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NextGen Magazine

 
 

Best and Worst Advice Ever?

By:
N. SHEREE SAUNDERS
Published Date:
Jun 1, 2013

Name: John W. Hermus, CPA, MBA
Age: 27
Job title: Senior Accountant

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
“Step outside of your comfort zone.” I learned this early on in my career and saw that it’s absolutely critical in order to grow. If you happen to be slightly shy, you’re not alone—people who are brand new to the profession may be intimidated or uncomfortable when it comes to networking, attending events, interacting with clients and performing tasks they’ve never done before. But stepping out of your comfort zone early and continually will bring you tremendous experiences that you’ll benefit from. I continue to push myself to do this and maintain a “bring it on” mentality. For example, I spoke at our chapter’s Student Night for the first time last October, and I was glad I did it.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve received?
“Just be yourself.” I can understand where the sentiment is coming from, but I believe there’s a missing second half to the sentence. “Just be yourself—but be open-minded and accepting of change,” is what I think the full sentence should say. Starting off in your career with a “just be yourself” attitude can be a bad thing because, at times, you might be wrong and need to learn from your mistakes. It might also make you adverse to getting constructive criticism or feedback that you’ll need to hear in order to develop into a successful CPA and rise through the ranks.

What’s the one thing they didn’t tell you about the profession in college?
We didn’t learn how to sell our firms’ services and market ourselves as CPAs. This came with experience and a few good training programs that my firm provided. If someone asks you what you do you do for a living, the typical response is “I’m a CPA.” Sure, but think about it—what do you do? I’ve learned how to answer that question in a much more in-depth and intriguing way. Marketing our firms and ourselves as CPAs is critical to growth and longevity in this industry—the earlier you become aware of this, the more prosperous your career will be.

What would you tell people who are preparing for the CPA exam?
With my first exam, audit, I left my study materials in my car when I satin the waiting room of the testing center. My attitude at that stage is you either have it or you don’t—you’re at the point of no return. There was a medical student, who was also taking a test that day, in the waiting room with me. When the door opened and his name was called, he was still frantically flipping through his study book and shouted, “HOLD ONPLEASE, JUST ONE MORE MINUTE!” You don’t want to be that guy. My best advice is to give your test prep your absolute focus. Put in all the time that you can and dedicate yourself—it’s all worth it in the end.

 

Name: Tia Wright, CPA
Age: 29
Job title: Supervisor

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
I was told to start taking the CPA exam right away after college. At first, I figured that I had two years to pass it, but I soon realized that if I waited, the increased job and life responsibilities would make it difficult to find the time to study.

What’s the one thing they didn’t tell you about the profession in college?
I’m not sure there is just one thing! Besides giving you a base knowledge of accounting vocabulary, I don’t think college courses really provide guidance on what the public accounting profession is all about. I came out of college thinking that I wanted to go into the tax department because I enjoyed my tax class and disliked my auditing class. But after working through seven busy seasons in the audit department and dabbling in the tax department, I found that I have much more passion for the audit side. I never would have known this without real-world work experience.

What have you learned about networking that you didn’t know before?
I think the most important thing about networking is that it can happen anywhere, not just at networking events. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with someone in an elevator, on a plane or at the grocery store. You never know who the person standing next to you is, or what that person does for a living. The stranger in front of you could be your future client, employer or employee.

What memories do you have of taking the CPA exam and what would you tell people who are preparing for it?
When I began preparing for it, I was living at home with my parents and I explained that I wouldn’t be able to help out around the house while I was studying. My father told me that if I passed all four parts on the first try, he would take me on a trip to anywhere I wanted to go. That was motivation enough for me. After I passed the third one, my father said, “You’re really going to make me take you on a trip, aren’t you?” When I passed the fourth one, we went to Discovery Cove in Orlando to swim with the dolphins. For those currently looking to take the exam, realize that your life may be put on hold for a while. During the six months I was taking the exam sections, I barely saw my friends and family, and I broke up with my now-husband (it all worked out in the end). I even remember studying on Christmas Eve for a couple of hours. I’m not saying you should cut off all contact with the outside world, but it’s very likely that you’ll have to miss attending Friday night happy hours.

 

Name: Emily L. Gardner, CPA
Age: 24
Job title: Senior Accountant

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
To remember that everyone makes mistakes, even the people you look up to and admire. It’s humbling to think that the most successful people, however perfect they seem, make mistakes and learn from them (which might explain why they’re so successful). This has been good advice for me because sometimes I put too much pressure on myself to be perfect, which I know is unreasonable. It also reminds me to focus on the positive—what you’re learning from a difficult experience—rather than gettingwrapped up in having made the actual mistake itself.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve received?
That you can’t smile, laugh and have a good time, and still be considered a professional. In the past, I’ve tried so hard to fit the mold of what everyone else thinks is professional, that I’ve lost myself in the mix. Of course, there is a time to be serious and a time to have fun, but you can be a professional and still be yourself.

What’s the one thing they didn’t tell you about the profession in college?
That not every situation you encounter will be as clear-cut as it is in a textbook. There are times when you’ll need to exercise professional judgment and rely on your experience and the counsel of your mentors.

What have you learned about networking that you didn’t know before?
Connections last longer than you might think. A few people have reached out to me just recently, though I first met them months or years ago. I thought they’d forgotten about me, but when they needed an accountant, they looked me up.

Name: Amanda L. Sexton,CPA, CFE
Age: 27
Job title: Senior Accountant
 

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
The partners at my firm told me to get the CPA exam done as soon as possible, and they were 100 percent correct—when you first start working, your schedule is a bit flexible, but over time, it fills up and it gets harder to go home and study after a long day.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve received?
“There’s always tomorrow to finish it.” I personally feel that if you keep deferring things, the work only builds, and people get frustrated. I think it’s better to put a little extra in each day to ease the pressure.

What’s the one thing they didn’t tell you about the profession in college?
Accounting is very rarely a nine-to-five job. It’s a very rewarding career, but to succeed, you have to manage your time and work–life balance, and enjoy the challenges.

What have you learned about networking that you didn’t know before?
The most valuable thing I’ve learned about networking is that, yes, you need to go out and meet people and make contacts, but after you establish a few solid ones, you need to focus on developing relationships with them. It’s better to have three to five great contacts than to have 100 whom you struggle to stay in touch with.

What do you remember about taking the CPA exam?
At the Prometrics testing center in Melville, I remember sitting in the waiting room, before the start of my exam, and seeing a man pacing the room. He smelled like he had been drinking very heavily the night before. And I thought I was nervous!