How to Succeed in Your First Accounting Job and Beyond

By Robert Half on November 17, 2017 at 1:00pm

If you’re about to finish your studies or just launching your career as an accountant, you know it’s a great time to be starting out in the profession. The job market for people with your skills is strong, and there are many opportunities for you, beginning with your first accounting job.

It’s one thing to land that first job in your field. It’s another to really put yourself on a path to success. For some words of wisdom along those lines, we interviewed four people who won AICPA/Accountemps scholarships while they were accounting students — Stacy Bonds, Nicole Exnicios, Justin Korth and Laura Rudolph — and came up with these four tips everyone should follow in their first accounting job.

1. Tap into your passion

When asked why they chose to study accounting, all of the scholarship winners cited a love for the methodology and practice of the profession. But they had other reasons, as well. Exnicios, a Tulane University student, wanted to follow the example set by members of her family who are CPAs. “I was inspired by their career success and ability to use their technical skills to serve the community,” she says.

To thrive in your first accounting job, remember the things that motivated you to enter the profession in the first place — especially during the hard times, like the long hours of tax season, or when you’re dealing with CPA exam anxiety.

2. Consider graduate school and scholarships

Studying for an advanced degree can help you as you start your accounting career. For instance, if you plan to get your CPA license, many states require 150 hours of education, so it only makes sense to head to a graduate program. For many people, however, it’s simply too expensive. But consider this: Three of the scholarship recipients are using the award to pay tuition for graduate programs.

If you want to extend your education beyond the bachelor’s degree but feel like you can’t afford it, look for awards organizations and businesses give out to accounting students. Chances are, there are more available than you realize.

If you win one, it will not only fund your schooling. It will also allow you to focus on studying, rather than worrying about tuition. As Rudolph, who studied at the University of Wisconsin, said, “This scholarship means a lot to me and will help lower my stress during this important academic year.”

3. Think beyond the Big 4

Three of the scholarship recipients planned to work for public accounting firms after graduation. But all had career plans that went beyond the Big 4. North Carolina State student Bonds, for example, planned to take her first accounting job at PricewaterhouseCoopers. But she said she'd eventually like to become the CFO of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

“I want to become the CFO so that I can assist my church in developing a revenue-generating system that will relieve the assessments that local churches have to pay, thus promoting more financial and economic growth in the local areas,” she says.

In other words, keep in mind that there are many career paths and different industries to explore. Every type of business needs an accountant, from sports teams to governmental agencies to law enforcement.

Take a look at some of the temporary job openings right now in accounting and finance.

4. Shoot for the stars

It feels great to land your dream entry-level accounting job. But you can’t just rest on your laurels if you want to have a successful career in the long run. You also have to set career goals.

Korth, who took his first accounting job at a CPA firm after studying at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said his dream was to “be a business adviser to clients and help them achieve their goals.” But that was just the beginning.

“My ultimate career goal is to run for public office and use my accounting/business skills to affect monetary policy,” he said.

If you know where you want to end up, you’ll be better able to develop the skills and experience you need to get there — and you’ll likely be more driven and focused, as well.

More advice for your first accounting job

More than half (54 percent) of CFOs polled by Robert Half said newly hired accountants have no time to waste — less than three months, in fact, to prove themselves on the job. So you have a lot on your plate. Are you a good fit? Do you take directions well? Are you picking up on the technology? Those are all considerations that will determine your success, especially as you're starting out.

Put yourself on a path to success by focusing on the job at hand — and on your career for the long haul. The sky is the limit!


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