What Makes a Good Accountant?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” there are a few concrete traits and educational requirements that make up a good accountant. These include analytical skills, being detail oriented, possessing a great ability to compare, interpret, and analyze complex figures, and having keen organizational skills. Oh, and obtaining a bachelor’s degree in accounting, plus licenses and certifications if you want to increase your opportunities.
Those hunting for accounting jobs right now probably already know those basics. For accountants craving more specific tips on how they can best perform in the field, we compiled this helpful list after speaking with industry professionals.
1. Go for the job, not the green
“Take a job for the experience it will give you, not for the money,” says tax and business consultant Deirdre Morhet. “Make sure the job you take will get you one step closer to the direction you want to go, even if it is not your ideal job, whether it is the industry or responsibility. For instance, if you want to learn SEC reporting, as is necessary for accounting job security 90% of the time, you should make sure you can get into a publicly traded company.”
2. Pay it forward
Morhet goes on to reiterate the age-old concept that giving is essential to receiving. This is especially true for those seeking accounting jobs with Moneyjobs.
“As you grow, help others,” she says. “I can’t tell you how many talented accountants I have run across that are stuck at a certain level because they don’t have what it takes to manage. Some don’t want to be managers and some are never given the opportunity. The way to be given the opportunity is to take initiative in helping others learn without getting paid for it. You will only get so far as an individual contributor.”
3. Start in public accounting
This nugget of advice comes from Casey Alseika, who spent a decade working as an accountant and now helps recruit them for top firms in New York and New Jersey as a partner with the WatsonBarron Group.
“The best way to prepare for a lifelong career in accounting,” she offers, “is to begin your career with a public accounting firm. The work you do in your first few years and the relationships you form will open doors for you that would otherwise remain closed.”
Alseika goes on to say that after getting an initial position in a public accounting firm, serious professionals should focus on becoming certified public accountants (CPAs).
“Public accounting experience and a CPA license will set them well down the path to a lifelong career in accounting,” she explains.
4. Put in the extra hours
While many people dread the thought of working extra hours, optimistic professionals can look at that time as a golden opportunity. “Don’t be afraid of overtime,” says Amy Zhang, adding the following qualifier: “just make sure you are learning something new.” Zhang is the owner and founder of hedge fund accounting practice Affinity Fund Services. She is also the board director for San Francisco chapter of the CalCPA Society, the nation’s largest CPA society.
“Consider the overtime as an acceleration to your career. Accounting is largely a career that advances with experience; the more experience you have, the more you learn, the better you are at it,” she explains.
5. Look in the overlooked places
This advice is especially useful when searching for a new employer. It comes courtesy of Sheila May, CPA. “Consider options other than the large accounting firms that may be suitable to your lifetime goals and lifestyles,” she advises, pointing out that fresh college grads all compete for the accounting jobs at the big firms without even realizing how vast the industry is.
“If you want to live in Paris, consider doing expatriate returns. If you like fashion, work in the accounting division of a fashion house or style magazine. All businesses and people require accountants, so chose a path that reflects your personal interests outside of accounting. The money at first may not be equal to a large firm salary, but the exposure to a subject you enjoy will bring its own opportunities and rewards,” says May.
“In addition,” she concludes, “the more you enjoy a job, the easier it is to do it for a long time.”
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