Accountant by Day

I read two articles today, aimed at young CPA's in particular, but most likely valid to many young workers my age.

The first article is aimed at CPA firms, listing steps that firms can take to make sure that millennials (those born between 1978 to 1994) are engaged at work, in order to entice them to continue working for your CPA firm, instead of looking for greener pastures. The article mentions that this age group is expected to make up over 75% of the workforce in about 10 years time.

The second article was directed at young CPA's, and was a short article on how to be a "can-do" person at work (do your work well, volunteer to help with other tasks, have a positive attitude.) The writer of the article hopes that young professionals who follow this advice will find themselves with better opportunities at the office, and the respect of those in power.

For the last 3 years, I have been that young CPA, doing my best to complete everything assigned to me, and find time for a few extra opportunities I can volunteer for. And when it comes time for our annual reviews, management expresses to me that they appreciate this.

But this year, it has become an ever more difficult juggling act. My assigned responsibilities are greater, it's harder to get everything done to various partners' satisfaction, my ability to volunteer to help out with other tasks has diminished as I feel constantly behind on my assigned responsibilities. And in the face of what feels like constant disappointment from not meeting expected timelines, my attitude is beginning to suffer too.

On one hand, I don't think that I'm really disappointing the partners by taking 2 weeks to finalize a job that they hoped would take 4 days. In the end, the job was done by the deadline, and last year it took us 3 weeks to finalize! However, I don't feel like I'm doing a great job either. And I find the lack of an internal feeling of accomplishment to result in a significant decrease in motivation.

I believe this is the disengagement that the first article is warning firms about, but frankly, management at my firm doesn't seem to be concerned about how employees are feeling. If you stay, you stay, if you go, you go, and they don't seem to think they have much influence on that.


Man overboard!

We have received resignations from two of our employee's in the past few days, so the partner group has been scrambling to rearrange schedules. I think we can absorb these two losses, but I'm not sure if we could handle a third. I would guess that we would already know about it by now if someone else was planning to leave.

Typically, for CPA's, January through April is the busiest time of year, whether you are working on tax returns or audits. So jumping ship right now plays havoc with everyone's schedules. I'd hesitate to say that you should never switch firms right before busy season - for example, if you threatened to quit if you didn't get that promotion at year end, and then they didn't give it to you. But if we hired someone right now that I knew just quit at a different CPA firm right before busy season started, I would certainly wonder about the circumstances.

The people who didn't do enough to keep you (the managers) are probably not going to feel your absence as strongly as the other staff will, who have to work extra time to fill in the gaps left by your departure. But should this consideration affect your decision? I could certainly imagine someone telling themselves they're going to quit "just after this next busy period" and instead remain through several busy periods in a job that they don't enjoy.

Would you quit right before busy season? What would you think of a new employee hired by your own firm who resigned from their own firm at the beginning of your busy season?


Happy new year!

I just braved the blizzard in New England last week to count inventory, and now that I'm home in the sunny south it's all cold and wintery here too! One more week in the office, and then busy season will be in full swing. We have new first years starting with us this week, who I think are great additions to our team.

I think that 2014 is going to be an exciting year. We already have one vacation destination planned, and I think that I can pay for our flights and most of our hotel with accumulated points. I have some major upgrades to purchase for the house, but thanks to saving over the last year, these won't cause too much financial pain. I have had so many conversations with people lately where people bring up how they (and they assume everyone they know), is living paycheck to paycheck. I'm concerned by the people I know who say this, but I am happy to feel like I'm not one of them.

I finally have Silver Medallion status with Delta, and happily, I have been upgraded on my first two flights of the year (This is a good time of the year for upgrades I think, since most people traveling now are families.)

I am not really one for New Year's Resolutions, since I tend to try to set smaller goals throughout the year. I did decide to quite drinking soda this year though. I didn't used to be a soda drinker, and then I started allowing myself a half-can of the free stuff at work every now and then, and now it's turned into a post-lunch habit. I keep telling myself I'll stop soon, or that I'm not really a soda-drinker, but it went on for a few months, so it's time to just quit 100%.

Do you set New Year's resolutions? If so, what kind of goals do you pick? I'm sure exercise/weight loss is a popular one - for accountants this is a difficult time of year to set exercise goals though - it's the time when it's most difficult to meet those. I know several people who choose a certain number of books to read in the upcoming 12 months, or other activities to accomplish. (Maybe I should set a LIMIT on how many books I can read in the next month? I can't keep track of how many I've read in a week.)

What kind of resolutions do you think work the best?


Worst part of traveling?

Sometimes I think that the worst part is traveling is being forced to watch TV news while eating my free breakfast. The world is a terrifying place on TV news, with toddlers kidnapped, teenagers raped, and wives murdered by husbands.

Then they immediately switch it up by doing a human interest story on the country's most friendly ice cream shop. (In Minnesota of course!)

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Nimble minds

What are you more afraid of? Losing your memory towards the end of your life, or death itself? An article from the New Yorker (July 29, 2013 edition) says that more baby boomers are scared of the former than the latter.

Then again, humans may just be bad at answering that question, since I've also heard the statistic that public speaking is the number one fear that Americans harbor in their hearts, and that death is only ranked second. Oft interpreted as "they would rather die than give a speech." Put in an actual scenario where this choice is offered, a majority of people would get over it and make the speech.

The article moves on to discuss various companies and researchers working on memory-loss prevention products and studies. We're told that keeping our fight-or-flight mechanism turned on for long periods where it is inappropriate to both flee or fight (such as being under stress at the office), is detrimental to our brain health.

Meditation is often cited as a means to improve focus and decrease stress, and this article does not exclude this ancient art as a method of treatment. Trying new things to develop new neural pathways through the brain is also recommended. According to this article, this doesn't mean you have to pick up a new hobby each month, but can just be breaking a routine in a trivial (and eyebrow-raising) manner, such as wearing earplugs to a family meal. Of course, when today's busy workers are also wondering how to balance their careers and spending time with their children, this particular experiment may do more to hinder your progress towards goal achievement than it will to promote it.

Do you use any of these techniques? Trying out new activities to keep your brain flexible, or meditation, to keep your mind balanced?


September 2013 mortgage update

Photo of old Houston house

Now that we're past tax season, it's time to review some finances. This sort of post is my personal motivation mechanism, so feel free to skip if this is not your sort of thing.

My last mortgage post was back in May, when I decided to pay an additional $500 in principal each month, to speed up reaching the 22% equity needed to stop paying PMI. I also thought that I could put $500 per month towards savings/investments. How did I do?

Original mortgage balance, March 9, 2012:    $133,039

Mortgage balance May 2013:                                129,963

Mortgage balance September 2013:                     126,981

Reduction in mortgage since May 2013:                 2,982

Reduction in mortgage since inception:                  6,058

It is nice to see how much has been paid off in the last 4-5 months. That is almost 50% of the total amount paid off at this point, but I have been paying off the mortgage for 18 months. To stop paying PMI, I need to pay down 22% of the original mortgage balance (about $30,000). I've paid down about $6,000, so I need to pay down another $24,000. With about $220 of the regular monthly payment going towards the principal, plus the extra $500 per month, it will still take me another 30 months or so to reach this goal.

Of course, the faster I pay down the principal, the more of each regular payment goes towards principal too, instead of interest. So, another milestone to celebrate this month is that the portion of the payment going toward interest dropped below $400 per month. (It was $401.49 in August, and only $399.16 in September.

As discussed in May, even with PMI, with such a low interest rate on the loan, it is a toss up as to whether it makes more sense to invest extra cash, or to pay down the mortgage faster. So instead of putting all of my extra cash into the mortgage, I resolved to try and invest an additional $500 per month. I'm about to look up the exact numbers now, but I can tell you that I did not accomplish this goal.

Additions to Roth IRA: I added about $300/month to my Roth IRA - when I use the "set it and forget it" method, the contribution gets made

Additions to 401(k): This is so "set it and forget it" that I don't even know how much I put into this each month. It is nowhere close to the maximum allowed contribution. I re-figure  my contributions for this each year after we get our raises, to make sure that I'm always increasing how much I contribute as my salary increases.

Additions to savings account: This is much trickier for me - I had to pull money out of this account each month, because I was over optimistic with how much I could set aside. My total bank balance has essentially not changed since May. The reason I want to stock pile the money in a savings account is so that I can open a trading account once I have accumulated enough.

So, there are two reasons for my struggle to save cash - 1) I just spend too much to be able to sock much more away, or 2) I need to use a set-it-and-forget-it mechanism for putting cash aside, where I am unable to pull the cash out of my savings into my checking for daily use. Addressing both of these issues will be necessary for me to continue to grow my non-retirement accounts. Although discussing all of that sounds like a separate post.

The answer is - I'll keep chugging away at the mortgage payments and Roth contributions, but I need a fix to keep my cash savings increasing each month!


Five easy ways to stand out at recruiting events

It's that time of the year again - accounting recruiting season is underway at universities across the country. As the economy picks up, the competition to get the best students is picking up, and if you have decent grades, you should expect to have a variety of opportunities to choose from when offers are extended.

Based on a recruiting event I attended last week, here are some easy ways you can stand out to the firm doing the recruiting:

  1. Ask questions about the firm! The people doing the recruiting don't want to do all the work of making conversation. Ask the typical questions - how long have you worked there, what do you like about working there, what do you think makes your company different, etc. It shows that you're interested in the firm, it makes the employee of the recruiting firm appreciate not having to put all the work into the conversation, and everyone likes to talk about themselves anyway.
  2. Ask for business cards, and use them to get in touch with people later. We have noticed a dearth of students asking for business cards, and an extreme lack of thank you notes after our events. I didn't have business cards on me at the last event, but helped students find me on LinkedIn on their phone web browser, so they would not only have my contact info, but also a photo to remind themselves of who I was. (I still didn't receive any thank you notes.)
  3. Dress for the part! Even if the event is casual, don't confuse this with the outfit you would wear to class, or downtown to go out with your friends. Make sure that your clothing is neat, clean, and not revealing. While we might appreciate your fashionable look, it is not what will convince us you'll make a good accountant. At our event last week, a few students elected to wear nice black slacks to a casual recruiting event where jeans were perfectly acceptable. These students looked just a little more professional than everyone else by comparison.
  4. Make sure to speak with one of the partners. We all get to submit our opinions, but at our firm at least, it helps to have a partner rooting for you when it comes time to pick who gets an interview.
  5. Make your interest in the firm clear - work into conversation something like "What sounds interesting to me about your firm is..." fill in "the employees all seem to get along great," "your clients are in the manufacturing/banking/non-profit sectors", "the exposure to international accounting." Because if you're someone who we like, but we don't think you like us back, we might not want to take the time to interview you, over someone who is less qualified but seems more likely to accept a job with us. Last year we made offers to several students who turned us down for Big 4 jobs - those students did a good job of convincing us they would seriously consider us over Big 4. Good move on their part, but this also shows the environment that our firm is recruiting in - we are even more skeptical of whether students are serious about getting a job with us. As a student, I thought that just attending recruiting events made it clear I was interested in a particular firm, however, as an employee of a firm looking for recruits, I see now that it is important for the recruit to emphasize their interest.

Hopefully these are some practical tips that might be a bit easier to apply than the general "appear more confident." Even if you're nervous, I think that the 5 actions above will set you apart from the crowd.

Any other tips for accounting students looking for jobs this time of year? Any questions from people going through the recruiting process?


Positive feedback

Is the desire for positive feedback unique to younger generations? The older people around me seem to dismiss this as useless fluff, and, intellectually, I would agree with them.

However, without positive feedback, all you're left with is negative feedback. If your work is 99% free of changes/errors, the only feedback is the 1% they would like you to do differently.

Of course, we are all striving to hand in work that is 100% free of changes from the reviewer, but I don't see that happen much. If only because the reviewer feels like it is part of their job to find some change or improvement.

Which means every single assignment results in negative feedback, with no positive feedback to let people know that overall they're doing well.

Anyway, during a recent training, this topic came up, and the suggestion was that people at my level can be the ones to provide this feedback to our younger staff. But man, it would be nice to get some from the people above me a bit more often.



From discussions with my coworkers, it seems like most of us need a certain amount of time to unwind or "decompress" between getting home from work and going to sleep. During these times when we work long hours, it seems silly to waste time reading (blogging) instead of going to bed right away. But it turns out that I will just lie wide awake for hours if I don't take the time to calm down after work

No matter how tired I am when I leave work, once I get home, and especially after I've had something to eat, I find myself suddenly exploding with energy. I sometimes think that if I wanted to write a novel, these times after a long day at work would be the best time to get something creative done. Unfortunately, I can find no hint of this energy the following morning, and since I need to get some sleep to perform well at work, I can't justify staying up until all hours working on the next great American novel.

Do you have a similar experience when you come home? What is your routine to unwind?




Am I crazy?

It's evenings like tonight that make me wonder if I'm the world's biggest sucker for thinking that I have a good job.

11:41, I just got home. No dinner. And I don't earn enough to justify paying for a laundry service.

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