passionately enjoy and work to become the best in the world at it. You’ll create great value for your clients and have fun doing it.
-- G. Brint Ryan, Chairman and CEO, Ryan
Our profession exists to serve the public trust never forget that, never.
-- John Sensiba, Managing partner, Sensiba San Filippo LLP
I would tell young CPAs to seek an employer—both for their first job and every subsequent job—that values transparency and accountability. These two qualities go hand in hand, and are essential in a truly collaborative organization with a strong culture. Young people entering the profession are often bombarded with recruiting language that promises a “collegial, collaborative environment in which teamwork is a high priority.” The truth is, however, that if there is a lack of transparency in an organization, and there are not strong systems in place to make team members accountable to each other and to the firm’s overall mission, then such claims will be nothing more than lip-service, and this is a sign of an organization that will not be committed to your professional growth.
-- Russell Shapiro, Partner, Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC
Earning your CPA is just a stepping stone to a whole lot more. Look beyond licensure to specialization, expert credentials, national networking, and wherever else your dreams may take you. Your CPA is a base, align your work with your passion and vision, and you will have a good and fulfilling career and life no matter what you do.
-- Donny Shimamoto, Managing Director, Intraprise TechKnowlogies
The one piece of advice I would give young people entering the profession is to get to know their clients’ businesses and industries. Once they enter the profession, they’ve gotten their accounting training and interview skills at school. And as they grow in the profession, they will sharpen these skills. But the one area that I believe our new professionals must work at is to ensure that they understand what their clients do. Only with a deep understanding of their clients’ businesses and industries will they be great accountants and advisors.
-- Todd Simmens, National managing partner of tax risk management, BDO USA LLP
Don’t always opt for the bigger or more established firm, but rather one that you feel will give you the best opportunity to become involved in the firm operations and offers pathways to advance your career. And don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibilities or to be included in firm committees or community-related activities
those are the ones that are usually fast-tracked to partner.
-- Joel Sinkin, President, Transition Advisors
Please aggressively chase your dream. Be an active driver of your firms and your careers.
-- Greg Skoda, Chairman, Skoda Minotti
Agility trumps ability.
-- Douglas Sleeter, Founder and president, The Sleeter Group Inc.
It is a great time to be an accounting professional. The combination of a recovering economy with new opportunities that technology and socio-economic shifts are allowing means there continues to be demand in accounting for small businesses and consumers alike. The opportunity that new technologies and an always-on environment means that young accounting professionals can embrace a new world of client service for their customers.
I would also let young accounting professionals know that the path ahead is not clear and there are no right or wrong answers. There are only options. There are going to be ups and downs but it’s the thrill of the ride that counts. And if somehow they end up on the wrong road, they will have plenty of time to adjust.
My dad had a simple philosophy about making career choices: choose a job that makes your heart beat fast (follow your passion); choose a company where you are surrounded by people smarter than you (that you can learn from); and make enough money to pay your bills (never prioritize money over No. 1 and No. 2 above). That simple philosophy never pointed me towards a particular title or position, it simply guided me to prioritize and choose the best options at each point along my journey.
-- Brad Smith, President and CEO, Intuit
Listen and learn all you can about the clients you serve to build strong relationships. Choose a mentor to help you. Earn clients’ trust and confidence by anticipating their needs and bring value by delivering solutions that address those needs.
-- Kerry Sullivan-Lechner, Marketing director, Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co.
Join a progressive firm and learn from the best. If you have an opportunity to jump on a rocket ship, do it. Great people gravitate to great opportunities and you always want to surround yourself with great people.
-- Jamie Sutherland, President of U.S. operations, Xero
Don’t confuse accounting with business. Accounting is a tool that can help business succeed. But the ultimate goal is not good accounting; that’s just a means to an end. The ultimate goal is a successful, sustainable business.
-- Rick Telberg, President and CEO, Trendlines
It is a great profession—embrace the opportunities it will provide. Immerse yourself, listen and learn then be a decision-maker. Set your goal at being at the decision table, being bold, and being a part of the decisions. Don’t sit on the sidelines.
-- Arleen Thomas, Senior vice president of management accounting and global markets, AICPA
Take and pass the CPA Exam! Too many young professionals float from job to job without a career plan. Earning a CPA license demonstrates a commitment to one’s career path and shows a willingness to do what it takes to achieve career success. As a profession we need to do a better job of instilling the value of the license in our young staff. Research has shown that firm and company leaders place a premium on the CPA license, but that message isn’t trickling down to younger staff who need to know that the time and effort that they put into getting their license will be well worth it.
-- Ralph Thomas, CEO and executive director, New Jersey Society of CPAs
Differentiate yourself! You can do this by earning multiple respected certifications, joining a professional association to network and continuously improve, and, on the job by “stepping out” of your comfort zone. For example, if you aspire to become a CFO or controller, volunteer to participate on an important cross-functional initiative. Another piece of advice is to step out of finance and into operations, enabling you to be even more credible in understanding the flow of enterprise value once you step back into finance/accounting (if that is your choice for career growth and enrichment).
-- Jeffrey Thomson, President and CEO, IMA
The accounting profession is complex, and that complexity will only increase throughout your career. Take the time to explore all the various areas of practice before picking an area of specialty. Long gone are the days that you can know everything about everything, so go where your passions lead you. Learn as much as you can technically, but don’t underestimate the value you’ll provide the businesses you work with if you become a business advisor a sounding board to provide them advice as needed. And if you want to advance your career quicker, understand what it takes to bring in new business to the firm. This is not a skill you were taught in school, but people can learn how to do it. If you can master that skill, you’ll be rewarded.
-- Katie Tolin, Director of practice growth, SS&G
For young people coming into the field, I would recommend they explore going beyond traditional accounting rather than entrenching into standard practices; keep your options open. And this is where a CAS practice presents great(er) opportunities. Today, there are so many more options for young professionals to go after, and an accounting degree makes just about any field possible, whether it’s in accounting or another related field.
-- Pascal Van Dooren, Chief revenue officer, Avalara
Your education has laid a solid foundation upon which you will significantly build your financial accounting and reporting knowledge -- you are entering an exciting profession that will present many opportunities in the years ahead.
-- David Vaudt, Chairman, GASB
Develop a life-long passion for learning. Markets and clients are going through a period of great change economically, socially and technologically and the businesses of the future are not going to look like the businesses of today. The enterprises we work with are more complex and global; their operating models are changing; regulation is a bigger factor. Combine this with the fact that our work as a professional services firm is evolving faster than ever before, and these changes make it essential for today’s young professionals to be committed to continuous learning.
-- John Veihmeyer, Chairman and CEO, KPMG
Get started while you are still in school. The younger generation is fortunate to grow up in this technological age. They do not have to rely on a firm to hire them during college to get accounting experience before they graduate -- they can get the experience all on their own! There are cloud applications they can get started with while they are in school to serve small clients and create their own small accounting or bookkeeping business. By learning early in their educational career how to interact with clients, market themselves socially to attract clients and to deliver financial information in an automated and efficient manner, they will have more to offer to a future employer once they graduate from their accounting program (and probably be able to make more money than any other part-time job available to them while in school).
-- Amy Vetter, Global vice president of education and enablement, Xero
Get a second major in marketing or at least a minor. There are too many young accountants (by which I mean, in their 40s or younger) who don't understand marketing. They expect to sit at their desks and work with numbers, but the profession has changed drastically to focus on specialized business consulting. Young accountants need the skills to communicate their value to prospective clients, and to promote the benefits of other firm services to existing clients, in a variety of ways. That being said, I have to add that the work environment needs to allow employees to practice marketing as well as perform billable work.
-- Dawn Wagenaar, Principal and COO, Ingenuity Marketing Group
Begin your career with your end goal in mind. What’s your overall career ambition? What kind of role, responsibilities, and experiences do you need to achieve that ambition? Once you determine this, then you choose the path that’s going to help you get there. We’ve found in our Sage Vision and Strategy Workshops that it’s very common for accounting professionals to be so far down a path that doesn’t align to the goal they initially set out to achieve that they don’t know how to change their path. Don’t settle. Go after what you want. If you strive to be a valuable business advisor or consultant, don’t solely build a tax practice. It’s hard to switch gears once that becomes your “bread and butter.”
-- Jennifer Warawa, Vice president and general manager, Sage Accountant Solutions, Sage North America
Be BOLD! Don’t walk into the world of professional services with the mindset that you are going to learn a little and then exit. Walk in with your eyes wide open to the opportunities that are open to you, or that you could help open to the firm of the future. This is an amazing profession and you could help create an amazing life for yourself and your peers.
-- Sandra Wiley, Shareholder, and COO, Boomer Consulting
Only one? Develop your leadership and management abilities. Learn and practice “soft” skills with the same earnestness that you invest in technical skills. All manner of U.S. organizations are going to need bright and talented CPA leaders to drive their organizations forward and manage the complexities of changing business models, demographics and work methods we’re going to see in the next 10-15 years. CPAs who understand technical matters are always more prevalent than those who can lead an organization. If you want to stand apart, develop your “soft” skills starting Day One.
-- Jennifer Wilson, Co-founder and owner, ConvergenceCoaching
Focus on the positive impact you can have on small business success, not on the tedious, time-consuming and clerical-level tasks that have, up to this point, unfortunately defined our industry. Invest your continuing education efforts on financial planning, business planning, business measurements, and business intelligence. Empower your clients to better manage their business, interpret the results and plan for the future.
-- Joe Woodard, CEO, Woodard Consulting Group and Woodard Events
I would advise the young people entering the accounting profession today that they should be open to different types of opportunities and take advantage of any offers provided to them -- whether it is to work in an area they might not have thought of as their focus, to meet and work with someone who is a leader in the industry or their company, or to help out a co-worker that needs help on a project. They should also remember that their personal life and professional life will overlap and to keep in mind that their personal activities could impact their professional future.
-- Diane Yetter, President, YETTER