Accounting Grad Help with Career Start

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to ask for your opinion on starting my career as an accountant (tax). I haven't posted in a public forum in…decades. I tend to be self-conscious and don't like to open up. A major introvert, I'd say. But still, I thought why not ask the Internet and those who know more than I do.

I'm writing things about me below in short form (as much as I can).

  • 31 years old (Male)
  • Will graduate (hopefully) at the end of this year with an expected GPA of 5.41 (77.28%) from a Master of Professional Accounting. Previous degree was in psychology (honours). I did a PhD in sociology for a bit but decided it was not for me. The PhD never gets mentioned anywhere as people see it as a failure on my part because I didn't finish. So, I leave it out but it's still part of my life experience.
  • I have done a short internship at a very small accounting practice.
  • I have a small business doing website design and creative projects. I've been doing this for 3 years. One clients wants me to work in their start-up but the potential job would not include accounting. Even then, I don't know enough to do accounting on my own anyway.
  • No major office work experience saved by some admin office roles two years ago.
  • Was the secretary at a sporting club for a year, finishing this year. Some say this is good to have?
  • I absolutely hate auditing and I might barely pass this subject. I'm also yet to find anyone who can explain this subject to me in a way that makes sense. I quite like tax accounting and tax law and I think this might be where I go.
  • I don't feel confident in getting into the Big4 since I often fail their tests. I can't think well under pressure. I'm working on it. It's a big problem :(. I have to get better at this. This has affected my exam results. I passed them but I could have done much better. I would get an HD on assignments only to get a P on exams. Then…the weighted average would be a C.
  • Research, knowing the details and writing are my key skills. Yeah, "calculating things" is not my forte but I can get by. I hope this is compatible with tax accounting.

I'm feeling quite overwhelmed and late to the party being 31 and having little real-world experience in the field. But I have to start somewhere. I know I will have to work hard.

Now, over to you. Where could I improve? Am I on the right path? What can I expect and what should I be aware of?

Thank for reading thus far and I welcome any insights, feedback and suggestions.

:)

Comments

  • +2

    Start anywhere even if barely related and move up. e.g. accounts receivable/payable - prove yourself then move to financial accounting team.

    Tax whilst you enjoy it might be hard to break into.

    • Thank you for the reply. The financial accounting route is also a possibility I should consider.

  • You're only just starting? Bruh.

    • Yeah automation will impact all industries. Accounting was set in other reports to be even higher (90%). I suspect auditing will be automated at a faster rate once things start to move into the blockchain. This is the reality we live in. Few are safe.

    • It's (at least partially) based on human voters of Wot I Reckon so it's to be taken with a grain of salt. A very large grain of salt.

      The first comment on there, who voted it's "Likely" accountants would be automated says: "It's already started. The Excel software is already an accountant and more".

      That's the quality of the data. While you're at it, Microsoft Word with Spellcheck is basically an editor, publishing industry beware.

      • Pretty much everyone, including PwC thinks that accounting will be first on the robot chopping block. Does this mean all accountants will be unemployed overnight? Of course not. But you'd be deluded to think the industry won't get gutted by automation. All the menial, entry level, data entry jobs will evaporate. The OP is only now starting a career may not exist in 20 or even 10 years. I see more longevity in long haul trucking and interpretation.

        • +1

          They've been talking for years, at least a decade, about the simple move of getting base level accounting offshored to the Philippines/Indonesia/"Asia" and paying their minimum wage to do the base journal entries and processing and then sent back for "a manager to check and then rubber stamp".

          Every time they try it they find out the numbers don't work out. Data riddled with errors, work not being done, "timeline expectations gap". They hire supervisors over there, they send managers from here. None of it works, and that's with trainable humans.

          Businesses treat it as a curiousity at best. Even if they get that part of it working, they've created a system where "we" no longer have a bottom tier accountant learning the ropes, so where do our future managers that know how to check their work and decide if the rubber stamp is to be applied get their knowledge? "It's fine, we'll replace them too, it's robots all the way down".

          People make good money convincing other people that technology is about to solve all of their problems (that reminds me, I need to check in on the Elizabeth Holmes case). This is why every time Uber delivers yet another "we made a loss this year folks" presentation, most of the time is spent talking about how much money they're about to make from driverless cars. The Jetsons was a cartoon, not a business plan.

          • @CrowReally: The point isn't about pouring water on futuristic ideas(footnote 1) - I'd love a flying car as much as the next person - but how impractical it is to base major current life decisions on it.

            "Good" advice a futurist would have given a would-be accounting grad 10-15 years back is "don't bother, the industry is about to replaced with cheaper humans overseas".

            It's a plausible idea, it doesn't even rely on inventing anything (like new technology etc), but it hasn't happened. Turns out it's too costly (financial, social, opportunity, you decide) to implement. If you'd followed that advice and picked a different career you just logic-ed yourself out of a decade of career growth in what would have been your chosen industry.

            Now it's "Alright, using cheaper humans at the bottom tier is too hard, instead we'll invent robots and replace multiple tiers", which seems to double down on all the previous problems (higher costs all around!). There's not even a definitive timeline on when this will happen. Basing your career decision on this now is an even worse idea than the "good" idea the futurist had a decade back, and that one was wrong too.

            (footnote 1) Bitcoin enthusiasts who apply this level of futurism to their smug "oh, you still believe in fiat? how quaint" style comments are particularly infuriating however

          • @CrowReally: What do you mean it doesn't work? When I worked overseas at KPMG we did this all the time, tax returns were done by sending a pile of bank statements and documents and getting a completed return back the next day to review, financial statements prepared via sending an accounting file and a few notes. It had significantly better results than hiring junior people locally because we'd get work back, review it, send feedback on what went wrong and the mistakes would rarely happen again. Cost to deliver went down significantly and we were struggling to find work for junior people to do that was within their skills and cost effective.

            Accounting has gone from people entering Big 4 and getting out the first second they can to Big 4 actually starting to lay off newly minted CAs once they finish a few years of audit and they can't find jobs as finance managers elsewhere. Audit makes up nothing to the bottom line anymore and they're moving big into advisory where you need a skill on top of just being an accountant. However advisory is growing massively, crunching numbers is a dead end job but telling people how to crunch numbers and implement it is where the money is.

            Audit methodology has changed massively in my time. I'm not talking excel, I'm talking specialised software that grabs the entire GL for the company and spits out what data needs to be tested, what invoices to prove exist, what is the higher risk areas. It was over 10 years ago I was running audits on new methodology that cut hours down by half. The main thing I find is that most businesses aren't optimised anywhere near as much as they could be and have way too many accountants on staff. The technology is here, just not the mindset that you don't need a gigantic army of accountants at every big company.

  • +2

    Not an accountant, but I've worked alongside accountants and work in an industry filled with many ex-accountants. Hopefully can give you an "outsider, but insider's take" on what I view the market as.

    31 years old (Male)

    Worth mentioning that when you're joining the workforce, you'll be doing so at a junior role where you'll be mostly around colleagues in their early 20s who have different inclinations, different motivators, different level of drive…etc. than you do. It might also be worth bearing in mind that graduate salaries for accounting are particularly low, but the flip side is that the promotion opportunities are there for those who will take them.

    I have done a short internship at a very small accounting practice.

    Worth mentioning, might even be worth reaching out to them again to see if you can come back. If you liked it there, this would be a great option.

    I have a small business doing website design and creative projects. I've been doing this for 3 years. One clients wants me to work in their start-up but the potential job would not include accounting. Even then, I don't know enough to do accounting on my own anyway.

    This would be a good opportunity, but I think you need to figure out what you want to do with your life first. Do you want to be an accountant, a web designer, or something else entirely? That's probably worth thinking about first before committing yourself to anything. That said, many skills (managing clients relationships, communication, diligence…etc.) are all transferable, so you always can move laterally.

    No major office work experience saved by some admin office roles two years ago. Was the secretary at a sporting club for a year, finishing this year. Some say this is good to have?

    Yeah, sure, mention it in your CV / resume.

    I absolutely hate auditing and I might barely pass this subject. I'm also yet to find anyone who can explain this subject to me in a way that makes sense. I quite like tax accounting and tax law and I think this might be where I go. I don't feel confident in getting into the Big4 since I often fail their tests. I can't think well under pressure. I'm working on it. It's a big problem :(. I have to get better at this. This has affected my exam results. I passed them but I could have done much better. I would get an HD on assignments only to get a P on exams. Then…the weighted average would be a C.

    The issue here is that the Big 4 are generally the best places to start your career if you want to be in tax accounting. They will also generally sponsor you to do a CA (or equivalent). We can discuss the merits of the Big 4 for ages, including whether their remuneration packages are attractive and how long you should stay. However, out of all of my accountant friends, none have been worse off because they joined the Big 4. Some, who have been there for close to a decade, are now directors, on track to become partners, have built up large accounts and client relationships. Many moved on within 2 - 3 years to very attractive roles in the finance teams at major corporates, have gone into business development roles, banking, moved to boutique financial services firms…etc.

    The Big 4 are a pipeline for junior accountants because of the type of work they do. When you join, you will realise that you have lots to learn and many skills to build and, even if you're only there for 2 - 3 years, you will leave as a "real" accountant with genuine experience that can get you hired where you want to go.

    Now, over to you. Where could I improve? Am I on the right path? What can I expect and what should I be aware of?

    To be honest, I think that you need to be more open to building relationships and backing yourself. The fact that you start off with "I tend to be self-conscious and don't like to open up. A major introvert, I'd say" is not a good sign. If you were a hiring manager, would you hire someone who starts off with a negative point about themselves in such a manner? If you were a financial services firm, would you put someone like that in front of a client? You need to back yourself and believe that you are where you belong. Everybody has negatives, but the most important thing is that whenever you mention a negative about yourself, you always need to pair that with what you're doing to address it, or a positive characteristic that balances it out.

    E.g. I'm not the most knowledgeable person in field X, but I have a lot of experience delivering similar projects in sector Y.

    E.g. I'm not the most social person, but I enjoy getting to know people and invest in people I'm close with.

    E.g. I tend to be self-conscious, which has really helped me to be meticulous in my work and take onboard the feedback of everyone around me, but I'm really working on leveraging the positive points of that feedback to be more positive and continue recognising and developing my strenghts

    You get the jist.

    That doesn't mean be a dick and an arrogant prick, it means know the value you can bring to a firm or client and understand how you can help them achieve their business goals and objectives. Be open minded and never "pre-emptively guard" yourself against criticism or failure. Instead of saying "I don't feel confident in getting into the Big4 since I often fail their tests", say "I've not been able to pass the Big 4 tests in the past, but this time I've committed myself to XYZ, and if things don't work out, I'll still have options XYZ open"

    I also think you sell yourself a bit short by saying that you're an "introvert" - building relationships and being open is not about being introverted or extroverted. Building business relationships is not the old "used car salesman, pat them on the back, talk shit" socialising. It's about becoming a trusted advisor to your colleagues and your clients.

    When you join as a junior, be an analyst/associate that your manager can depend on. Think about when things are going wrong, you want to be the person that your manager will call upon. If you can be that person, you're doing a good job and you're building good relationships. When you are a manager, be the manager that your director will want to leave a project with, develop a good reputation for delivering quality work, for managing your team well, for being someone that other people want to work with. Stay in touch with people and know what they're working on. When people leave a firm, try to stay aware of their career and remember what they do. They are future potential opportunities and can help you immensely.

    Accounting is a people business, not a numbers business. As an analyst, you might be crunching numbers, but in the long run, you build accounts by building trust with your clients. You do not have to be an extrovert to do this (in fact, I would say that being an extrovert and being overbearing might even be a disadvantage - nobody wants to hire a loudmouth as an accountant). As I was saying before, I'm not an accountant and I would say I'm an introvert (in the sense that I don't particularly enjoy socialising and large groups of people), but I enjoy taking an interest in the people I work with and developing a reputation for delivering good quality work. Having people that back you is the most important thing.

    Good luck.

    • Thank you for your long and thoughtful response. You make several valid points. Although I am 31 I look much younger and I don't mind hanging out with younger people. I get asked for my ID to buy alcohol all the time which I take as a compliment. And the low salary is fine to start. I don't expect to get paid much until I can provide value to the business I'm working in.

      But on the your points, I realize that the opportunities the Big4 provide cannot be ignored. So, I'll keep trying. I'll also endeavour to work on my negativity and become a more positive and valuable person for those around me. So, lots of work for me.

      Again, thank you for your advice and the tips. They are incredibly useful.

      • I think his point is more that the people straight out of uni will be willing to work extremely hard, and long hours, more so than someone who has been in the workforce in some capacity for 10 years. You don't sound that set on accounting, so not sure why you don't consider the startup job?

        • Working hard is an inevitability no matter where I go. I'm just trying to get some perspective on the matter. The startup job is fine but I chose accounting as a long term career. I'm looking at a place where I can learn and that knowledge will come at the cost of a lower starting salary and long hours.

          • @Petty Cash: It’s not about working hard. It’s about creating the right image and getting along with the right people. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody sees it fall who gives a f&$k.

            You need to identify your strengths. Any idiot can “work hard” whatever that means in the context of big 4. Being able to run projects and having the interpersonal skills to translate what the client wants into outputs to keep them happy is a valuable skill. If you can do that you won’t necessarily be stuck in audit.

            • @Icecold5000: I agree 100%. I undervalue my interpersonal skills quite a bit and always felt it was all about technical skills. I guess I was wrong :/

              • @Petty Cash: Sorry if I might have been misunderstood. Technical skills are important but excelling in that area might not be the way forward. Its better to be an average performer. If you’re above average the threshold for exceeding expectations goes up so its just a treadmill to burnout. Be average, get on the piss with the boys, make those connections and get the fkk out of audit. Once you’ve in your main job isn’t audit, its to find another service line that you want to be in. Keep that in mind.

                • @Icecold5000: Your point makes a lot of sense. Especially the emphasis on connections and networks. I think those are most important to me right now and in the near future.

        • +1

          I agree with you 100% - especially the point regarding:

          I think his point is more that the people straight out of uni will be willing to work extremely hard, and long hours, more so than someone who has been in the workforce in some capacity for 10 years.

          What worries me most about OP is the point of:

          Although I am 31 I look much younger and I don't mind hanging out with younger people. I get asked for my ID to buy alcohol all the time which I take as a compliment.

          I must say that this misses the mark completely - why you would want to compete with "younger people" on their own turf is beyond me. The point is that at 31, you have a certain level of life experience and maturity that an average 21 year old will not have. You have to find out how to leverage it.

          • @p1 ama: Well you are correct. But leveraging my experience is not going to be easy coming in into something like audit. It's a pyramid and you start at the bottom. I don't have relevant experience to start somewhere higher. I could - I think - look into another sector to leverage my life experience. Is this what you mean? I could be getting your point wrong. But I do agree with the overall principle of not selling myself short. I'm certainly not the same person I was 10 years ago. Thank you for the feedback.

            • +1

              @Petty Cash:

              It's a pyramid and you start at the bottom.

              That does not mean you cannot leverage your experience. Present yourself like someone your manager would be comfortable putting in front of a client and you're already better than 50% of your colleagues at the junior level. Trust me.

              • @p1 ama: I understand what you mean now. Will definitely do this.

  • One clients wants me to work in their start-up

    I like this path, it may create further opportunities that you can't foresee.

    • Certainly, it's something I'm thinking about for next year.

  • +1

    I work in an industry where tax compliance is so new that even the tax office and the regulator are scratching their heads when they're asked questions that aren't in their textbook. This is what happens when technology moves faster than regulation.

    Professionals like accountants that don't want to compete with other accountants in legacy finance should consider getting a head start by learning as much as possible about digital assets and DeFi. A learned accountant can easily climb to the top of this industry when there is no competition for business. Private practice is also an option.

    Don't take my word for it. Google for yourself and look at the data.

    Best of luck.

    • Thank you for your insight. I've been keeping my eye on this. I remember someone coming in to declare his crypto gains at my internship and the accountant was really struggling to get it right. I also saw a job for an accountant to work at the federal police catching crypto fraud. Interesting

  • https://www.afr.com/companies/professional-services/staffing...

    Just going to put this out there, apply like crazy at every top/mid tier firm you can find if you think that is for you.

    Otherwise, hit the boutiques, as a manager, I know we are getting crunched for staffing and attracting staff. Wages are extremely high relative to everything else right now.

    • A load of rubbish really. Considering the big4 culled so many staff last year and blamed it on the pandemic (laughable considering WFH and audits don't wait for pandemics). Also a lot of the staff shortages are because experienced staff leave due to extremely poor working conditions and cultures that do not respect loyalty.

      • I think they managed a lot of staff out who just didn't really fit in with them, everyone I spoke to in the industry, especially big 4 was saying they have been working longer hours, but that might be a product of being Victorian and trapped at home.

        I definitely agree with a lot of the things you are saying, but I do genuinely believe they are paying very well compared to previously, and money is a measure of demand vs supply.

    • Thank you. I'll be applying to many boutique firms. There's a shortage of staff in tax in my city according to my previous supervisor. They do interesting work some of them.

  • +1

    Big4 typically like to treat new graduates as meat and drop them in the deep end on a compliance team, they're usually sent out on audit (but audit as the 'info gathering team', not the "time to put the big boy pants on and have a serious think about the assurance and materiality of the underlying balance sheet" auditors). Translated: you get sent to external businessness to ask the same questions over and over again to fill out worksheets. The businesses know they need to train you in how their businesses work so that you stop hassling them for clarified answers. Gradually you build up an understanding of accounting principles (and on the clock of the customer).

    If have good enough technical knowledge and (really) impress them, you may land a non-audit position as a graduate, you'll be assigned a very specific role on a team (You may be step 37 of 80 in the financial compliance team, and your job will be to make sure none of the bank balances in the entity vary more than 20% above set parameters in a set period). You'll be expected to be dedicated and loyal to making the machine run smoothly, and that means no asking what step 38 is, or asking if you can do something different.

    Survive two years of that and late hours and you've proven you're a hard worker who can learn on the job. Then you can apply to be on whatever team you want, where you'll be starting over as a higher grade of meat. Maybe handing out worksheets to a lower grade.

    Rinse, repeat.


    Small firms are looking for someone who's willing to learn to do the system their way, and you're going to have to learn to be a jack of all trades on the fact that their client base will need someone who can service the X% of jobs that need agriculture accounting and Y% of jobs that have PSI income (where X can be 0, 5 or 80 and so on). You might end up at a firm with an outdated SQL database and a lot of doctor clients, so you'll be training in family trust distributions and obsolete software. Or you might end up at a firm that's all cloud based computing and mainly service industry clients.

    Smaller firms will treat you like family, but smaller firms also have a more tight knit culture - if there's 8 people in the office and you don't get on with 2 of them, you're going to have a pretty difficult time. The pay isn't great but you'll learn all the skills (that are relevant to your firm base). It's easy/possible to find a small firm that absolutely doesn't do something you hate (e.g. audit is a rarity).

    Success means more senior roles in the firm. Maybe even buying into the firms itself one day. And servicing the same clients forever.


    Either beginner path would be viable with a good attitude and a willingness to work hard, though the former really is a younger person's game - as another poster commented, you will be working alongside 21 year olds. It would be likely the person handing you your worksheets would be younger than you as well - if you're gregarious and need to fit in well with coworkers, you're going to need to install tiktok or whatever it is kids these days get up to.

    • Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I'll be working hard regardless of where I go. That's the reality for me. I think given my personality a smaller firm might work better. But I'll take whatever comes my way, I can't be overly picky at this stage. I don't mind the younger crowd. I will go out with them but won't stay until 4am haha.

    • +1

      Thank you for the sound advice.

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