Are you a high school student curious about resumes? Or the CPA exam? Or the size of your future paycheck? Enter your question below and we’ll have a real-life CPA answer it.
If you are in college or beyond, get the answers to your questions by contacting the Academic & Career Awareness team.
Check out these questions or ask your own.
Communication, both written and verbal, are extremely important and valuable skills that young folks should learn to build and master in preparation for a career in business and accounting. Topics like wealth, bankruptcy, fraud, taxes and investments can be complicated and sometimes invoke emotions in clients and suppliers. People entering accounting need to be able to communicate effectively about dollars, cents and regulations, while maneuvering around the emotions that the client may be feeling. It’s not enough to be able to quote rules or simply email a spreadsheet. Accountants must also be able to explain further, give examples and answer questions adequately. Today’s teenagers are very good at texting and writing short and sweet emails. Brevity is definitely a good trait. And so is picking up the telephone or having a face-to-face conversation, when getting the facts straight is essential or the message must be precisely understood. Live interactions can be the difference between a grave misunderstanding and closing a massive deal. Therefore, teenagers must ensure that their communication experiences are well-rounded to include written and verbal skills.
Also, it’s amazing how client service plays such a significant role all aspects of business. Clients will work with the individual or company with whom they feel most comfortable and who is the most reliable. If a CPA promises a product by the end of the month, and is able to meet (or exceed) that promise, that professional is more likely to hang on to the client and receive client referrals vs. the CPA who is constantly over promising and under delivering. When I interview young people, I like to hear about their experiences with customers and how they handled tough situations when the customer was not pleased. If the candidate does not have any exposure to customer service, I am less inclined to put that person in front of my clients.
The bottom line when it comes to skills is that the “essential” skills are more valuable than technical (e.g. accounting rules) skills. You can teach people both essential skills and technical requirements. However, it takes much more time and practice to build and master essential skills, such as communication, leadership, client service, teamwork, project management, management and innovation, than it does to learn the things we can all get from a book. My advice is that young people take the time to balance out their resume with a mix of experiences and classes that will enable them to work on essential skills. Middle school students should get involved in at least one activity, like a sport, band or theater. If accounting and business classes are offered in high school, take them. And also take a part-time job that will give you exposure to customers, a different level of responsibility and people that may be a little dissimilar from you. As you go through college, you should look for work and extra-curricular opportunities that offer leadership and an increasing level of technical exposure. Remember that you’re not going to get those opportunities if you don’t have anything to offer, such as solid communication skills. Variety of experiences and skills is what you’ll need to succeed in business and accounting. You can start to build that variety today.
Money is what grabbed my attention. Not the ability to make bunches of money but rather the skill to learn about how it works and the best ways to count it. When I learned that accountants were the people who had the most knowledge about tracking money and explaining wealth, I was hooked. As I investigated accounting as a career, I discovered that having the CPA credential is a HUGE advantage in this field of work because it demonstrates one’s expertise and experience.
The CPA designation is recognized around the world and is something of which to be proud. I wanted to be part of that group of accounting experts. I also wanted to understand the foundation of business and have the ability to transfer my experience to further career opportunities, if I so desired in my future. A CPA license gives the holder much notoriety, as well as flexibility.
In the end, I know that my decision to go into accounting and to gain my CPA credential were some of the best choices I’ve made in my life.
Tara Hagan, Audit Manager
Is it something I’m truly passionate about? Great question. It sounds odd saying you’re truly passionate about accounting, but it’s a challenge and it’s very engaging. You’re working with clients and your teammates, studying new accounting pronouncements, learning unique business processes, and navigating a maze of numbers like it’s a logic puzzle. You wake up each morning, and you never know what the day will entail, but you know that others depend on you, so it makes you feel involved and dedicated to your work, which in a way is passionate.
People have different goals as CPAs, but my goal is to learn as much as possible about the industry and about the companies I serve and to develop my professional client service skills. I hope to add value to the clients I serve. For example, as a public accountant, I go into companies, poke and prod, ask questions, and try to gain a broad understanding of the company. Through this process, I get to see disconnects to correct or improvements to be made in a company. When you find ways to improve a company’s financial reporting process, the feeling is very rewarding. Finally, I hope to develop others on my team. You will work with different characters at different levels and you learn to work with diverse teams. I always hope to develop friendships with my coworkers and to support them and help them develop professionally. So the goals are three-fold – developing my professional skills and improving my skills, adding value to clients I serve, and supporting my teammates.
As for your last question on the satisfying path vs. the lonely road, as with any job, it’s what you make of it. I have worked on teams with over a hundred people where it’s impossible to feel isolated, and I have worked on a project where I was the only person on my team. In the large team, I had plenty of opportunities to network and learn from different managers. When I was by myself, I became friends with the controller at the client and felt very independent and very proud of my work product because it was something I accomplished on my own. So there are pros and cons to either approach, but in either situation, you have to make the most of it and take advantage of the opportunities there.
With an accounting degree, every job I’ve had since college has more than paid the bills. I started out making a very decent salary and it has steadily increased over the years, very much in line with my changing personal life. Budgeting and saving has been the key for me to be able to buy what I want. I started contributing to my 401k immediately after starting work. And I opened a Roth IR and started saving for investments, such as a house. By the time I wanted to purchase a piece of furniture, a car or a house, I had the cash to pay in full or incur a substantial down payment. My accounting background and certainly my CPA credential have enabled me to earn a salary that allows me to lead a very comfortable and fulfilling life.
The CPA exam is a comprehensive test of everything accounting. So, let’s say it’s not an easy task to recall all of that information at once. The idea to remember is that passing is possible and attainable with a dedicated study plan. Passing the CPA exam is such a rewarding experience, not only for having accomplished a huge hurdle but also for taking your career to the next level. Just like all other worthwhile things in life, the return on investment is immense.