Many accountants have a secret: at times—and despite their extensive qualifications—handling other people's financial affairs can be pretty daunting. If you're a newcomer to the accounting world, you may feel these occasional misgivings even more acutely. After all, accounting firms are meant to possess special knowledge about monetary matters, and as a representative of your employer, the onus frequently falls to you. Happily, all is not lost. The five most common mistakes made by accounting grads are easy to identify and fix.
- Don't sell yourself short. Most accounting firms are above board and fair because they recognize that industry peers, the media, and potential clients scrutinize their activities. Occasionally, however, firms offer lower salaries to graduates because of their lack of on-the-job experience. A slight difference is normal, as most firms do prefer to recruit seasoned accountants. Larger wage gaps may be an ominous sign, however. As you proceed, remember that you are a qualified individual and deserve proper remuneration for your skills.
- Don't spread yourself too thinly during the interview process. In your quest for the perfect accounting job, you may feel tempted to send out as many cover letters and resumes as you can. However, your efforts may backfire if they land you too many interviews. If you end up preparing for five face-to-face meetings in the space of four days, for example, you are unlikely to be able to give your best performance in each one. A better tactic is to focus on a select number of accounting firms as you reach out to recruiters. That way, you'll be able to prepare more efficiently for each interview opportunity.
- Don't race too far ahead. Slow and steady wins the race—even in the accounting world. Once you've secured an accounting job with one of the accounting firms on your shortlist, however, it can be tempting to try to prove your prowess by taking on every available task. In theory, this is a great way to show your new boss just how skilled you are; unfortunately in practice, it can lead to extreme work overload and potential burnout.
- Don't forget changes in financial law. Accounting processes change on a continual basis, particularly when they relate to tax season. Often, the best way to stay on top of changes in the law is to set aside time each week to review relevant court cases, legal propositions, and state-based judiciary activity. Some accounting firms have regular meetings to discuss modifications in the law; additionally, there are magazine and online subscription services to help you remain up to date.
- Don't copy dubious practices. Peer pressure can be tough to overcome. However, the bottom line in any questionable situation is simply not to copy activities you feel are inappropriate, illegal, or suspicious. If you encounter such behaviors, the best course of action can be to report the incident—or incidents—to your line manager or to an appropriate disciplinary body within the accounting industry.
Keep in mind, though, if you never make mistakes, you probably won't learn quite as much. Skills and information gathered via on-the-job experiences—good and bad—can provide valuable guidance later in your career. Accounting firms can be great places to learn all about the latest trends and best practices in the company of experienced peers; in turn, your mistakes—as well as your triumphs—may help guide you toward the successful foundation of your own accounting business.
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