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NextGen Magazine


What If CPAs Could Time Travel and Give Career Advice to Their Younger Selves?

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Aug 2, 2017

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Back to the Future, 1985, Universal Pictures

We asked four CPAs at various stages of their careers to consider the following scenario: You’re sitting at a table. Sitting across from you is you, but a younger version of you whose career has just begun. You have five minutes to give that younger version of yourself whatever career advice you can, based on your own years of experience. What do you tell your younger self? Here’s what they said.

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LAURIE LANDRY, Senior Audit Manager

Devote more attention to sharpening your communication skills, through an organization like Toastmasters International, to facilitate your relationship-building with colleagues and clients. One of the most important aspects of this type of career is your network, both internal and external, and early in my career I was not encouraged to spend time away from my desk to have more face time with people. Nurturing relationships is a key factor in being successful and having a more fulfilling career. 

You also need to seek out more mentors, whether strictly in accounting or just in the corporate world, [who] can help you, especially as a woman in the corporate world, to navigate your career path. Right now, you’re focused on your career path and your short- and long-term goals, but as life happens, it is important to embrace change and constantly adapt to new priorities while still maintaining focus.

Take time for yourself and your family, to be able to give your career 110 percent, and don’t lose sight of the importance of personal goals to maintain physical and mental health. I am constantly learning how to integrate family and work life, and had I known years ago that these challenges were ahead of me, I believe I could have embraced them and overcome them at an earlier age. 

Suzanne Breit


Definitely do an internship, preferably two different ones. This way, you can get a better feel for the industry while also gaining an understanding of the business aspect of accounting. Also become actively involved in professional organizations (not just as a member) early in your career.

Don’t be afraid to network, to get your face out there, and put in all the hard work now while you have the time to do so, before starting a family. It can be frustrating, but it pays off. But, conversely, work on a better and healthy work-life balance. After graduating college and starting an entry level position, you’ll have the feeling of needing to always work, work, work. But if you put in the hours you need to and work hard—not just punch a clock—I think it’s possible to have a little more balance.

Finally, all the 60-plus hour weeks will pay off in the end. You’ll work hard and build a great career and be fortunate enough to work for a firm that will be very supportive through all the stages of it: You’ll start out full time at entry level, and then go part time when your kids are born, and then return to full time a few years later and, finally, eventually, through a lot of hard work and long hours, you’ll make partner.  

Lou Grassi

LOUIS C. GRASSI, Managing Partner/CEO

When you build a business, there are so many steps along the way that they don’t teach you about in business school.  We’ve all heard the expression that the “school of hard knocks” can be the best teacher. My failures were great teachers. Thankfully, my successes outnumbered them. Value your time. It is a finite resource. You must plan carefully how you share it, value it and guard it.

You will be inclined to say yes to every request for your time. You will think there is an opportunity behind every interaction. Develop your own system of ascertaining who is worthy of your time. Use it to learn from other partners from backgrounds different [from] your own. Use it to network, but know when to move on from a network that doesn’t fit your business. Use it to study and gain knowledge about your profession and industry. Use it to stay up to speed on current events and issues that affect people. Your clients want to work with someone who is well rounded. Your business will take 100  percent of your focus. If the request for use of your time detracts from that or doesn’t add value to it, graciously decline.

Develop a system to make sure you value your time correctly for the services you are providing. Most small businesses go out of business in the first year. Value your time, bill it and collect.

Lastly, guard a few moments in every day to bring your mind back to quiet. A quiet mind can be far more creative than a harried mind. Your best ideas can come from those moments where you have allowed yourself to pause, reflect and think clearly to arrive at the best outcome. 



First, I wonder, if, through this conversation, I’m interfering too much in the order of things. People learn the hard way, and we don’t want to make young Elliot Hendler avoid all these pitfalls. Or do we? That’s a deep philosophical question. But anyway, good or bad, right or wrong, here goes:

You have to work on communication skills. You need to recognize that, like it or not, you’ve got to talk to people in a rational, cool manner without losing control and burning bridges. I’ve been in the profession 60 years now, and I didn’t spring up possessing these things. They have to be recognized and worked on, and it’s not always easy to find circumstances to do that, but certainly just talking to people helps. Also, don’t forget that this skill set includes writing. It’s important to know how to write up a note in the workpapers or a letter or a request or a response. I spent many years working on the written word.

You need to overcome your fears and be confident in yourself. Be bold and aggressive. Sometimes you have to make a bold move. Also, always speak up for yourself. Do not accept unfair criticism. Over the years, people have found me a little forward, but if someone says something that’s wrong, you need to speak on your own behalf. People will say you’re being defensive, as if it’s a bad thing to defend yourself when you know you’re doing the right thing! Defensive is good in this case! Try not to take any crap.

And sometimes you will find incompetent and nasty people rise to the top, promoted by other incompetent and nasty people. Conversely, you can be the good guy and do the right thing and be diligent and professional and have integrity, but still be misunderstood, unrecognized and occasionally screwed over by those same incompetent and nasty people. I don’t want to discourage you, young Elliot, but accounting can be a tough profession for those that take it seriously. So be alert and learn to quickly figure out who the good guys are and see what makes them tick and how they talk and how they respond to situations, and learn to emulate them.

Also, young Elliot, you need to recognize that not everyone is like you. People are different, and you need to see this doesn’t make them worse or better than you. All you can do is the best you can to recognize those differences and work with them so you can avail yourself of skills you don’t have.

Finally, though, you should know that luck plays a big part. Like it or not, fate or luck or providence or whatever you call it will play a major part in shaping your career—where you work, for whom you work, how you work; the people you do or do not interact with, both co-workers and clients, will have a profound effect. Recognize that you can’t control everything. Best to focus on the things you can control.

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