Career Tips for the New Grad

How to succeed in accounting. Join the survey. Get the answers.

June 21, 2007
by Rick Telberg/On Careers

Everybody’s got advice for the new grad, and accountants, it turns out, are no different.

We’re getting excellent results from our new survey searching for career advice. Though the survey shows a lot of variety, the advice is not contradictory. It’s good advice, with 60 percent of it coming from professionals in the field for 10 to 30 years. We think it’s worth sharing.

Asked what the most important ingredients to a successful career are, 86 percent of respondents point to communication and inter-personal skills — the ability to relate to people and to get along with others.

We imagine few of today’s new graduates took a course in getting along with others. Maybe they should.

The second most popular piece of advice, recommended by 79 percent of respondents, is “integrity and good character,” yet another topic barely covered in the average college curriculum. At most, it might be addressed in a single, cursory course in ethics.

The third is “constant, lifelong learning,” indicated by 71 percent. This again is a subject not often taught in school. Students are taught to know, not to keep learning. The diploma may give the mistaken impression that the learning has been completed; that now it’s just a matter of finding a job and raking in the dough.

Career Strategies 2007: What does it take to succeed as a CPA?

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Fourth — finally! — as indicated by 69 percent, is “up-to-date technical knowledge and skills,” the stuff that colleges at least try to teach, though whatever “up-to-date” skills they gained will fade into obsolescence faster than last week’s software.

Though the survey respondents by no means meant to say “forget everything you learned in school,” they do seem to be indirectly saying, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

In search of unobvious answers, we asked some open-ended questions, letting professionals impart their hard-earned words of wisdom.

And plenty of wisdom we got.

“Never take training for granted,” says Peter Frank, of Dumfries, Va., who’s been in the business for over 20 years. “Get the most out of it. Get your CPA early and go after your masters in tax or business. Treat your clients as you would want to be treated. Learn from your mistakes.”

Cheryl Solze, of Colorado Springs, succinctly reflects the most common advice: “You need to like working with people in order to be a good CPA. It's not all about numbers.”

We bet she didn’t learn that in college.

Matthew Pletcher, of Goshen, Ind., with over 20 years of accountancy under his belt, trims it down to nine words: “Love your clients and your work. Forget the money.”

If he learned that in college, we bet it wasn’t in an accounting course.

Masarrat Shaikh of Chicago has been in the business just seven years, but it sounds like he’s on his way to a long and successful career. His advice: “Build your clientele by effective networking and patiently building yourself as a confident and knowledgeable consultant of this profession.”

And we heard “get” a lot. Get a mentor. Get an advanced degree. Get involved in professional organizations. Get varied experience.

“Work with the smartest people you can, and learn as much from them as you can,” says Melinda Boswell of Baltimore. “If you do that, the money will take care of itself.”

And that’s probably the theme of what we’re hearing the most. Keep learning. Keep asking. Keep listening.

And to that we’d like to add, “Keep your diploma on the wall, but don’t keep looking at it. College has helped you scratch the surface of a deep and complex profession, and much of what you need to know, your professors never got around to telling you.”

NOW IT'S YOUR TURN: What are the ingredients to success as a CPA? Join the study. Get the answers.

COMMENTS: Rants, raves, idle thoughts or questions? Contact Rick Telberg.

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