Want to make it big in accounting? Try these tips

As campuses fill up for the fall, future CPAs are going back to class, too

If the numbers continue to hold true, a lot of students in Generation Z want to be accountants.

Enrollment in bachelor’s accounting degree programs climbed to a record high of almost 216,500 two years ago and stayed near record levels last year, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). That means Generation Z — the successors to millennials — is ready to step forward toward a potentially prosperous and rewarding career in accounting.

Those future grads will become the most trusted advisors in business, tax planning and wealth management for families looking to manage household finances and for industry leaders looking for help steering their businesses and corporations through mazes of regulatory issues.

And often it’s a world quite contrary to the stereotype of CPAs. To get an idea of what to expect and how to thrive, here are tips for prospective students and grads who want to make it big in accounting:

Honesty and accountability go a long way. You will make mistakes, so don’t be surprised when they happen. If you never make a mistake, you will never learn. Be accountable for your actions and let someone know to help you mitigate any damages. Don’t ignore a potential mistake, because it could spin a small mistake into a big problem. Every misstep is an opportunity to learn something that ultimately supports long-term success.

Understand and adapt to the schedule. Multiple deadlines dictate an accountant’s schedule. Unlike in college, when you might cram a semester of knowledge into a few days before a final exam, you won’t build an accounting career with all-nighters. Deadline season — or “busy season” — is a known factor every year. Learn how to balance workflow by taking advantage of non-deadline times to get other work finished. You’ll still want you to have a life outside the office; that’s added motivation to finish work well in advance of deadlines.

Collaborate and know your coworkers. With so much of our day spent at work, it helps to build relationships with colleagues. Socialize with the people in your office — at every level, in every department. Find ways to leverage their expertise to help you with clients. Introduce them to others. Professionally, your coworkers will play a big role in moving the firm forward and supporting your development.

Build your network and keep your mind open. Look for relationships with professionals you admire and who are eager to provide mentoring. Get involved in professional associations early in your career. Ask questions and soak up the knowledge that will empower you and support your ongoing professional development. Make it a point to learn at least one thing from every person you work with, no matter his or her level, specialty, or department. Even everyday activities can be learning experiences. Don’t just go through the motions while performing repetitive tasks such as account reconciliations; think about ways to improve the process to make it more efficient.

Build and protect your personal brand. Your personal brand is the reputation you create for yourself based on the things you do and say, and it develops at the office and in your personal life. It’s how others perceive you, how they remember you and why they should seek you out. Building your personal brand is a process that happens over the course of your career, and it comes from learning all you can about your clients, their industries and their challenges, and from demonstrating that you provide the value, attention and nurturing they expect and deserve from a trusted consultant. Attend presentations about a variety of industries or researching to write an article can enhance your brand.

Manage upward. Young CPAs sometimes develop skills — such as those involving newer technologies — that established professionals lack. Seize the initiative and teach those skills to your colleagues. You also can take ownership of projects and take initiative in day-to-day work. Rather than wait for the boss to ask for something, provide it ahead of time. Find ways to manage up to get feedback.

Take risks and break the routine. Avoid the risk of lapsing into a routine that keeps you stagnant and limits your ability to achieve the career you desire. Be open to new people, new ideas and new experiences. Have fun. You may have started college with plans to be an auditor, but if you get assigned a valuation project, go with it and embrace the chance to learn and expand. Risks can lead to opportunities. Remember, this is a profession where change and challenge are expected. Embrace every new experience, because they can help your career.

Get out of the office and make community interaction a priority. Expanding your network of contacts and experiences outside of the firm is vital in your development as a professional accountant and as a leader. Be strategic in deciding which community, civic and charitable organizations align with your passions, your available time and your goals. Giving back to the community means more than opening your wallet. Give your time, your expertise, your leadership. Use social media to find and interact with like-minded professionals and people who might open you to an outside-the-box style of thinking.

If you have questions about a career in accounting or related fields, please contact us at KraftCPAs. We’ll be happy to chat with you.

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