Accounting is a rewarding career with plenty of growth opportunities. Accountants enjoy solid pay, ample advancement opportunities, and the chance to serve the broader good, but the transition from studying accounting to practicing it can be an adventure.
In a recent newsletter, the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) offers the following tips for young accountants to ease the transition from backpack to briefcase:
Sharpen “soft skills”: At school, it’s easy to focus only on the academics and assume that skills guiding personal and professional interaction will take care of themselves. Employers say many fresh graduates who have grown up in the tech era are less prepared for the human element of a new career. As a result, students who can hold a professional conversation, offer a strong handshake, and make eye contact gain an edge in hiring and promotions. For that reason, make it a priority to polish these skills. The skills you pick up will prove useful for years to come.
Keep learning: The degree doesn’t mean you get to retire the thinking cap. Most firms have a lengthy onboarding program to teach the company’s culture and procedures. Be prepared for a transition period as you meet new colleagues, learn new computer systems, and acclimate to a full-time, fully professional world. Take advantage of this early period and “embrace as much as you can and be a sponge the first year,” says Liz Niemczura, a UHY staff accountant. She recommends asking plenty of questions. “You are going to be learning so much in your first few years, and the more questions you ask, the more you will develop not only your technical knowledge base, but also your people skills,” said Niemczura.
Successfully navigate busy season: Young accountants face big challenges in their first busy season. “You will work weekends and you will be exhausted. Sometimes you may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day for work, a social life, and sleep,” said Allison Towle, who joined accounting firm Mazars USA in New Jersey in 2015. That’s why many firms offer perks aimed at reducing stress, such as catering food or allowing employees to work some hours from home. Niemczura does little things such as taking a full-hour lunch break, getting up every hour or so for a quick walk break, and using a small water bottle that needs frequent refilling to remind her to stretch her legs. But hang in there: After busy season wanes, many accountants treat themselves with a well-earned vacation.
Use time wisely: It’s easy to get distracted by snaps from your friends and that viral video trending on Facebook. You don’t have to turn off your outside life at work, but you do need to keep the social activity to a minimum, particularly if your job involves hourly billing. Most employers recognise that social media is a way to network and access market and industry information and news. Still, minimise all distractions during work hours. If you feel yourself being pulled into social media, set aside time to sign on either at lunch or during a scheduled break.
Plan to study: In addition to adjusting to a real-world career that includes busy stretches when vacation isn’t allowed, newbies have to set aside time to prepare for further exams. Niemczura said she mapped out a study calendar on her bedroom wall and worked to meet a daily goal. “Breaking the chapters and sections out into smaller parts for each day made it a lot more manageable for me, which made the whole exam feel less daunting,” she recalled. Towle recommended getting licensed sooner, rather than later. “Make a serious effort to buy your study materials and let your friends and family know that you are fully committed to this,” she said.
Practice self-care: With all this change, it is easy to put things like exercising and healthy eating on the back burner. “Make sure you stay active,” Towle said. “Bring your own lunch instead of buying fast food. The little things can make a huge difference in the long run.”