5 Things I Learned as a First-Year Staff in a CPA Firm
April 18, 2016 – busy season has come and gone. It seems like just yesterday that the first client file landed on my desk and I had no idea which software to open to even get started. I’ve come a long way since that day, which is why I wanted to take a minute to share five things I learned as a first-year staff at a cpa firm.
1. You don’t really know anything coming out of school. I don’t mean to belittle the hard work you’ve put in the last four years of your life at school, – but to be honest, I knew nothing when I started out just 6 months ago. Well, maybe I knew how to write a general email, but the first client email I drafted for a partner got sent straight to the trash folder. The learning curve of entering public accounting from school is extremely steep. But don’t worry! The expectation is not that you come out of school ready to run the firm (there are people who have been working longer than you’ve been alive!). Your manager simply expects you to be diligent, try your best, and not be afraid to ask questions. After all, that’s how you learn!
2. Ask, ask away. Mistakes and questions are the building blocks of improvement. Public accounting and the classroom are vastly different. There is something intimidating about having three monitors staring down at you with five different software programs that you can hardly remember the names of. Feel free to ask a neighbor what to do – we’ve all been there. As school is widely an individual pursuit, a healthy company realizes and embraces the fact that firm success is a team effort. Spending a few minutes today to teach someone how to work effectively can pay huge dividends for the future.
3. Learn to manage your time well. The beauty of the public accounting is that it often allows for a flexible schedule. But this doesn’t come easily or without careful planning. I would argue that out of all the things I learned in college, time management was the most important skill that I brought to the firm. Not because it has directly increased revenue, but because it has allowed me to remain focused and on top of my work load. Working in the professional services industry naturally leads to a juggling act. I can count on one hand the number of times that I received a client file, prepared it, had it reviewed, and sent to assembly in one sitting – it simply doesn’t happen regularly. Most of the time, the client needs to be contacted, documents need to be received, or questions need to be answered, causing the project to remain on the back burner until further notice. But that doesn’t mean you can just forget about it! Spreadsheets, sticky notes, reminders, and task management software are all helpful tools to stay on top of your work and see the project through to completion. It’s about finding a system that works best for you, and implementing it on a daily basis. At any point, a partner might ask you what the status is on the project you worked on two months ago. It looks really good if you can provide a detailed answer on the spot!
4. The horror stories of “busy season” are not really that bad. When I was going through the recruiting process, a popular question to ask was, “what’s busy season like?”. On the tax side, the duration of busy season is generally from January to April 15. I remember staff and senior associates from a variety of firms telling stories of 70-80 hour work weeks, nights spent at the office, and working on weekends. Although I did work harder than I ever have before, my colleagues and I were doing it together. There is a certain comradery that comes with working hard towards the same goal. At Delap, we have a motto of INVEST – to invest in our clients, each other and ourselves. When you have hit your 40th hour of the week and it is only Thursday afternoon, or when you feel like you can’t possibly prepare another return, but your teammates are right there with you in the trenches, an indescribable sense of motivation occurs and you accomplish far more than you ever thought you could. Be willing to help others. Be willing to let others help you.
5. College is great, but being a professional is better. When the sun is out, the cherry blossoms are blooming and your greatest concern at the moment is whether you want to toss the Frisbee or sit on a blanket and play your guitar, it’s hard to believe that college isn’t the best four years of your life. Don’t get me wrong, I had an awesome time when I was in school, but I’m convinced that the working world is even better. Developing yourself professionally, meeting new coworkers and clients, and having a little more money to spend is liberating. Taking charge of your career and helping solve problems that make a difference in your community is rewarding. It might be a bit more stressful at times, but you can’t enjoy the good times without experience the tough times.
The past six months have flown by. Public accounting is definitely a fast-paced working environment, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. As Pele, the Brazilian soccer superstar, once said, “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” That is what you have to look forward to in your first year on the job!
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Delap LLP is one of Portland’s largest local tax, audit, and consulting accounting firms, located in Lake Oswego, Oregon.