Recruiting: Hindsight is 20/20
By Eliza Martin, Recruiting Coordinator
Let’s face it: recruiting season can cause anxiety and leave you questioning which route you should take. As a student, you are forced to have hard conversations with yourself about where you want to live, what you want to do and ultimately where you want to begin your career. In a previous article, “Dos and Don’ts for Students During Recruiting Season”, I shared insight from the employer’s perspective of college recruiting. To gather insight on what students really want to know, I interviewed seven (new) staff accountants with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds throughout BRC’s six offices to learn how recruiting and the transition from college to public accounting has impacted their lives. After all, hindsight is 20/20.
*Initials after each quote correspond to the acknowledgements at the conclusion of this article*
How does your initial experience in public accounting compare with the expectation you developed during recruiting?
I experienced the recruiting process in Fall of 2017 and I found it incredibly stressful and intimidating. However, it ended up being more enjoyable than I expected and really helped me improve my social skills. (SD)
I think with the firm I wound up being drawn to, one of the reasons I was so interested is that they were very honest with what I could expect in my first few years. So far, they have been spot on. (KC)
How did you decide what firms to interview with?
Frankly, I interviewed with almost every firm I met at Meet the Firms. I think you can gain a lot of insight from meeting with the interviewer and hearing what they have to say about their place of business. With several, I clicked right away. On the other hand, there were also several where I knew that I did not want to progress further in the interview process – they would not have been a good fit for me. (KC)
Ultimately, how did you decide what firm to accept an offer from?
Lifestyle and personality. I wanted to work with people who like what they do and are good at it. I wanted to work with a firm that offered room to grow and values the work life balance we should have. (JB)
When I did my office visit interviews with the firm I ultimately chose, it honestly was more fun than it was intimidating, which was completely opposite from some of the other firms I visited. It was also very attractive that our internship programs allow for both tax and audit experience. (SD)
I really loved all of the people that I met at one particular firm and when I had my in-office interview, I got a good feeling and felt at home here. (CC)
What advice would you give for students going through recruiting?
I would tell them to go to all of the recruiting events and just be yourself. This is a time when you’re trying to figure out which firm is going to be the best fit for you. When you are talking to people that work at different firms, ask them what they like best about the firm they work at. Also, if you are not already involved with a group on campus like Beta Alpha Psi, then get involved. I found that being a member of BAP really helped me when I was going through the recruiting process. (CC)
You are interviewing the firm just as much as the firm is interviewing you. Ultimately, getting a job is of course the end goal, but it is important that it is with a firm that you can see yourself working with long term. It is okay to be picky about what you want. I’d also advise that no matter how much you hate networking events, go to them anyways. Most people find them awkward, so you’re not alone. Develop five easy, non-work-related questions or conversation starters you can lean on if you need to. Don’t over think it and just be yourself. (SD)
What do you miss most about school?
Since the program at NCA&T was small, I was able to develop lasting relationships with my professors and peers. During school, I was also provided with opportunities to work together with others and help each other. During classes, there were also fun classroom discussions and debates that helped me see different perspectives and viewpoints. My professors, peers, and classroom discussions are what I miss the most. (TS)
If you could go back, what skills/classes would you focus more on during your time in school?
If I could go back, I would have taken more finance classes and I would have tried to take the CPA exam before graduating. (CC)
I would have taken a few more finance classes and also a trust and estate class. (TB)
I would take IT classes for programs such as excel. They were not offered in the core schedule. (JB)
In general, did what you study/learn in school translate well into the “real world”?
Yes, but I’d say it was 50/50 between soft skills and technical skills. Universities really focus on technical skills of accounting, which are absolutely vital for passing the CPA Exam. Definitely do your best to retain as much from those core audit, tax, statistics, and law classes as you can. The soft skills you learn, however, are just as important, which sounds like a useless answer since there is no way to grade or judge yourself on how well you’ve picked up soft skills. Just do your best to go out of your way to make connections and interact. Also, as corny as it sounds, really take the time during school to interrogate yourself, to figure out what you want from life and who you are, as those answers will be vitally important to your future – especially your career decisions. A lot of people choose a career, a new city to live in, or a firm’s offer without having thought through who they are and what they want long-term. For some people, that works out just fine! For others, it results in months (if not years) of feeling stuck and unhappy without knowing why. So, while you’re in school and have a lot of resources available, take some time away from the textbooks and group projects to really analyze what you are looking for in a career in accounting. (RC)
Could you describe one of your typical workdays?
I generally start my days around 7:30am, except during the summer months, when I tend to start closer to 8:30am. My workday typically starts with checking work email, checking our firm’s scheduling software for any updates/changes, and prioritizing work that is due for the day. Most of my work day consists of tax preparation for a variety of clients. (JB)
The first thing I do when I get into the office is check for any updates from my reviewers and analyze what I have left to do for the week and in what order it needs to be done. From there, my typical workday depends on what types of projects or returns I have on my schedule. If I have a large return that can take up my whole day, I put earphones in, get some snacks and a soda, and settle in to get my working rhythm going. If I know I will be switching between different projects during the day and/or if I have meetings during the day, I usually pull out all relevant paper information or pull up digital documents for everything I will switch between and write myself little reminders to make my meetings. I tend to eat at my desk as a personal preference, although I occasionally go grab lunch with the coworkers I sit near. (Especially on Taco Tuesdays or Happy Hour days at Starbucks!) (RC)
What skills are required in your position on a day-to-day basis?
Being able to review your own work. Communicating with superiors and peers. (TB)
Time management; flexibility; a willingness to continue learning; receiving constructive criticism. (KC)
What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
Working on a project that is new and different, or more complicated, than what I have previously done. (RC)
Knowing when to research a question and how much time to spend on that before going to ask someone for help. (CC)
What do you find most enjoyable?
Ironically, I find the most challenging engagements the most enjoyable. It is really satisfying to finish an engagement or project that took a great deal of effort. Feeling accomplished at the end of the day and finally signing off on that workpaper you were struggling with for a long time is an amazing feeling. (SD)
When I finally figure out how to do something after trying to work through it, and when a client’s return is ready to be delivered. (TB)
Are there any negatives to your job?
The negatives are few and far between. Busy season deadlines are stressful and are probably the biggest negative of being an accountant. (JB)
It can definitely be high-stress and high-pressure during busy season. This is where having that time management and organization really comes in handy to keep me from being overwhelmed. If you’re likely to be a perfectionist or a workaholic, busy season is when you will be at the highest risk of falling into these patterns. Knowing how to manage your stress will greatly relieve busy season negatives. (RC)
How many hours do you work in a typical week?
I work between 36 and 40 hours a week (due to our summer schedule). However, when I did my busy season internship in 2018, I worked 40-45 hours. (SD)
During busy season, I worked 55 hours a week, usually 9-10 hours days and made up the difference on Saturdays. Now that its summer, I typically work 36 hours in a week, which I can do in four 9 hour days and take Fridays off. Once Fall comes back around, it will be back to 40 hours a week with the normal Monday through Friday. (CC)
How would you describe the corporate culture?
The firm I chose has a great corporate culture. I have had questions before and was able to ask a partner and didn’t feel intimidated at all. (CC)
The corporate culture is respectful, positive, and encouraging. (JB)
The corporate culture at my firm is very warm and encouraging. I heard a lot about work/life balance and open-door policies during recruiting, but it is absolutely the truth here. I have gotten really comfortable with the managers, supervisors, and partners that I work with on a consistent basis, and I never feel like my tax superiors are constantly watching me to catalog my screw-ups or failures. On the contrary, they sincerely want me to succeed. (RC)
In your opinion, what was the most challenging transition from school to working as an intern/staff accountant?
The feeling of starting from ground zero. School prepares you quite well for the CPA Exam and for certain aspects of a career, but so much of an accounting career involves skills you simply can’t develop outside of hands on work. It’s daunting. It’s difficult. It can make you feel like Jon Snow: you know absolutely nothing. Just breathe. Accept that an enormous segment of your friends and coworkers are going through the same experience. Do your best. You ARE learning and growing and getting better, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes. (RC)
The transition from school to work was surprisingly more difficult than I had originally expected. I knew that having a set workday schedule was going to prove tough, but after a few weeks it has gotten much easier. When in school, you have the ability to prioritize your work, and even in some circumstances just decide to not do it at all. For example, if you have a small assignment due in one class and a big project due in another. It may be okay to purposefully do the minimal amount of effort on the smaller assignment in order to do better on the project. However, at work, every assignment is important. You can’t just give up on an assignment and take the bad grade. The value of the work you do does not solely affect you; it has continual effects all the way through the engagement cycle. That being said, you just have to develop a new mindset when it comes to work, and realize that the value truly matters. (SD)
What surprised you the most about starting a career in accounting?
Being a staff accountant affords you the ability to experience all aspects of the accounting world. (JB)
Understand that this is a second career for me – so the ability to do things differently than others as long as they are correct is wonderful. I didn’t have that opportunity in my old career. (KC)
How are you balancing life with work and the (dreaded) CPA exam?
I block off time in my calendar that is dedicated just to studying for the CPA. Weekends are typically filled with studying. At times, I think twice before meeting friends for dinner or going for a weekend to visit my children. (KC)
I managed to finish the CPA Exam while getting my M.S.A. (Just waiting on that licensure approval now!) If you have the time and resources to work on the exam right now, I highly recommend getting it behind you. As far as balancing life with work, I believe this pursuit is something each individual needs to ensure happens for them. No one is going to force another person to stop checking their emails and focus on living. We all have to be responsible for that of our volition; we have to make that choice. I am fortunate to work in a firm that wants its people to be happy and enjoy a healthy balance in their lives, which is vital to someone with a tendency to slip into “workaholic” mode. I would encourage anyone who also has this tendency to find a firm and/or managers that will encourage you to be mindful of not becoming a work perfectionist. (RC)
What do you consider the top three skills / qualifications of a great accountant?
The top three skills I would consider important are communication, willingness to learn and multi-tasking. (CC)
Top three skills would be: organization and time management, technology expertise and willingness to learn. (TS)
Considering all the people you’ve met in this field, what personal attributes are essential for success?
The personal attributes that I believe are essential for success are communication and drive. With the constant change in accounting, it is important to embrace change and have the drive to work hard to make sure you embrace the change and get things done. I believe that in order to have the determination to work hard, you must also have effective communication to work with others to ensure that the job gets done. Communication is also important to help with change and the change in expectations. With communication and drive, I feel that a person can be successful and be an effective leader and help others to become successful. (TS)
I hope you can take away something that makes the recruiting process a little easier for you. If you have any further questions please feel free to reach out to us. Our contact information can be found in the “Who We Are” section of our website. See you during recruiting!
Tyler Bowlin (TB) – Campbell University: BBA Accounting ‘18
Jennifer Butchan (JB)– Salem College: BS Biology/Chemistry; Ohio University: Master of Healthcare Administration; UNC: Master of Accounting ‘18
Rachel Chaney (RC) – UNCG: BA English ’16; UNCG:BS Accounting ‘16; UNCG: MSA ‘18
Caroline Chrismon (CC)– UNCG: BS Accounting ‘16; UNCG: MSA ‘19
Kim Cofer (KC)– UNCG: BA Economics ’97; Gardner Webb: MA Executive Leadership ’14; UNC: MACC ‘18
Sandra Danskin (SD)– ASU: BSBA ’18; NCSU: MSA ‘19
Teneshia Spencer (TS)– ECU: BS Finance ‘12; ECU: BFA Dance Performance ‘12; NCA&T: MBA (Accounting Concentration) ‘18