Tips for new seniors at public accounting firms

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One of the most intimidating moments in public accounting is the transition from a staff to a senior on an engagement. The general consensus, which is almost never discussed out loud, is that most people actually don’t feel ready for this promotion.

Part of the reason many individuals don’t feel ready for the promotion to senior is because two years in public accounting isn’t a very long time. There is still so much left to learn, and now you’re responsible for being the point person that’s running the engagement - it’s a lot of pressure.

 Although transitioning from being a staff in public accounting to a senior can feel intimidating, with the right preparation you will be able to ensure a smooth engagement.

Transitioning from a staff in public accounting to a senior 

Here are a few tips for new seniors in public accounting:

1. Be the senior that you wish you had

When you transition from a staff to the senior, it helps to contemplate your experience as a staff. What does a senior do, and which seniors are the most successful? Which seniors did you enjoy working with and why? Which senior did you not enjoy working with and why?

Taking the best traits from the seniors that you liked working with and learning from the poor traits from the seniors that you didn’t like working with will help you develop into being a great leader for your new staff.

The best leaders are the ones who develop their staff and support their careers. If you take the time to explain complex concepts to them, it will pay off in the long run. You really get out of the role what you put into it.

2. Stay organized

As a senior, the timeline and progress of the engagement is resting on your shoulders. The client, manager, senior manager and partner may ask you at any given time what the status of the engagement is and what are the main open items. Leading a smooth engagement requires a ton of status updates and check-ins with your team.

When you first start as a senior on an engagement, it’s extremely important to stay organized with a detailed Excel tracker of everything that needs to get done, the deadline for each task, and who on your team is assigned to prepare it and review it. This will constantly need to be updated throughout the engagement to ensure that deadlines are being met on a timely basis.

 Setting up an organization system or tracker requires some up-front work, but it quickly pays off by allowing for an efficient and smooth engagement.

3. Communicate with the client often

As the senior on the engagement, you’re going to be the point person for the client to contact. It’s important to build rapport with the client early on to have a solid relationship.

The best way to stay on track with the engagement is to set up weekly, recurring status update meetings with the client and send out the open items list regularly so that it is very clear which requested items are past due.

While the meetings may seem boring or repetitive at times, it will motivate the client to get you requested materials on a timely basis.

4. Manage up

The concept of “managing up” is one of the most underrated and most important tools to become a successful senior.

While you are essentially leading the engagement, there will be times where you don’t have the answer to something that comes up and you will need to escalate the issue. You also might be waiting on the manager, senior manager, or partner to review something. Upper management is often the cause of bottlenecks and keeping them on track can sometimes be a huge challenge!

One way to manage up is to set up a weekly, recurring check-in meeting with the manager or senior manager on the engagement. During this meeting, you can go through any issues that need to be escalated or give them a gentle reminder on any workpapers they are behind on reviewing.

Ultimately, strong organization skills and effective communication with your staff, your client, and your manager will allow for a smooth engagement and keep you on track as you make this transition.

I would love this series to be a dialogue, so if you have additional advice or questions send me a message on Instagram.

This piece is Chapter 13 in “The Life of an Accountant Series” by Kristin Lofgren of @Lets_Get_Fiscal. Read her prologue here. 

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