7 things every new public accountant should know
I’m Stephanie Ng, CPA and founder of I Pass the CPA Exam. Throughout my extensive accounting career, I’ve picked up a number of tips and tricks that are especially helpful to new accountants.
Especially on the public accounting path, there’s a number of words of wisdom that new accountants should know before stepping foot into their firm. Let’s explore the seven most important pieces of advice that every new public accountant should take to heart in order to set the foundation for a successful public accounting career!
1. Never stop learning
As a public accountant, you should never end your educational journey, as things are constantly changing in the world of accounting. This includes new tax laws, modified accounting regulations, emerging technology, and many more.
As such, it's beneficial to get into the mindset that you will always have something else to learn. When you’re a new public accountant, absorb every bit of information that comes your way as quickly as you can. Plan to pay your dues and overcome the huge learning curve as soon as possible, and keep a notepad with you at all times to jot down directions or comments from your supervisors. This will not only help you remember important instructions, but it also sends a signal that you’re invested in learning everything you can in your position. This could set you apart from your peers.
What’s more, if you get your CPA license, you’ll have to meet annual continuing professional education (CPE) requirements to keep your license active. Most firms provide engaging options to earn your CPE, and many provide large catalogs of courses on a variety of interesting and relevant topics that you can complete throughout the slow season. Consider selecting courses outside of your areas of expertise to further bolster your professional education.
2. Learn from your critics
In public accounting, you’ll likely report to many different supervisors. It can be frustrating to get feedback from so many bosses, and this feedback can sometimes be conflicting. Each supervisor will likely have different opinions about your strengths, weaknesses and what skills you still need to develop.
Instead of getting overwhelmed by this criticism, take it all in stride and use it to your advantage. For example, write down your bosses’ comments and actively try to improve your performance. If you’re confused about their comments, ask for clarification and for advice on how you can meet their expectations.
When you make an error, take note of it and figure out how to avoid that mistake in the future. Your supervisors will be impressed by your initiative and willingness to improve your performance.
3. Be a team player
As you’ll be working in a team capacity in many different instances, especially during busy season, it’s important to work cooperatively with others. With so many peers and senior supervisors, a lot of eyes will be on you, and you’ll need to work efficiently together on a number of tasks. There will be no shortage of ways to discover if you aren’t a team player. Your team members will be looking to see if you aren’t abiding by the rules of the company, and clients typically prefer to work with public accountants who are friendly and have positive attitudes. So, getting along with other team members and offering to step in and help will serve you and your team well.
4. Don’t be afraid of turnover
Turnover is fairly common in the public accounting world, as it can be a demanding career, especially during busy season.
However, there is some good news. First, the turnover rates at accounting firms are actually getting better. Since the AICPA’s 2016 Map Survey, the largest firms' turnover rates actually decreased by 2.7%. What’s more, the national rate of employees who voluntarily left their jobs in any field was much higher at 27%, according to the 2019 Retention Report from the Work Institute. Turnover is common in this field but is slowly becoming better as more firms seek to improve employee work-life balance, so don’t let it scare you.
5. Challenge yourself
As a new public accountant, you should be open to new engagement opportunities or assignments that your seniors, managers and partners believe you’re equipped to handle. Don’t turn down any opportunity to learn and gain visibility to the many roles and clients that you and your team serve. If you leverage what you will learn in public accounting, you may be able to advance your career more rapidly, as you’ll have more accomplishments and experience under your belt.
6. Use public accounting as a gateway
For most, public accounting is a career stepping stone. It’s not uncommon for CPAs to move on to positions as a corporate accountant, controller, or even eventually a higher position, like CFO. Additionally, others choose to expand their financial careers upon earning their CPA and go into financial planning and analysis. Experienced public accountants with diverse business endeavors may be able to transition into many roles after they leave public accounting.
So, don’t get complacent in your public accounting position. Instead, keep your exit strategy open and focus on your not-too-distant career goals at all times. Working in public accounting will give you numerous transferable skills that can be applicable to a number of positions. Just because you start in public accounting, it doesn't mean that you have to stay there!
7. Become a CPA as soon as you can
It’s best to start pursuing the CPA credential as soon as possible, as the CPA requirements take some time to meet. For example, you have to pass all four parts of the exam within 18 months and have 150 credit hours of higher education. Then, you must gain at least 1 year of experience. So, the entire journey to becoming a CPA can take a few years. Additionally, as you move further up in public accounting, you may find yourself with less time to study, so it may be beneficial to get the CPA Exam out of the way as quickly as possible.
Once you have that CPA license in hand, it can open new doors in your career, whether in a new position or career mobility. Even if you’re in the process of passing the CPA Exam and haven’t met all of the requirements yet, potential employers will understand that you’re taking career development seriously.
If you’re embarking on the public accounting path, the opportunities are endless. Ensuring that you start off your public accounting career on the right foot is essential and can help prepare you for a long and rewarding accounting career.
Want to learn more about careers in public accounting? Here are 6 things you may not know about public accounting.
Learn more about the accounting career path on the Becker career blog.
Stephanie Ng is the Executive Committee member responsible for Finance at New Sight Eye Care, a charity registered in the United Kingdom and Hong Kong. She oversees the financial aspect of New Sight in Hong Kong, including accounting, taxation, financial management, and compliance.
She began her career as an investment banker at Lehman Brothers in New York and Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong before joining her client to work in the Group Finance Department, where she spent five years specializing in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, and debt refinancing. She also extended her role to management accounting and financial accounting and obtained her US CPA license.
Stephanie also is a published author of the book How to Pass the CPA Exam. Additionally, she publishes Big4Bound.com, a site dedicated to helping accountants land competitive jobs within the Big 4 accounting firms. Her guidance and mentorship have helped hundreds of thousands of candidates pass their exams and jobs.