Let's be honest, entering the working world is daunting. It’s a whole different ball game. It is no longer show up to class at this time, type down these notes, study them for a few hours, and regurgitate them on the test to get the A. Working is more challenging, there is more at stake, and it can be stressful (especially busy season).
Looking back on my first year in a Big 4 accounting firm now that the year is complete, I included a few key lessons I learned and apply on a day to day basis. Keeping these lessons in mind and adapting them to fit your own circumstances, will ease your transition out of college and lead to a successful first year on the job.
Lesson #1: Ask the "dumb questions"
If you haven't said the words "can I ask you a stupid question" at least 30 times in your first year on the job, you are doing something wrong. Working in public accounting, you are learning a new language. Your superiors and clients will be using terms that will make just as much sense to you as that one semester of Latin you took in high school. Do not pretend to know what they are talking about. They do not expect you to. Therefore, stop your senior and use the words "can I ask you a quick question, what does this mean?" Otherwise, down the road, it will be 10 times more difficult to catch up. At that point, your superiors will expect you to understand these basic concepts. Utilize your first year as the time to ask these questions and soak up as much knowledge as you can.
Lesson #2: Smile
There was a period of busy season where I let my stress get the best of me. I got very serious, kept my head down and didn’t say much to my colleagues on my team. When I spoke with my friends I was pretty negative about my experiences. One day my Dad said "enough, put a smile on Corey and shake this off." So I did. Smiling, keeping a positive attitude, and avoiding any negativity has such an incredible effect. The second you let negativity enter your life there is a downward spiraling effect. Do not let it take hold. When times get tough just smile, things really do end up working themselves out in the end. A positive attitude can get you through the worst of situations.
Lesson #3: Find your stress reliever
Now dealing with stress is a fine art. During busy season, the hours I was working, the expectations, and all the work I was assigned seemed overwhelming at times. I constantly asked myself how I was going to get it all done and you will too (everyone does!). It is critical to find a release for those stressful moments. My release was exercise and a book. For busy season, I bought an iPad as a post-CPA gift to myself. No matter how late I got off, I went to the gym and read a chapter of my book on the Kindle App as an escape from the day. An hour later, I was infinitely better, refreshed, and ready to take on tomorrow. Pay attention to what you need to release steam and make time for it. Doing so is critical for your happiness, and your success at your firm. I guarantee there is a direct correlation.
Lesson #4: Remember what you are there for
When people ask me why I chose Public Accounting, I tell them the same thing. How rare is it that a 23 year old is given access to some of the leaders in the business world and sensitive financial information. Over the last year I had over 7 different clients. Basically I had 7 different jobs all packed into one year working in Public Accounting. I have been provided tremendous exposure that is unparalleled in other roles. It was an incredible and strange feeling when the controller of one of my clients asked if it would be okay if he booked an entry a certain way. There is a reason you are here, don't forget it. While the learning curve is tremendously steep; looking back it’s amazing how much I have learned both about accounting and my own abilities over the last year. Make sure to take advantage of your experience and learn as much as you can.
Lesson #5: If you make a mistake, tell someone
I don’t know how many times during my first year in the Big 4 I made a mistake and built it up in my head to the point where I thought the engagement would crash and burn around me because of it. At my level, while mistakes are never welcomed, the ramifications are limited. There was one situation where I misunderstood instructions from my senior and didn’t test a significant portion of payroll expense for one of my clients. I tried to figure it out by myself and fix the problem but I needed help. I should have addressed it early on but pushed it off as I spun my wheels trying to solve the problem myself. When I finally threw in the towel and addressed it with my supervisor a few days later, it was such a simple answer and we resolved it in 5 minutes. I couldn't help but laugh at all the hours wasted trying to solve it myself and cover up my misstep. Lesson learned! Give the problem a shot yourself. However, in the end, do not spin your wheels, bring in the support you need.
Good luck with your first year in public accounting! Keeping the lessons I learned in mind will help make it as smooth a transition as possible.