As a general rule, accountants are planners. We might like the occasional scare from a horror movie, but we do not like unexpected surprises when it comes to our careers. Unfortunately, many current and future tax CPAs think they can control the flow of their careers when in most cases they are merely in the eye of the hurricane.
For example, after the October 15 deadline, hundreds (if not thousands) of tax professionals will be fired. Why? Did something happen in the law? Nope. It is just business as usual. It is a common enough event in accounting firms in April and October that it has become known by such lovely terms as the "Easter Parade" and "Black Monday."
Many tax professionals believe that they can prevent themselves from being fired by doing quality work and not causing personnel problems within the firm. Although these qualities certainly help you to succeed at a firm, they do not guarantee your employment. For example, you might believe that you are doing good work, but management views your work differently. Another example could be that you did not start a social problem within the firm, but you become caught up in it because of circumstances beyond your control. As a result, you find yourself walking out the door without a plan because you thought as a "good soldier" who was "loyal to the firm" that they would always keep you.
But even if they decide to keep you, it might not matter. For example, during my public accounting career I have worked for Arthur Andersen and three of the top 20 public accounting firms in Houston. Depending on how you want to view Andersen Tax, all of the firms for which I worked have gone out of existence. The other three firms were swallowed up by larger regional firms when they were not able to transition their firms to the next generation. Therefore, even if you try to stay at the same firm, the firm itself might change around you.
OK, Bill. I get it. What do I do?
Instead of focusing all of your employment efforts on trying to succeed in—or hold on by a thread—to your current job, you need to spend some time keeping your options open. Think of it like approaching an intersection in your car: You might want to go forward. But if it is blocked due to an accident then you need to know how to use the side streets to get to your destination.
Here are a few tips to help you keep your options open
- Get a LinkedIn account and start using it. If you need help on how, then read my article How to Get an Accounting Job Using LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the perfect vehicle for accountants to network with because it allows you to be active or passive based on your preferred method to network. In addition, you can connect with people you know before you lose contact with them. Nothing is worse for your career than trying to join a firm and not knowing that a friend or former business contact works at the firm (or knows someone that does) who could have been helping you get that job.
Finally, a great LinkedIn profile makes it easier for career opportunities to find you instead of the other way around. One of my former staff got a tax manager job at PwC last year simply because they liked his LinkedIn profile and called him to talk to him about the job opportunity. Wouldn't you like that to happen to you?
- Find four people who work in four different top 20 CPA firms in your city and keep in touch with them on a regular basis. You do not need to be great friends, but you should meet for lunch once in a while and see if they will give you a tour of their offices. You should also inquire as to which tax managers or divisions in their firm would be good to work for or avoid. If you ever decide to leave (or are fired), these people can make your transition to another firm painless. They will be glad to help you because they want the referral bonus for you joining the firm.
- Stay in touch with people who leave the firm. Too many tax professionals let their contact with people who leave the firm slip away until they need them. By that point, it's too late to maintain the relationship. Unlike the group in the previous point, you do not need to be as active in keeping up with them because they already know your skill set and can recommend you. But it is amazing how people remember the small favors that you do for them when they are down on their luck. Help them if you can and they will usually return the favor when you need help.
In conclusion, you should always keep in mind that you only have some control over the path of your accounting career. Therefore, the best way to have a successful career in public accounting is to keep your options open even if you never plan to leave your current firm.
About the author:
Bill Meador is a CPA and lawyer who has worked in public accounting firm tax departments in Houston for over twenty years. He currently writes articles for his blog Advice for Tax Preparers while he works on his book "The Tax Preparer's Guide to Public Accounting."