Paul Thomas or other small-CPA firm partners; I need some career advice

I think I've brought this subject up before, but I guess I didn't get a clear answer from anyone on what their thoughts were concerning my situation.
Anyway, as you might remember, I was fired from my public accounting position about a month after tax season. The partner gave the reason that I was too slow.
I was a little slow I guess, but I was generally pretty accurate I thought.
But here are my statistics (again I guess). Basically, tell me how slow you think this is. Is this level of speed ever acceptable at any firm for a first year preparer?
Here are the stats:
I did about 100 returns working about 545 hours during tax season (about 57 days). About an hour or two each day can be lost in the busy season just due to talking on the phone, talking with staff about certain issues, or just zoning out for five to ten minutes every hour due to mental fatigue. So, time I spent actually concentrating on the return per return would come out to something like (57 times 2 hours = 114 hours) ... 545-114 = 431, so about 4.5 hours / return.
So, I'm averaging somewhere between 4.5 hours to 5.5 hours per return. Keep in mind with the returns I did I had to put all the information into an organizer, check off in that organizer correctly, then enter it into the software system correctly, then print the return and check off to the organizer.
I would say at least 80% of the returns had either Schedules D, C, E, or K-1s (there were a good many multi-state returns as well, and really most returns had more than one of the aforementioned schedules), and virtually all of them had Schedule A. I had to call clients often about Schedule A information.
A lot of time was spent trying to figure out the right questions to ask or simply figuring out what the data the clients gave me was actually telling me.
I also got faster at first, having an average return time of around 2-3 hours after the first couple of weeks, but I did slow down as the season went on, probably due to mental fatigue. Basically, the partner had been telling me I had speed issues from my very first return.
Anyway, I guess the whole point is is this ever acceptable for a first year preparer? Or, do you try to get the averages more close to 2 hours? Is 2 hours sort of the golden standard? I'm thinking about applying to some other CPA firms, and I'm thinking of giving them my time breakdown. But, if it's not even close to being acceptable, then I'm not going to mess with it really. By the way, I was only getting paid $30,000 /year, but they did pay for medical insurance. Average return price was around $200 or so, but I could be off by as much as $50 (upwards not downwards) on that average perhaps.
Anyway, thanks for any advice any of you can give me.
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OK, I'll take the cross-posted bait...
Due to your first comment, I spent some time (more than I care to admit) reading a number of your archived posts from the last two years. What I gleaned from your own words was:
* You seem like a nice, thoughtful guy or gal, and a pretty good test-taker.
* You spent the better part of year after college graduation landing a first job in accounting at a small CPA partnership. Once there, you blamed a number of problems on the software, you made the same types of mistakes multiple times, and you eventually got assigned to do individual tax returns, where you got progressively slower as the season wore on due to self-described "mental fatigue".
* They let you go after the end of the tax season, and you still can't get over it.
My advice, since you asked:
- try to edit your posts for brevity.
- don't stay in a job if you don't like it, especially if you are young with few obligations and don't have much to lose anyway.
- consider a different field if accounting still doesn't seem to fit after a few more tries.
For example, IT (info technology) jobs, such as system administration or DBA (database admin) work, require much of the same problem-solving and attention-to-detail skills as accounting, but without the added pressure of bringing clients in the door. Plus, you can work later than 9 PM all you want, in fact it's often encouraged! It's not seasonal, and there are plenty of certification tests you can take too....
-Mark Bole
Reply to
Mark Bole

That's a lot of time right there. If you could do one return in two hours, and you worked ten hours a day (on average), that's like one return a day wasted being "zoned".
Two returns a day? I'd probably not have kept you through the end of tax season myself.
If you're not meeting with the client, you're taking too long. You should be able to get four to six of the types of returns done that you say you worked on every day. More if they are easier.
That sounds like you're lost. Either in the data itself, or you're head's not at the office.
I have returns that get done in 20 minutes. I have others that take 3 days of non-stop data entry.
I wouldn't if I were you. Feel free to mention that you did about 100 returns though. They'll want to know what kind of experience you have.
It sounds like you are lacking in confidence in yourself or your work. For me, that's understandable for someone in your position. If however, you don't have your head "in the game" and you're thinking about something or someone else instead of your work, the client's needs, and the needs and demands of the office, then I have issuses with that.
Paul A. Thomas, CPA
Athens, Georgia
Reply to
Paul Thomas

The crosspost was simply meant to get reponses from people who might only go to either alt.accounting or misc.taxes. Bait...yes, I guess. I hope that's not a bad thing!
Actually, looking back, all the problems I encountered with the software at the first firm I was with helped me to understand what was going on at a deeper level within the system. When I gave my two weeks notice at that first firm, the partner asked me if I could stay longer (yes, he was desperate I will admit). Though desperate, he liked the fact that I tried to think more deeply about why I was doing what I did, or why a certain number didn't seem right, even maybe when I occasionally spent too much time doing so. I did not fill out a timesheet there.
However, I left that firm in November for more pay and to be around peers. I am perfectly fine admitting that I was somewhat slow at both firms. I have the potential to be extremely fast, though, when things are explained initially somewhat more than just as a "series of steps" --that often change based upon some underlying variables--that I must complete. For one, if I am simply performing a series of steps that I may not understand the intuition behind, then I begin to second-guess whether I am doing something correctly when I encounter a slightly different situation. This slows me down because I of course want to get it right. I also begin to feel like I'm on sort of a "white-collar" assembly line, and that can begin to put me to sleep.
There is perhaps a fine line between good training/explanations and spoonfeeding, but one tough part about starting off in small public accounting is that you basically get no training at all -- or at least most of it is on the job in the "ask questions when you have them" variety.
Actually, I'm over it. The firm I was with let another guy (straight out of college) go for basically the same reasons 6 months before they hired me. He was solely audit, though. He's now doing well (according to a recruiter I talked to) in industry, and that's the way I'm probably looking to go to be honest.
Yet another guy fired from the same firm a few years back became a controller in a company, according to the partner who let me go. He was let go because he was "too procedural" in his approach to business tax returns. So, maybe if I was the only one I would be more concerned, but I'm not.
I try to explain things as thoroughly as possible.
I might actually like public accounting in certain situations. I think I would like audit much more than tax, though. Most of the small firms around here have people doing both tax and audit, though. Unfortunately, I only got to go on one audit at the last firm I was with, and, although that went ok, I was basically thrown into the field with no training on what exactly to do. The experienced person in the field with me was somewhat vague or short in her instructions. It wasn't that what we were doing was that hard (it was just expense testing); it was that all the different little checkmarks and what and how exactly to write in the workpapers was not explained. I basically had to figure out how exactly to do things by looking at last year's workpapers. I guess that's to be expected in smaller firms though. In larger (national) firms I would think the entry-level staff would be trained on this, but maybe I'm wrong.
I'm sure I'll do just fine once I find a position in industry. Everybody else from that firm has, and it's the likely route for me as well. I'm just simply not wanting to close the door on public accounting quite yet -- keeping all options open.
Hah... liked that didn't you. Yeah, after about 7 really, you got the sense that it was time to go home! But, yeah, you're right...I probably shouldn't have complained about that in the other post, because I sure was glad to go home after spending 10 hours in the office. I deserve to get made fun of for that one... good job.
Reply to

Well, maybe I should explain how I'm using "zoned"... It wasn't that I was just staring at the screen, but sometimes the data just didn't make sense, and, while I was trying my best to make sense of it by studying it closely, sometimes the complexity of the whole situation would just make me tired and not as alert -- knowing I had to speed it up sort of actually made it worse I guess.
Well, with an average of $200-$250 / return, you would have done more than break even on me during tax season for the tax season period, so you would have probably kept me until the end if you already had me. Of course, it is true that some other first year person could have certainly done better. If I could have done 150 returns instead of just 100, then they would have broken even on me for the entire year. I use break even loosely here, meaning they would have made in the price of tax returns I did for them as much as they pay me for the entire year. The true cost of me, though, of course, has to be in terms of what they can get from someone else.
probably so, but i wanted to make sure things were correct. Many times, the data presented to me was not complete, but I wasn't sure it wasn't complete until I had studied it for a while. Lots of phone calls to brokerages trying to get basis information. And I had a hell of a time when trying to get basis information for certain mutual funds, because reinvested dividends were often not kept track of. A lot of times the partner would eventually just tell me to go with certain data that was probably close but not technically correct.
I remember one fun time... oh the joys... a guy was in the business of flipping properties, and he wrote on his sheet of paper: "Renovations: $10,000"
UGGH I spent a long time on the phone with him trying my best to figure out what needed to be capitalized vs what needed to be expensed for his different properties...trying to get him to remember what exactly he had done so I could either expense some of it or set up the separate assets in the system to be depreciated.
But I guess having vague data from clients should be expected... I was still learning the tax code too, so I guess that made it even extra stressful, but I guess that's the way it is.
sometimes after studying the data i was given for so long, you just lose focus for a minute... maybe I did for too long, but I never missed one day of work and tried my best to get things done correctly.
I can understand having issues with that... maybe my head wasn't in the game -- I don't know. Thanks for your input though.
Reply to

I haven't read all the prior posts but I'll just add my $.02 Your job loss could be due to things other than what was explained. Sometimes a job loss is for financial reasons or there is a personality conflict. If you enjoy tax returns or accounting stick with it and try to get another job in public accounting, Otherwise put your energy into moving to private industry. With a background in public accounting (and CPA) you should be able to get an entry level position.
Posted via a free Usenet account from http://www.teranews.com
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Except for a clients dependent's return, I don't do any returns below $250.
We never know for sure, but a cursory comparison with last-year's return should suffice as a double-check for any missing items. Takes all of 10 minutes regardless of the bulk of the return.
Then again, a lot of the time savings comes with experience, and that takes "time" to get. You know, if you see a rental property without an insurance expense, somethings probably missing. Call the client and inquire. It's often done on the fly, but that is also somethingthat should be noticed at the client interview.
Yeah, that's a bitch eh? If you go to work at another firm, inquire as to your "thank-you" budget. We "bribe" the brokers secretary ('cause they do the research you see) with a gift in December "thanking them in advance" for their help.
Hence the phrase "It's close enough for government work".
In the long run, for someone like that, it isn't going to matter if you expense it or capitalize it.
Paul A. Thomas, CPA
Athens, Georgia
Reply to
Paul Thomas

I guess I should add that I'm not sure there really is a cost effective way to train someone on how to do taxes in the real world, at least in the small-firm world . Looking back, I'm not really sure what they could have done to get me ready for the myriad of ways data were presented to me and how to get through it quickly without getting too frustrated. Perhaps it's just that some people can do it and others can't -- it certainly requires a high and sustained concentration level.
Auditing, on the other hand, seems much more like something that can be trained effectively, as doesthe compilation work I did.
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Yeah, the worst part about it was that I sort of realized that towards the end... when I had already gone through getting all the information. So yeah that was probably a waste of time that was my fault for not realizing it most likely would not matter.
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Not only in the small-firm world. Nowhere in the HRB course do they train you how to look at the client and say "And are you living with any of the fathers?"
Don  EA in Upstate NY
Reply to
Don Priebe

"Don Priebe" wrote
LMAO - true.
There have been several instances in my history where I'm taken for a loop because of a clients circumstances or actions. One involved a couple who, seconds after the IRS collector left a meeting at my office, broke out into a fight like no other (I'm now having an escape hatch built under my desk). The other was a refered client who, after getting her source documents from her (including info on her deceased husband), pulled out a couple of wadded up W-2's and asked me "What do I need to do with these". Those were the W-2's of her son who had been killed in a car accident a few months earlier.
Nope, they don't teach you how to handle everything that comes your way.
Paul A. Thomas, CPA
Athens, Georgia
Reply to
Paul Thomas

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