I recently graduated with my bachelors in accounting and I'm actually
starting grad school in a few days to fulfill my 150 to sit in for the big
I already have job as a staff accountant in a mid sized firm, starting a
couple of months from now and I'm wondering if some of those who've been in
this business can tell me what I should be expected my first year.
I have a good GPA because I've worked hard however I feel as though half the
stuff I've learned and I've been tested on I've since forgotten.
What do staff accountants do their first year? Am I going to be grabbing
coffee for people and just doing data entry or am I going to be doing real
How much pressure is put on rookies? I am very adaptable to change and I
know that I can and will handle whatever is thrown at me but if some of you
can share your personal experiences I'd really appreciate it.
Congratulations onthe job. Many graduates don't have one in their field -
You'd be surprised how much will come back during the exam. Not that it's
easy, but you'll get more right than you might think. It's in your head,
and it'll come out if you let it.
Gosh, what a first year staffer does is all over the board, depending on the
firm and their needs. But primarily you'll be learning (it never ends).
They'll teach you from the ground up (ok, maybe the landing between first
and second). And no, you'll probably not be asked or expected to get coffee
for anyone (exceptions for clients, always ask the client if you can get
You might work on basic accounting work - yes, data entry. It's part of the
learning process. You might work on audits, generally more data entry,
tabulations, counting inventory, bank reconciliations, etc. Heck, you might
get to work on some very basic tax returns (corporate or individual).
Depends on the firm, but they should be expecting you to learn, so ask a lot
of questions as you go. And don't spend hours or days struggling with
something before asking for help or guidance on an issue.
They should not expect you to develop clients (although if the opportunity
arises, go for it), nor should they expect you to handle something from
start to finish without supervision throughout. You'll probably have client
contact, but not directly, just as part of your job.
If you haven't yet, when you start, ask them what they expect from you, who
your supervisor/mentor is, who you report to, etc and so on.
Thank you for the useful informoation Paul. From the responses I've gotten,
it seems that asking questions seems to be the key. I normally like to
solve problems on my own but it seems like to get the most out of everyone's
time, asking questions is the way to go.
Ask general, and some specific questions, up front, then take a stab at the
task give you, then seek someone to review the progress of your work (before
you claim you have finished just to find out you have been doing it all
wrong for seven hours), and if not provided, seek feedback on what you need
to do to be better.
And remember a few things:
1) quicker is not always better
2) they might not have done it right "last time"
3) never ask the client what you should be doing
4) if you think of a better way to do things, ask before you take the
initiative to make any changes
5) be prompt to work
6) unless you are told otherwise, turn off your cell phone at work, and
always when you are with a client.
I'm sure there are other pointers you should know.
Paul Thomas, CPA
Yes, I particularly like #1.
As a customer I'd rather have accuracy rather than speed, and I'm still
prepared to make allowances for plain old human error.
Unlike machines, humans were only meant to go so fast... yet the
emphasis is on ever increasing productivity.
Thanks again Paul,
Also next month I think that I'm going to be spending around $1000 on
clothing. I've never spent that much on clothing at once. It should be
I know that I need to be at work for atleast a month or so, so that I can
get a feel for the culture and see how others who have been there longer
than me do things.
Just 1 more direct question. I know that in nearly any profession, hard
work pays off.
Are there any negatives (besides the lack of personal life and leisure time)
to spending a lot of hours at the job (more than the other co-workers)?
I know most firms encourage this but I'm sure that employees that have been
there would not want someone working very hard and setting the bar higher
than it has to be so there could be backlash.
In your experience is the accounting field similar to what I described above
or is it instead very competitive where everyone is working incredibly hard
and putting in large hours to get ahead? So basically other's won't feel
like like you are showing them up.
I believe I described that as best as I could. If you need any more
clearing up on what I mean please ask.
Yup. Mistakes. Pace yourself to some degree. When you catch yourself
making mistakes, take a break, or go home, or something. Get your head
screwed on straight and come back to it.
If anyone needs to be bothered about a newbie working a few more hours, or
they fear for their job if you did, then they probably shouldn't be in this
business. I've learned long ago that there's no reward for a heart attach
in the office working at 2 am on some clients return that's three years
late, or when they brought you the stuff at 5pm on the 14th of April.
There's no amount of money in the world that can compensate for crap like
If you learn that the "team" you are working with is full of "I" people,
then calmly begin looking for another position elsewhere.
You get ahead in any buisness by learning your craft - well I might add.
And you do that over time through experience and education (ask to go to as
many CPE classes as you can, when the time is right). You also get ahead by
getting along with your coworkers, supervisors, and most importantly, the
clients. No, you don't have to be syurpy sweet to them, but be polite,
professional, and personable.
Unfortunately they don't always teach this enough in school, but
communication is the key. Talk to them, certainly, but listening is more
important. Not always for what they say, but how they say it, and pay
atttention for what they don't say.
I don't think I have ever hired an actual new graduate from UGA (or any
other school for that matter). Now, It's been maybe seven or eight years
ago, but I hired a UGA student, who eventually graduated (so they say) and
passed the CPA exam (so says the state). The latest person hired was a
transplant (called a damned yankee in these parts) from up north. That
person has been here for a tad over three years now.
Now to the point of your question. The number of returns I expect a first
year hire to do - maybe a dozen to two dozen and primarily corporate or
other entity. It really depands on how long they've been here and how much
they've learned during that time. I rarely hire late in the fall (November
or December) except for purely clerical work. I never - ever - hire during
tax season (although I've fired a couple during tax season). Generally,
idealy actually, it would work like this, the new hire would do some basic
accounting on a specific business client, and with guidance, up to the point
where they wrap up the clients year-end financials, then they'd prepare the
corporate return (for example the "S" return), and if not too complicated,
have them continue on with the shareholders personal returns.
But it really depends on the client and their needs and situation and then
if I feel the employee is ready to move up to do more complicated work.
Paul Thomas, CPA
Interesting... The firm that fired me never had me work on business
returns (Forms 1065/1120/1120S), although of course I saw K-1s from the
flow-thru entities all the time. I guess they figured they would give
the guy who had three years of experience (and four at the firm itself)
from PricewaterhouseCoopers all the business returns. But, I don't
think the business returns would have been that bad really.
Do you use Ultra tax? I liked Ultra tax ok, but the organizers could
have been better in my opinion. Basically, for all the returns I did,
I had to input the data into the organizer by hand, then input the data
into the system, then print the return and tick off to what I entered
in the organizer. So I guess the average return maybe took me 4 to 5
hours whereas it should have only taken me only 2 hours according to
the tax partner ... but I did about 100 individual returns. I'm just
wondering whether I should mention this fact in interviews when trying
to defend myself, but I'm thinking probably not.
I live in Spartanburg, SC, though, so I'm thinking there should be lots
of industry jobs around here. I doubt another public accounting firm
would look at me right now.
They are easier than individual returns in my eyes (save for multi-state) if
you have a clean or mostly clean set of books (BS & IS) to pull numbers from
that is prepared on the income tax basis of accounting, which most small
companies are. Data entry is the easy part. Getting the raw numbers is
what all the fuss is about.
Currently starting a long term relationship with Drake (from Franklin, NC).
Used them this past season with much success. The way your other firm does
things sounds old-school, with a lot of duplicate work and a lot of printing
pages just to shread them at a later date. We copy as many source documents
as practicle, and work off of those (makes great space to jot a note or
three) highlighting what got entered as we go. Then those same copies of
source documents are used in the review process being checked off as they
are verified they are entered correctly. The copies are put in the client
file mostly in return order. W-2's, 1099-INT, 1099-DIV, broker statements,
self-employment information, etc, with itemized deductions at the back.
That way if the client or reviewer (me mostly) has a question about
something, we're looking directly at a copy of the source document and not
our hand written notes (which we find often contain errors or are otherwise
lacking some critical piece of data).
Believe it or not, clients don't always complete a tax organizer correctly.
Home of the Marshall Tucker Band, I believe, or what's left of them.
Maybe. It couldn't hurt to get out there early.
Paul Thomas, CPA
Public accounting for me was somewhat tedious, yet also stressful. I
worked at two different small firms over the course of a year, so
things may be different at your larger firm. But, I had no formal
training and I was basically doing a lot of bank/checkbook
reconciliations, compilations, payroll tax returns, and many individual
The main challenges throughout the day were trying to stay alert while
doing fairly tedious work. The problem is that if you start to get
tired, then your speed starts to go down. The entire day is like a big
test. You will most likely be timed. And you are expected to get
things right within a resonable amount of time. The only difference,
of course, is that you can ask questions. But, yes, accounting firms
love to employee the timesheet. Not all accounting firms make
employees fill out timesheets, but I think most do.
The other problem for the first-year preparer (in a small firm at
least) is that you are doing work at an INCREDIBLY depth, while at the
same time you may be required to swing to employing knowledge of
incredibly breadth (recognizing lots of different broad issues when you
For example, I did compilations for law firms a lot of times, and if
you really want to understand the accounting for a law firm, then you
really need to have a good understand (depth) of law firms and the
myriad of transactions they MIGHT engage themselves in. Yet, there
really was no manual for this in my office. This was "ok" because I
could always ask questions or look at what was done last period, but
this would not necessarily help me in gaining a complete understanding
of what was really going on. Often, only after months of doing
something, would I then finally understand why something was happening
the way it did. Some things you will not understand until you've been
at a place for a year or more.
Here's my advice: If you're just a normal person who's not some
genius, then to increase your probability of success in public
accounting, you're going to sort of have to give your life to it for a
while. You have to read read read read read and read some more. Learn
to use Microsoft Excel well, and stay late... One problem I had with my
old firm is that one of the partners didn't really like people staying
past about 8 or 9 PM during tax season. That's unexpected, I know, for
an accounting firm, but that's the way it was. Basically, all that
mattered was how fast I did returns, and I was not fast. I did in fact
have a hard time concentrating sometimes, and I sometimes would try to
figure questions out myself before asking. So, I did about 100
returns, where I think the firm probably expected something closer to
200 or more, but I'm not really sure. That's not what they looked at
anyway I believe... average time spent was what they were concerned
Also, you may hate tax but like audit. The tax code can be extremely
arbitrary in nature, so that what matters more is your ability to get
into tax -- not so much your analytical abilities, although those
always come into play in accounting. Auditing is more of a "common
sense" venture than tax, though.
Anyway, good luck.
Thanks a lot, I've done about 50 or so tax returns in the past (Volunteer
Program for IRS) over a 2 year span and I like to take my time to make sure
everything is done right.
Looks like the firms out their seem to want to rush you which I need to get
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