How to land the most coveted assignments 

Learn to speak up, work hard, and set goals if you want to progress. 
by Cheryl Meyer 

How to land the most coveted assignmentsLanding plum assignments can sometimes be a challenge for a young CPA. You would like to work with certain clients or on interesting projects, but you’re not sure whether it’s appropriate to ask for work outside the responsibilities you’ve been given. Should you speak up or just hope the good work you perform gets you noticed?

Here’s what other young CPAs recommend. 

Speak up

The process for getting assignments differs at each firm, but it’s important to take initiative and make your preferences known once you have gained some experience. Expressing interest to managers and supervisors demonstrates that you want to learn and grow.

“To get what you want, you have to put yourself out there,” said Diego J. Baca, CPA, an assurance manager at Ernst & Young LLP in Denver. “You have to be assertive.”

Early in his career, Baca said, he helped out where needed. As he gained more experience and realized his work and client preferences, he would speak with career coaches at his firm, and they would relay his interests to the firm’s partners. Five years in, he was promoted to manager.

“If you’ve proven yourself to be dependable and loyal, the firm will give the assignment to you,” Baca said. “I personally have never seen anybody in my circle get turned down for an assignment or opportunity.”

Have an appetite for learning and hard work 

It takes initiative, loyalty, and dependability to get noticed. But public accounting firms also want to see a strong work ethic and an eagerness to learn. Bryon Garrety, CPA, founder and managing partner of Garrety & Associates LLC in Baton Rouge, La., said his firm quickly distinguishes between those employees who volunteer for assignments and those who just wait for them to be handed down. Young CPAs should not be afraid to ask questions and should consider attending industry conferences and taking continuing education courses in fields of interest to keep up with accounting industry changes.

“Having that thirst for knowledge will go further than anything else,” Garrety said.

Dave Finklang, CPA, CGMA, a 31-year-old supervisor in the tax services group at Anders CPAs and Advisors in St. Louis, said he moved up the ranks in accounting by exhibiting a good work ethic, by asking a lot of questions, and by simply being available to help out when needed. Today, when choosing young professionals to work with him on projects, he looks for hard workers and those putting forth an effort to learn technical accounting skills.

“Absolutely, it’s competitive,” said Finklang, a graduate of the AICPA’s Leadership Academy. One can “beat” the competition “by producing quality work and by staying focused on timely client service—in other words, by standing out in a positive way and not playing the politics game or throwing others under the bus. It’s healthy competition when we all push each other to be better and not push each other out of the way.”

Request a variety of assignments

It’s also a good idea to embrace work in a variety of industries and accounting areas. Having a wide range of industry and client experience helps you figure out what to specialize in as your career progresses.

Gaining varied experience also makes you more valuable to your firm because it builds your potential to relate to a variety of clients and gives you better knowledge of how accounting is applied in diverse scenarios.

“We want to give our new associates exposure to everything,” Finklang said. “In addition to business and individual income tax returns, they are doing payroll tax returns, trust returns, and nonprofit returns. We want them to see the entire spectrum of entities and industries.”

Set goals 

As you gain more experience, set short-term and long-term goals, and work with mentors and advocates to achieve them. “An advocate is someone who knows your skills and desire for meaningful projects and can speak on your behalf when plum assignments become available,” said Elizabeth Pittelkow, CPA/CITP, CGMA. Pittelkow, a graduate of the AICPA’s Leadership Academy, is a public accounting veteran and the director of Accounting and Compliance at ArrowStream Inc.

Finally, do good work

The last suggestion is also probably the most obvious. “If you look around most CPA firms, the people who receive the most desirable assignments are those who deliver quality work, on time and on budget (in terms of hours into the job),” Finklang said.

That’s solid advice for any CPA, no matter what project he or she wants to work on.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
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