Tuesday, October 07, 2008

What’s it like to be an…Accountant?

My job title is: Senior Tax Analyst

What does a normal day look like? Is it consistent throughout the year? If youíve had this position for a while, how have things changed?

Itís hard to describe a normal day because every day is different. I rarely have consecutive days where Iím working on the same thing. There are constant interruptions, new projects, research items, etc. that arise on a daily basis. My general responsibilities include reviewing complex and specialized federal and state tax returns, researching various tax issues, preparing technical memorandums, identifying tax planning opportunities, and staying current on new corporate tax law and regulations. Because my company is publicly traded, we are required to issue quarterly financial statements which involve quarterly computations of our effective rate and deferred tax assets and liabilities.  My company also owns over 80 domestic and international subsidiaries that are part of our consolidated financials so I work closely with the controllers regarding tax compliance and proper reporting of tax related items on their financial statements. Virtually every transaction results in a tax impact so there is never a shortage of work or opportunities to learn. . 

What other, if any, positions have you held prior to your current job? How did you get to where you are now?

My career started out in public accounting with a tax internship at a big six accounting firm while I was student. I received a full time offer upon graduation and spent 4 years working in the tax department, starting out as a tax associate and working my way up to senior associate.  While there I had the opportunity to explore many different areas of tax, including individual, partnership, corporation, trust, estate, and non-profit taxation. Public accounting was a great foundation for my career because of the variety of work, the level of responsibility, and the opportunity to work directly with business owners, CFOs, VPs, controllers, etc. Public accounting can also be a very demanding environment so after 4 years I decided to try something new. I came to work for my current company as a Senior Business Analyst in their Internal Audit department and had the opportunity to learn and practice in a different area of accounting. I also had the opportunity to see many different areas of the company first hand by traveling to manufacturing plants around the country and visiting many of our subsidiaries.

My responsibilities included planning, organizing, and carrying out independent appraisals of the effectiveness of policies, procedures and standards, making recommendations for improvement, reporting on findings and monitoring management’s responses and implementation. After 8 months in Internal Audit, a position within the tax department opened up and I switched departments to rejoin the world of tax where I am now currently employed as a Senior Tax Analyst.

In my spare time, Iíve also enjoyed teaching accounting at a local university for 3 semesters. In addition to teaching students financial accounting concepts, Iíve been able to provide career education and mentoring for personal and professional development.  This opportunity has helped me develop key essential leadership skills, including public speaking skills and the ability to explain difficult concepts to others in a comprehensible manner.

What kind of training/education did you have? What would you suggest? What qualifications/skills/attributes make someone successful in this position?

My internship experience was my first accounting related job and one of the best ways for me to start off my career. It not only gave me insight into what area of accounting interested me but also provided exposure to the post-college working world. Internships are an invaluable experience and often times lead into a full time position, particularly in the accounting field. Public accounting firms generally extend offers up to a year or more in advance so you can have a job lined up well before graduating.

In my case, I received and accepted my full time offer a year and a half prior to my start date. Upon graduating, I continued on with my education and received my masters degree in accounting. While attending graduate school, I studied and sat for the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam and received my CPA license after completing a year of experience in public accounting (this is a Michigan CPA requirement in order to be licensed).  Working in public accounting was the best experience I could have had for a jump start in my career.  My former company is a large, well known firm and offered many resources and opportunities for me to grow and develop. They offered intense training sessions and emphasized education and advancement. It prepared me immensely for my current position at my current company and allowed me to receive a promotion within a short period of time.

While working in my first position at my current company in the Internal Audit department, I sat for and passed the CIA (Certified Internal Auditor) exam. I became licensed upon fulfilling a year of experience in the area of internal audit. Having a CIA license has expanded my knowledge base in accounting and provided some diverse experiences to add to my resume as I continue to build and grow my career.

Anyone who is hard-working, driven, has a desire to learn, and loves the financial aspect of business is the perfect candidate for a career in accounting. Having an accounting degree opens up so many doors due to the complexity of the field and the ability to branch into many different areas of finance. Itís more than just working with numbers; itís applying laws and regulations, dealing with complex financial transactions (such as mergers and acquisitions, stocks and bonds, equity compensation, inventory valuation, etc), complying with reporting and disclosure requirements, and gaining hands exposure to business operations.

What are the rewards in your position? Challenges? What makes a good day for you?

Rewards in my position include a flexible work environment, rewarding pay and performance based bonuses and raises, recognition from management and peers, having a variety of work, constantly being challenged, and always having the opportunity to learn and apply new knowledge.

Challenges include constantly facing something new and stepping outside your comfort zone, managing multiple projects and deadlines, and dealing with constant interruptions.

What trends or changes do you foresee in the next 5-10 years?

In the past 5 years, the field of accounting has undergone significant changes due to the exposure of unethical transactions and corporate greed. In the next 5-10 years we will continue to see more stringent reporting standards evolve, requiring more disclosure and leaving less room for judgment and interpretation. Going forward we will also see a move toward international reporting standards as businesses become increasingly global. The good news is that accounting isnít going to go away and tax and audits will always be around (and are required in most cases). This provides excellent job security even in tough economic times. 

How could a person find out more about your field?

Mentoring program
Talking to people in the field
Working with career services on campus
Joining a business fraternity (like Beta Alpha Psi) that organizes group office visits to area firms and brings in speakers for weekly meetings

What obstacles have you overcome to get to where you are today?

Over the years Iíve had to build up a lot of confidence to believe in myself and not be intimidated by the difficulty of work and the knowledge of others around me. Every day is still a learning experience and that will never end! 

What was your first job like after college?

Starting out at a big six accounting firm, I was surrounded by people my own age. Because we worked a lot of hours (especially during tax season), we spent a lot of time together and formed bonds both inside and outside of work. Some of my best friends today were people I worked with in public accounting. The atmosphere was competitive but there was still a genuine desire for everyone to succeed. Although tax season involved long hours, we tried to make it fun by playing Name that Tune over the intercom, having Survivor competitions, weekly happy hours and an End of Tax Season celebration every April 15.

Posted by Bonnie Speyers on 10/07 at 09:41 AM

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