Congratulations! You’re starting a new job and launching your accounting career, which targets you for what’s inevitably a mixed bag of career advice for young professionals. Your job (outside of the one with a paycheck) is to differentiate between the solid input with sound logic and the misguided (potentially disastrous) counsel.
Turns out that the people who love you most can give you a bum steer. In an Accountemps survey, two-thirds (66 percent) of the office workers said they'd received questionable career guidance from friends (35 percent), their parents (14 percent) and siblings and other family members (10 percent).
Jump ahead to our Career Advice Conundrum slides, below.
As the proverbial new kid on the block, you’ll encounter many new processes, policies and people. Because early impressions can be lasting ones, it’s critical that you get off on the right foot with your boss and accounting coworkers.
Use these nine tried-and-true pieces of career advice as you're starting a new job — along with the red flags warning you of so-called wisdom, as shared by survey respondents and others.
1. Build rapport and friendships
One of the first tips to follow is to show an interest in your colleagues and their work by doing more listening than talking. Be friendly and pleasant to everyone you meet — from the top boss to the IT intern. You never know whose help you may need. Get to know people in your orientation sessions, even those who aren't in the accounting or finance department.
By developing camaraderie with other new workers, you’ll start to gain a few allies who are in the same boat as you. Ask then to lunch or coffee, and get to know them better. Soon you’ll be able to make work friendships, which leads to a good deal of job satisfaction and can make you more productive and effective in your role. Just make sure you’re forging those friendships in a way that’s not going to come back to hurt you.
In other words: It can be tempting to try to find your way into an office clique by contributing to the water cooler gossip or complaining about other coworkers. But in the end, the colleagues who like you for the rumors you add to the mill aren’t the kind you want as friends.
Advice to ignore: “Don’t be friends with coworkers.”
2. Read up on company guidelines
While company handbooks aren’t typically regarded as gripping page-turners, when you’re starting a new job, you can’t afford to ignore the content within. Not being aware of certain guidelines or making incorrect assumptions about personal web usage, electronic security or the dress code, for example, can lead to unnecessary headaches. Take some time to get up to speed on protocols and procedures.
Disregard this: “Take credit for others’ work so you can get ahead.”
3. Communicate the right way
Some managers like to discuss every detail of a project in face-to-face meetings; others prefer to receive quick status updates in writing. Ask your supervisors to clarify how and when they want to receive information.
While you’re at it, ask to review your job description with your boss. What is expected of you? What are your most pressing duties? Identify your key responsibilities and then prioritize accordingly. Check in with your manager after a few weeks to ensure that you're still on the same page.
Really? “Once you get the job, you can be honest about the things you said in your interview.”
4. Observe your company culture
Because all the nuances of your company won’t be spelled out in black and white, begin on the first day to take note of the unwritten rules of the road. Are personal cellphones brought into meetings? Do team members go out to lunch as a group or dine at their desks? Remaining attuned to the behavior of others will hasten and smooth your transition.
Also, the office politics in some places allows for (or even requires) a good deal of friendly chitchat, while in others, coworkers mainly keep to themselves and rarely socialize. In some organizations, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about how your dog threw up all over the living room rug when a first-time babysitter was watching your kids. In more formal workplaces, however, telling that same story could be considered oversharing.
That’s why it’s always smart to listen more than you talk during your first few weeks on the job. By taking the time to observe how your coworkers interact, you’ll get a better sense of what’s appropriate in your new workplace – and, more important, what’s not.
Not a good idea: “Don’t bother to research your company culture; you’ll catch on in due time.”
5. Don’t stop your networking
Networking sites are useful tools for accounting professionals, so spruce up your online profiles. In order to maximize the potential of social media and other online resources, work hard to maintain a positive image and build your network.
But don’t keep it all online. Spend time talking in person with experienced accounting professionals, from your team members to your supervisors and others inside and outside your organization. Even if you're a non-networker, attend networking events and make an effort to establish connections. Soak up information, and be willing to ask for suggestions about starting out in the industry and moving up the career ladder.
Beware of this: "Once you get your job, there’s no need to keep networking.”
6. Keep up with professional development
When you land a new accounting job, make the most of skills training, search for a mentor and ask for information on professional development. That’s a critical component to gaining knowledge and getting ahead.
For accounting career information, training opportunities and news about upcoming conferences and events, join professional associations. There are a range of industry associations to explore, including the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA), the Accounting and Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA) and the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA).
The accounting field is one of the fastest-growing industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Learn about the top issues, including financial reporting technology and the skills it requires, accounting practices in the global market and succession planning. It’s never too early to think about how to rise through the ranks, so research ways to build leadership skills as well.
Questionable direction: Be conservative in your work so you’re not given too many responsibilities.”
7. Benchmark your salary
It’s important to find out where your salary, or the salary you have yet to negotiate, falls in comparison to national averages. Consult the Robert Half Salary Guide for average starting pay ranges for more than 400 positions. The guide also includes an overview of the hiring environment and the skills, positions and credentials most in demand.
Visit the Salary Center, where you'll be able to adjust salaries for accounting and finance jobs in your city with the Salary Calculator, and get your own copy of the Salary Guide for Accounting and Finance.
No, just no: “Go for the highest salary, regardless of anything else.” Same with this: “Sit tight and wait for a pay raise.”
8. Challenge yourself
No matter what stage of your career you're at, set professional goals and re-evaluate them every so often. If you're comfortable in your position, take on stretch assignments to expand your skills and expertise.
If you don't have the building blocks you need to succeed, it's not to late to get them. There are a number of accounting certifications that can broaden both your career skills and salary potential.
Not wise: "Stick it out as long as possible, even if you hate it.”
9. Be diplomatic about work matters
When you’re the new accountant on the block, you have to be extra careful that any criticism you voice is constructive, or you could quickly end up with a reputation for being a negative faultfinder — and that can be hard to shake. You don’t have to be a Pollyanna, but you should try to provide a solution for any problem you bring up. That way, your colleagues will see you as helpful and supportive, rather than simply critical, when you offer your opinions about projects and procedures.
Moreover, make sure you don’t inadvertently imply that your former workplace was better than your current job. For instance, rather than saying, “At my last job, our financial reporting was completely cloud-based,” try “Do you think it would be beneficial to consider shifting to cloud-based solutions?” You increase your odds of a favorable reception and decrease the odds of offending new colleagues.
Forget this: “Stay in a role rather than grow within the company.”
Don’t let the bad career advice get you down. You have enough to think about when starting a new job. Keep these tips in mind, and everything will go more smoothly as you’re starting your new job.
Think that you can relax once you’re employed? To stay competitive in today's career environment, you need to keep learning.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with new content.