Managing Your Career at Every Level — Entry Level Adjustment
Entry-level employees can either be the happiest or the ones who complain all the time. The first tasks given to an entry-level accounting professional tend to be more tedious in nature than they are strategic, but having the right mindset regarding the tasks can help. Managers and supervisors can present the daily tasks in a positive manner, reward project fulfillment and expand the function to engage employees. In short, the more one puts into an entry-level position, the more the company and the employee will get out of it.
Employees need to learn as much as they can in these positions, ask questions and start thinking about where it could lead. It’s a good time to investigate what different areas of an accounting firm or corporate department have to offer and what sort of time and energy commitment is necessary to get there. And it’s never too early to start thinking about the CPA Exam — how long it will take to pass, why it’s necessary and how to make plans to study.
“If I had to give one piece of advice to anyone who is just starting out in their accounting career, I would say two words: time management,” explains Dr. Sean Stein Smith, DBA, CPA, CMA, CGMA, CFE, assistant professor at Lehman College. “Balancing everything that CPAs have to do, including but not limited to work responsibilities and prepping for the CPA Exam, can be a challenge even for the most well-prepared and organized person.”
At this stage in life, young professionals are typically trying to adjust to new work hours, a commute, a busy tax season or simply the work culture at a new office.
“Your time is your most valuable asset, and making sure that you plan out your schedule, including some time just for yourself, is essential,” says Stein Smith. “Everything takes time, and making sure that you are focusing your efforts on the areas that provide you the biggest bang for your proverbial buck is essential.”
Diane Opuda, CPA, manager at RotenbergMeril, sees entry-level positions as a good place to start thinking about your career, not just your first job. “In the early stages of your career, it is especially important to develop opportunities for yourself. The supervisors in your company may not be actively considering your personal and career development, so it would be wise to take it upon yourself to take charge of it.”
What’s the best way to begin? “One way to do this is to get involved in as many projects as possible and work with as many people as possible because every project affords an opportunity to learn something new, and every person you work with has the ability to teach you something. Do not be afraid to request to be cross-trained or get involved with a project that interests you,” she says.
If there is an aspect of the company you want to learn more about, Opuda says it’s better to be proactive rather than assume you will get the same opportunity if you wait for someone else to assign or suggest it. “In most instances, your company will want to utilize you to the greatest extent possible and encourage your desire to learn and grow, so your ambition will be appreciated.” In this way, an employee will gain visibility, Opuda adds, and a company can get to know and recognize an employee’s abilities. “Gaining experience helps build confidence, and, with that, you can earn the respect and trust of your colleagues. Remember, your employment should be a mutually beneficial relationship.”
To the new working professional, networking can be overwhelming, depending upon what sort of introduction the employee has to it. Networking can be as simple as joining a company’s sports team, an association’s committee or a local charity. It can be fun or a means to land a job, depending on what the individual makes of it. All new employees should start to network even if they don’t see the need for such a thing at first; many individuals are often surprised at how it can lead to a new job, a new friend or a life-long colleague. As Eileen Monesson, CPC, of PRCounts says, “entry-level accountants should start attending networking events at least once a week as soon as possible and join various young professional groups, as well as local business, trade and industry associations.”
And networking is never a one-time event. “The true value of focusing on cultivating a professional network is that you will have the opportunity to develop solid relationships with individuals who will advance through their careers with you,” explains Monesson. “As you both are promoted to higher positions in your respective firms, you can refer more business to one another. In addition, you can learn valuable information from each other to further advance your careers.”
Timing is also important. Just realizing that networking is important is not enough. “If you wait until you are a manager or partner to start building your network, you will lose out. It is important to start early and continuously meet new people,” says Monesson.
Getting Your Credentials
Although many entry-level accountants may decide to take a break from studying for the CPA Exam to focus on their job and personal lives, this is not always the wisest option, says Janice Warner, Ph.D, acting provost at Georgian Court University. “Life might get in the way of having the time and resources to become a CPA or earn a master’s degree. It is important for accountants to have the CPA designation whether you are working in public or private accounting. You will earn more money and position yourself for growth.”
Indeed, data from Robert Half’s latest Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance shows that compensation for CPAs was anticipated to increase 3.4 percent or more in 2017. As Warner points out, data shows that CPA and non-CPA salaries are not alike, with a lifetime earning premium (LEP) for a 22-year-old CPA working for a large company being nearly $1 million more than a non-CPA associate if they both work until age 65. She adds that management is impressed by employees who take the initiative to become a CPA early in their career. “These individuals are often ‘fast tracked’ and given more opportunities,” she says.
Janice Warner, Ph.D., is the dean of the School of Business & Digital Media at Georgian Court University.
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This article appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.