Welcome to the accounting profession! As you take your first steps on your hopefully long, prosperous and rewarding career journey, there are some things you should know. Things that are contrary to the lackluster stereotype of CPAs!
Truth be told, accountants are often the most trusted advisors in business, tax and wealth planning. We are the professionals whom leaders of industry turn to for assistance in guiding their businesses through a maze of regulatory issues to profitability; the ones high-net-worth families rely on to develop strategies that create and preserve wealth; and the ones whose knowledge and problem-solving abilities help individuals and organizations realize their goals.
Having spent more than three decades interviewing hundreds of campus recruits and watching young CPAs develop and grow into trusted advisors, I want to share with you 10 truths to guide you on your path to success in the accounting profession.
(For a slideshow version of this, click here.)
1. Be inquisitive. As a recent graduate, you are not expected to know how to put your knowledge into practice. In fact, most of your new colleagues expect that you will rely on them to learn the ropes. If you have a question, ask it, whether it is how to complete a task, how the laws have changed or how to handle a client challenge. It is better to ask a question and potentially appear uninformed than it is to take action without having the right information. You must still perform research to learn, but do not be afraid to ask for help. Being vulnerable is an essential component to becoming a caring professional with an arsenal of knowledge to advise clients.
2. Commit the effort to hone your skills. Your education provided you with a solid base upon which you can build a rewarding career in accounting, but there is so much more to learn. Roll up your sleeves and take advantage of every opportunity to acquire knowledge. Enhance both your technical and leadership skills and become a proficient advisor in a practice area or industry where your passion and leadership can shine. The more you learn, the more you increase your chances of becoming a valued and trusted advisor.
3. Get out of your comfort zone and take risks. Avoid complacency and the risk of falling into a routine that keeps you stagnant and impedes your ability to achieve the career you desire. Be open to new people, new ideas and new experiences; share your curiosity; and have fun. You may have planned to be an auditor, but if you are tapped for a valuation project, go with it and see what you can learn. By taking risks, you can step into new opportunities and grow in the process. You have chosen a profession where constant change and challenge are the norm. Embrace every new experience to enhance your career.
4. Be honest and accountable. As a new professional, you are bound to make mistakes. We will never expose you to more risk than you can handle. If you never make a mistake, you will never learn. Be accountable for your actions and immediately let someone know to help you mitigate any damages. If you attempt to hide the mistake, you compound the problem. Every mistake is an opportunity for you to learn something that ultimately supports your long-term success.
5. Understand and adapt to the seasons of an accountant’s life. Accountants live and breathe by deadlines. Unlike your time in college, when you could cram a semester of knowledge into a few days before a final exam, you cannot build a career as an accountant by pulling all-nighters. Deadline season is a known factor that you can count on and prepare for in advance. Learn how to smooth out your workflow by taking advantage of non-deadline times to get work done prior to delivery dates. We want you to have a quality life outside the office where personal matters may pop up just when you’re working on deadline. Get it done early.
6. Collaborate and make friends with your coworkers. With so much of our day spent at work, it is important to develop and nurture relationships with your colleagues. Take advantage of every opportunity to socialize with the people in your office, at every level and in every department. Learn to leverage their expertise to help you with client issues. Introduce them to others at every opportunity. Professionally, your coworkers play a strategic role in moving the firm forward and supporting your development. At all times, treat others with dignity and respect. On a personal level, you may be surprised to find how much you have in common with your coworkers, many of whom will become your closest friends and loudest cheerleaders.
7. Build your network and cultivate relationships with mentors. Accounting is an apprenticeship profession in which people develop people. Seek out and develop relationships with professionals you admire and who understand this concept. Ask questions and acquire knowledge that will empower you and support your ongoing professional development. We are invested in your ultimate success.
8. Get out of the office and make community a priority. Expanding your network of contacts and experiences outside of the firm is vital in your development as a professional accountant and as a leader. Be strategic in deciding which community, civic and charitable organizations align with your passions, your available time and your goals. Giving back to the community means more than opening your wallet. Give your time, your expertise, your leadership. Start with your network of fellow graduates and make a concerted effort to establish meaningful relationships with professional and community organization where your knowledge and leadership can make an impact.
9. Build and protect your personal brand. Your personal brand is the reputation you create for yourself based on the things you do and say, both at work and in your personal life. It is how others perceive you, how they remember you and why they should seek you out. Building your personal brand is a deliberate process that occurs over the course of your career. Demonstrating your technical skills will not be enough; you must learn all you can about your clients, their industries and their challenges, and you must demonstrate that you provide the value, attention and nurturing they expect and deserve from a trusted consultant.
10. Discover your passion and pursue it relentlessly. Keep exploring until you find what you love to do and then do it relentlessly. If you are able to discover what you are passionate about, work will become your calling. Your career will be dedicated to pursuing an expertise that will result in others seeking your counsel. Persevere until you discover your passion, and then just have fun!