The Top 10 Things Young CPAs Should Focus On For Their Careers 

As a young CPA, what kinds of activities, programs, and pursuits should you focus on for maximum job growth? The new year is a great time to assess where you are with your career—and where you want to be for the future.

Drum roll, please! In no certain order, here is our Top 10 list of career builders, boosts, and benefits, all designed to help you improve your short-term goals and long-term aspirations.

  1. Network, Network, Network—A no-brainer, for sure. Unless you live in isolation, you should know by now that networking with others is the way to advance your career. Not only does it provide a stimulus to make you feel better about what you’re doing in your present position; it often paves the way to securing your next position. Whether you know it, the average person changes jobs 10 to 15 times (with an average of 11 job changes) during his or her career (Source: Your resume is a good snapshot of what you’ve done, but it cannot replace one-to-one, live and in-person, networking. Take advantage of any networking opportunities you can. It’s a great way to meet others who could be very influential to you in the future.
  2. Get the “Right” Kind of Continuing Education—Staying up to date on your CPE is mandatory, but beyond the required tax and accounting courses, consider signing up for continuing education that offers more than just the technical knowledge. For example, if you want to learn how to manage others, then find a course on management. Define your interests and find a way to learn how to meet your educational needs. Not every course may qualify for CPE and you may have to pay for some courses out of your own pocket, but that’s okay … you’re feeding your brain and that’s always a good thing.
  3. Stay Focused—If you have a goal in mind, stick to it. In our always-on environment where hundreds of messages are thrown at us throughout the day, it’s easy to get off track. Try to stay attentive and concentrate on the kinds of activities that make the most sense for you and your career. You are able to focus when you work on any accounting engagement for your firm or company, so why should real life be any different?
  4. Be Smart About Social Media—Although an entire collection of stories could be written about how to use social media to advance your career, the best advice is to use your head when participating in any kind of social media or networking. This includes status updates, comments, and even photos. Many want to keep your personal activities separate from your professional side. That’s fine, as long as you also realize that you must turn on your privacy controls on the various social networks if you want to keep your personal information private. If you don’t have the time or energy to keep up with multiple accounts, then spend a few minutes thinking about how you can use your single platform to reflect your personality and aspirations—all in a positive way. 
  5. Learn Best Practices—Just the fact that you’re reading this article is an example of learning about best practices. The overused phrase, “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” is often quoted for a reason; there’s nothing wrong with becoming aware of the best ways to solve a problem or learn something new. Once you know where to get this information, you can begin applying it to managing your career.
  6. Remain Mobile and Flexible—Today’s young CPA needs to remain mobile and flexible in considering future job assignments, whether in your current company or somewhere else. If you’re working for one of the Big 4 firms, then accepting a job overseas, for example, is common practice and a great way to advance. You may even consider moving to another part of the country to transition from practice into business and industry if there is a particular company or position you want. Coming across with an attitude that you do not want to relocate or even consider another position in your current company, in the same city, does not send the right signals to ensure future job success.
  7. Turn to Specializations and Credentials—What makes you unique and different from other CPAs? Today, there is a huge respect and an even bigger demand for CPAs who specialize and carry additional credentials. This additional knowledge and experience, beyond traditional service offerings, positions you as an expert in any given area, but also offers a way to distinguish yourself from others. That’s important when it’s time to advance within your firm or company, or applying for a position elsewhere in which you’re competing with hundreds of other CPAs who are doing what they can to land the same job. If you have a particular interest in any specialization, check it out. In addition, the AICPA offers several credential programs; these were highlighted in a recent Edge article, “Determining Which AICPA Specialty is Good for You.”
  8. Setting Goals—Are you the kind of person who makes your annual list of New Year’s resolutions and sticks to them, or do you fly by the seat of your pants? As a CPA, you have a somewhat methodical, analytical way of looking at things, so setting goals should not be a difficult task. Your employer probably requires you to write a set of goals on your performance evaluation, which is certainly a good start. However, you can’t, obviously, list long-term career goals outside your firm or company, so keep a separate set of goals handy. Make this a working document. Add to it and take some goals away, but by all means, write yourself a set of attainable goals that offer you a way to reflect and plan for your future.
  9. Write and Get Published—Savvy CPAs will tell you that one of the ways to advance their careers is to demonstrate their expertise and knowledge through the written word. Similar to the way you want to look at specializations and additional credentials as a way to stand apart from others, a credible byline in a print or online publication will also do the trick. Today, there are many publications that need articles and stories for their readers, so why not contribute something? You may not be a William Shakespeare, but that’s okay; you’ll have an editor who will review your stories and, hopefully, you can learn how to be a better writer along the way. You might even consider starting your own blog (professional, not personal—keep that separate), but be sure you check with your employer to ensure you’re not violating any internal company policies. 
  10. Be Genuine—By all means, no matter how you try to advance your career, be yourself. Be genuine; when someone asks your opinion, give it to them in a way that makes them think you’re being honest and forthright. No one likes a game player. Today, the best approach is complete transparency. You’ll be much more respected for your ideals and your opinions.


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