Author Topic: Life advice for youngish accountant  (Read 16593 times)

mozar

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Life advice for youngish accountant
« on: June 09, 2014, 06:14:47 PM »
I have signed up for the CPA exam and it is on August 8th.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 11:50:56 AM by mozar »

Cressida

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2014, 06:50:56 PM »
Well, if you have an accounting degree (sounds like you have at least one, maybe two?), the CPA is not *required* to work as an accountant. It makes it somewhat easier to find work, yes, but plenty of accountants don't have it. If you're looking for permission to stop studying, well, you have mine FWIW.

I do not know anything about the CGFM, though, so someone else will have to weigh in on that.

Have you considered switching to one of the other exams besides FAR? Maybe you'd find those easier and it would give you the momentum you need. Just a thought though.

CarDude

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2014, 06:58:35 PM »
Friend, I know lots of folks with much more education than you have who won't make 65k until after decades of work. You're already in the 90%th percentile of income for individuals in this country, meaning you make more than 9 out of every 10 people you walk by on the street every day. If you want the CPA, buckle down and study enough to get it done. But if you don't want it, why keep at it? Instead, I'd start looking for new jobs while working at your current one if I hated my current job that much. If you don't find one, you don't have to quit. But it beats repeatedly studying for and failing a test you don't have the heart to pass.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2014, 07:17:37 PM »
After 5 years and taking various parts over and over again I guess I am looking for permission. I've had this (anxiety fueled) dream for so long...

curlycue

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #4 on: June 09, 2014, 07:40:34 PM »
If it is office politics you hate, well, that will be everywhere.

However, if you are looking for a more meaningful job, and are good with money and managing people, you can make more than $65,000 doing jobs like Director of Operations for non-profits. I know you don't want to move, but a lot of international organizations are headquartered around D.C. and look for people who like to crunch numbers. You might feel happier/more rewarded if you are working for an organization that helps people and get to use your business skills there.

The problem those organizations have is they tend to attract people with big hearts but bad with numbers. (I'm not saying if you are good with numbers you are heartless). The advantage for you would be that you can do what you know (numbers, etc.) but the work might be much more interesting and the mission might improve your motivation. Also, you may not need the CPA certification. Check out www.devex.com.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #5 on: June 09, 2014, 07:59:29 PM »
That's true. I actually started in not-for-profit audit. So I have some experience from way back when.
« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 11:52:58 AM by mozar »

MMMdude

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #6 on: June 09, 2014, 08:45:12 PM »
I'm an accountant albeit in Canada.  Process to get designated sucks up here too although I completed mine like 15 years ago.  It's definitely put me in a salary not otherwise possible.  Someone without a designation would  max out at about 80K up here, whereas in Controller position it's normally anywhere from 100 to 200K here.  Then of course VP Finance/Director positions open up to you with experience + designation. I've never met anyone in one of those senior leadership finance positions who was not designated (granted...you may not want that even just like I don't)

Having said all that I realized from Day One of working that I really didn't enjoy accounting.  Hence why I saved my pennies right from the start.  I am about 4 years away from being able to at least semi retire and I'm 38 now.

I also despise office politics but the main dislike for me in this profession is that it is often either extremely busy during month ends or somewhat slow and boring the rest of the time.  Accounting doesn't really ever change or become exciting.  A debit is a debit and a credit is a credit. And I really don't know anyone who actually enjoys managing a group of people...perhaps at first they do, but it always becomes tiresome

If it was me, I'd grind through and get the CPA and the extra 20 to 30K per year you can bank means an even earlier retirement.  Then maybe you can hang up your own shingle and bring in some extra dough sort of like MMM does with carpentry.  In four  years I still plan on doing some taxes/small company files to supplement my travel $
« Last Edit: June 09, 2014, 08:48:48 PM by MMMdude »

rmendpara

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #7 on: June 09, 2014, 08:49:43 PM »
I have signed up for the CPA exam and it is on August 8th. This will be the second time I have tried to pass FAR this year, and my fifth try overall. Trouble is my hearts not in it. It never was and I have always known that. I got a graduate degree in accounting while the economy was crashing and started in external audit for the government and now I work as a contractor for the federal govt. I don't really like it but I have never figured out what else to do. I quit once already, traveled, soul searched or whatever. I make 65k and I don't want to start all over again. I will be FI in 15 years if I stick with it, which is fine. I'm 31 by the way. The work isn't that soul sucking. The hardest part is the office politics, which is everywhere.

The hard part is working at a job I don't particularly like for 8 hours and then going home and studying a topic I don't like for 3 hours. I'm not sure whether or not to keep going. After five years in the federal govt it would be tough for me to get a job outside of that, so maybe I should just get the CGFM (my current job doesn't require a cpa)? I would feel like a failure if I did that and I am terrified that I will randomly have to move somewhere else in the country and have to find a job (I live near Washington DC). Any advice?

It completely depends on your financial goals. If you can reach your goals with your current salary range AND if your heart is not in it to pass the CPA, then why bother?

FWIW, I have a CPA and left public accounting for corp finance. My heart wasn't in audit (or accounting/financial reporting) either.

I don't think I would change having gone that route, since it helped me get where I'm at now, and it's been a good background to have. But, it's helped me reach my goals.

If the CPA no longer fits in with your goals, then what's the point?

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #8 on: June 09, 2014, 09:28:37 PM »
I thought about hanging a shingle after retirement. I tried freelancing for awhile and did not enjoy it but a cpa would make it easier to go back to work in case of emergency.
I have no desire to manage, be vp or whatever but I would like that extra 20k. I'm having a tough time grinding through is the thing. Maybe I'll feel better tomorrow. Just writing about and getting responses had made me feel better. Thanks.

V

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2014, 07:05:23 AM »
I'm kind of in the same boat you are in.  I'm 22 and I don't make as much as you do, but I make a good amount.  My job is insanely easy and boring as a result.  I literally find myself counting down the minutes until I can leave.  I loved math growing up and so I thought accounting would be the perfect fit, but I was very wrong.  I took the AUD portion of the CPA test and failed and it made me wonder what was the point.  I don't like accounting and spending that much money to take a test on something I don't love just didn't make sense (not to mention the fact that you have to take classes every year in order to keep the license.)  Really, it all comes down to what you want and if the time you spend studying is worth it to you. 

frugaliknowit

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2014, 07:25:12 AM »

I would explore related fields you would enjoy more (as opposed to "starting from scratch) where can leverage what you've already got on your belt.  Life is too short to be stuck being miserable in your work.

Cpa Cat

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2014, 07:59:22 AM »
The CPA exam is f-ing boring and it's a giant chore. But if it's a personal goal and you will feel like a failure if you don't do it, then you should do it for yourself. Why? Because too many people like you end up starting it all over again 5 years down the road, wishing they had just buckled down and done it.

It doesn't matter if 3/4 of it has nothing to do with anything you'll ever need to know. When it's a personal goal, all that matters is finishing.

That said - if it's a professional goal, then your motivation will be knowing what it is you're getting out of it. Security? A raise? A specific job? More money? Whatever it is, then just buckle down, pass the exam and immediately apply for new jobs.

But if it's neither - if it's just something you thought you would do, but there's no real reason for it, and you'd be happy just working in your government job (or some other similar job) for the next 15 years, then screw it. You don't need it. It will be a hassle to become licensed and keep up with the CPE and all the other BS that comes with being a CPA.

I say this with one caveat: If you're sitting here with 2-3 sections already passed, then just do it. Don't let those scores expire. You'll regret that.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #12 on: June 10, 2014, 02:04:57 PM »
I have not passed any sections. Thats for sure. I cant figure out if its a personal goal or professional goal. I'm ok with the time and money spent already. On one hand my job doesnt require it and the job I am applying to doesnt require it. I worry about being laid off because of budget cuts in the fed, there is a good chance ill be regetting not doing this in 5 years. So everyones suggestions applies, but I have to pick something.
If I was 22 I would do something else. But what bothers me most is the office politics. Im not miserable, Im getting by. I think I didnt realize just how stressed I have been about work. I was being bullied so my boss shifted me to another department. Then the bully caused problems for everyone else and she was shifted to another dept. Im supposed to go back to my old job in oct. She is supposed to come back next may. Problem is we have to do a retreat where we sit in the same room for two days and its stressing me out.

Back to the 22 year old i actually dont like math. I got into accounting to do compliance which is the job i am supposed to go back to (not sure im going back, another stressor, budget cuts) so thats why im doing far first, the math is agony. And the job im doing is more "regular accounting" with the monthly cycle and everything and i hate it. I want to go "home" but im stuck till oct 1. Basically im just a pile of stress right now. And i cant use my regular coping mechanisms because im studying. /End rant. Thanks for listening! I think i need to take it easy for awhile.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2014, 02:08:47 PM by mozar »

Trudie

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #13 on: June 10, 2014, 03:06:34 PM »
I am a CPA working for a private company.  I don't need my CPA, but maintain it just to get my foot in the door.  I've never used much I had on the test, but I view it as a calling card or insurance policy.  Do I love it?  No.  Is it soul-crushing? No. 

With that said, I had the time to study and wasn't holding down a full-time job while studying, so I punched it out right away.  Given that you've been at it for several years and have no interest in studying for it and haven't passed any of the sections, I'd refocus.  If you don't need it to keep your current job, I'd hang in there and come up with a Plan B.

The hardest thing for us to do sometimes is to know when to quit something.  It's not "popular."  The old adage that "winners don't quit" is absolute B.S.  Quitting one thing to focus on something else is perfectly healthy and can show a lot of maturity and self-knowledge.

My observation is that there are other worthwhile accounting credentials... becoming an expert in tax or a fraud examiner are just two that come to mind.  But I do think credentials help.  Another burgeoning area is attest engagements for non-financial issues... for instance, compliance with environmental regulations -- anything connected with sustainability.  You may want to pick an industry or issue that you enjoy and specialize.  Perhaps  you'd be even happier in a non-profit or alternative setting.  I often think about going back to the NFP world.  Sure, it's less money, but...

The partner at our audit firm is about my age, but unlike me has been at it since he was 21 or 22 (that would make him about 45).  He's now the managing partner.  Great personality and nice guy, but I'm constantly amazed at how much "rain-making" and "sucking up" he has to do.  That's not my thing.  That's not my style.

Now that I have my CPA I'm maintaining it, but with lackluster interest.  So, what I'm saying is... even if you had it, would you enjoy the CPE to maintain it?  It's sort of like buying an expensive object... once you're in, you're in.


Trudie

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2014, 03:17:15 PM »
And regarding the retreat with the bully, I think you should seriously consider your options to either be sick those days or to talk to HR about the hostile work environment she is creating.  Get a doctor's excuse to back yourself up.  If she is truly a bully then you (and everyone else) should not have to tolerate her presence at a retreat that is designed (I presume) to enhance good will, team work, and performance.

Midwest

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #15 on: June 10, 2014, 03:31:29 PM »
As a CPA, I think the designation is worth it outside the govt for certain.  Inside not sure but certainly not a useless thing to have.

Having said all that - If you want to pass, quit making excuses, study and pass.  I made a plan to study and pass the exam, followed the plan and got it over with.  I've watched others try and fail for years because they put no effort into passing.  Overall, they spent substantially more time studying than I did because they've taken it so many times with half hearted efforts.

If you're going to continue on this path, decide you are going to pass and put all your effort into it and get it over.

If not, feel free to give up on the CPA.  We all decide some things just aren't worth it.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2014, 03:39:04 PM by Midwest »

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #16 on: June 10, 2014, 03:40:44 PM »
I'm a CPA. It was one of life's great moments getting that passing grade in the mail. I let it lapse since I moved to another state and really don't see a value of maintaining it at this point in my career.

You probably have pretty much capped out your earning potential at your current level. The CPA designation will afford you more opportunities for better jobs. But if you haven't passed a single part in the 4-5 times you've taken it then why bother? It's just not your bag. Short of a career change, you'll just have to maximize your street smarts along with your current education to persevere. And by all means start collecting a bunch of contacts that can vouch for your work and might hire you one day or vouch for you to a friend that has a job opening.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #17 on: June 10, 2014, 05:00:20 PM »
Great points for both sides.
Trudie- I have a meeting with HR coming up and will talk to my contractor boss (I am not a civil servant) about a plan.

V

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #18 on: June 11, 2014, 11:21:55 AM »
I feel like I'm getting advice now. :) The problem I face now is the fact that my one true passion (helping animals) doesn't really pay the bills, which is why I have stayed in accounting.  I do have a management degree and a marketing minor in addition to my accounting degree, but I am not really sure how I can leverage them into a job I would enjoy.  The sad thing is that I think I could handle accounting in smaller doses, but every day is too much for me.  The CPA helps you get past HR in my opinion.  I'm sorry to hear about all of the politics you are having to deal with, but trust me that is with every company (another reason I don't like my job.) 

MMMdude

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #19 on: June 11, 2014, 12:37:38 PM »
I feel like I'm getting advice now. :) The problem I face now is the fact that my one true passion (helping animals) doesn't really pay the bills, which is why I have stayed in accounting.  I do have a management degree and a marketing minor in addition to my accounting degree, but I am not really sure how I can leverage them into a job I would enjoy.  The sad thing is that I think I could handle accounting in smaller doses, but every day is too much for me.  The CPA helps you get past HR in my opinion.  I'm sorry to hear about all of the politics you are having to deal with, but trust me that is with every company (another reason I don't like my job.)

I have only known a few accountants who were "passionate" about accounting and without exception they were Type A Jerk Offs who were chained to their desk 60+ hours per week so don't feel bad about not feeling it. Main problem with accounting is that if you do your job properly everything is a-OK and you don't get any kudos for it.  If you fuck up something materially or month end process then it's the end of the world.  Our month end close process is three days so it's very hard to make sure the books are 100% correct (1/2 billion $ company)

Midwest

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #20 on: June 11, 2014, 02:38:35 PM »
Is being a CPA the most exciting or world changing job?  No.  Many jobs aren't.

However, you get paid fairly well for what you do and have decent job security and/or the ability to get another position.  You also have the option to do something else on the side.

Many people would be envious of the amount of money we make and the ease with which we do it.  I focus on the aspects of my job I like, realize the grass isn't always greener, and save for the future.

I'm not saying there aren't better jobs, but CPA's have it pretty good.  With the current job market, I think be glad you have a stable well paying job instead of focusing on the negatives.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2014, 02:40:07 PM by Midwest »

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #21 on: June 11, 2014, 05:19:40 PM »
Something I like about this forum is that I can discuss my first world problems (mostly) without judgement. I am grateful for what I have. I 'm not miserable at my job and I'm not interested in getting into another career. If I just got to do accounting all day w/o the the office politics I would be a lot happier. When I get back to my regular job I won't be bored. I think my job is interesting sometimes (although not my current detail) and I even get a kick out of the emails I get from Obama once a month declaring this month is gay pride month or whatever (its the small things right?).

I don't mind hearing from people who want to remind me to be  grateful. That said I am more interested in hearing from people in the accounting profession who can tell me their experience. Just wanted to clarify. I'm feeling accounting (although not the short term detail I am on) but I'm not feeling this stupid test!

V: thanks for the support. You could talk to a career specialist about how to leverage your skills for something else.

« Last Edit: June 11, 2014, 05:47:41 PM by mozar »

Pegasus

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #22 on: June 11, 2014, 06:07:05 PM »
Maybe this was already your plan, but in dealing with the bully, suggest you document examples of behavior that is against policy as much as possible and, assuming others are bullied, get them to also stand up.  If your complaint is vague / 'she's picking on me' stuff, you may lose that battle to it being chalked up to a personality conflict.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #23 on: June 11, 2014, 07:41:00 PM »
I don't think she is violating in particular policies. There isn't a "no belittling" policy. I've been thinking of how to tie that to the no harassment policy. She already has several complaints against her and has been denied two promotions. She has been demoted for a year to another dept. Other co-workers put in the complaints. It's hard to fire a fed.

The_Dude

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #24 on: June 11, 2014, 07:41:18 PM »
At my job I'm usually the main hiring manager that works with HR to fill accounting positions. We certainly don't require a CPA but it is a very big plus. The only non CPA's we have either were entry level when they started or have significant and progressive industry experience.

I am personally biased. I have my CPA and I've signed many annual performance reviews or provided feedback on a whole lot more. In my experience I've never worked with a top performer who didn't have their license. I've worked with many people who tried and didn't succeed. None of them were top performers and that population of folks had a lot more lower performers.   

With 15 years left in an accounting career in which you will likely change jobs again (given you are a contractor) I strongly encourage you to either get the license or consider a different career.

Trudie

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #25 on: June 11, 2014, 08:15:07 PM »
I feel like I'm getting advice now. :) The problem I face now is the fact that my one true passion (helping animals) doesn't really pay the bills, which is why I have stayed in accounting.  I do have a management degree and a marketing minor in addition to my accounting degree, but I am not really sure how I can leverage them into a job I would enjoy.  The sad thing is that I think I could handle accounting in smaller doses, but every day is too much for me.  The CPA helps you get past HR in my opinion.  I'm sorry to hear about all of the politics you are having to deal with, but trust me that is with every company (another reason I don't like my job.)

I have only known a few accountants who were "passionate" about accounting and without exception they were Type A Jerk Offs who were chained to their desk 60+ hours per week so don't feel bad about not feeling it. Main problem with accounting is that if you do your job properly everything is a-OK and you don't get any kudos for it.  If you fuck up something materially or month end process then it's the end of the world.  Our month end close process is three days so it's very hard to make sure the books are 100% correct (1/2 billion $ company)

I think your assessment is bang on -- I don't know too many accountants who love their jobs either.  In fact, I don't know many people these days who love their jobs.  I'm in industry and am sometimes amazed at how I get paid decent bucks to do the same fucking things over and over.  Sometimes I want to bang my head against the wall.  This thread is oddly affirming...  Glad I'm not the only one who feels this way.  Thank god for things like Spotify and streaming NPR.  Some days it's the little things that keeps me sane.  When I'm not absorbed with month end or some other project I can have time on my hands.  So, I crunch the numbers on my personal investments and take self-study CPE courses that are job-relevant, but also personally relevant.

I am also personally at a bit of a crossroads with my job.  Some days I loathe it because my boss is a twerp and also skirts dangerously close to the edge of creating a hostile work environment.  But, he's not around much.  I have a commute I'd love to give up.  On the other hand, I live in a small town and my job pays 67K--unheard of money in a lot of quarters.  So, I keep bargaining with myself to tough it out, count my pennies, and get the hell out early to do something that speaks to my heart -- like landscape design (I'd just go to a community college and pick up a certificate.)

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #26 on: June 11, 2014, 08:36:19 PM »
For me my performance is highly dependent on the environment. When I have complete freedom to do the work the way I want, I do well. When there are very strict definitions of what "high performance" is, I suffer. I don't do things "urgently" and walk quickly and "jump in." I'm highly introverted and and I want to spend a lot of time thinking. I love writing long expositions on obscure laws so that's one reason why I keep trying for the cpa, so I can find a accounting job that fits me better.

+1 for sitting around crunching my investment numbers at work

I'm enjoying reading peoples experiences with accounting

catccc

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #27 on: June 11, 2014, 10:30:02 PM »
I'm a CPA, and I've been working for about 10 years now.  I have at least 5 more years before FI.

I passed the exam right after graduating. (2nd to last paper and pencil exam, all four sections in 2 amazingly stressful days!)  I was working at a regional firm at the time, it was my first real job, it was my first busy season (December graduate), and I studied my ass off for that exam.  I had post-its on the outside of a clear shower curtain so I could study while washing my hair.  It was nuts.  So, point number one, it takes a real effort to pass that sucker, even if you get to focus on one section at a time.  I'll be forever proud that I did it, though.  So maybe you can give it one really serious effort?

I really like my job.  I have also definitely had many jobs that I hated, all in accounting.  It has to do with the company culture and your supervisor, your colleagues, the work, and your ability to do it.  I definitely want to RE, but really there are days when I think I will miss going in to work at my current job.  Am I passionate about accounting?  No, not really, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be passionate about a set of rules for recording transactions.  But I really like tinkering in excel, making sense of numbers, improving processes, etc.  I would guess a lot of mustachians like to do that kind of stuff, actually!  People that spend time thinking about the most efficient ways to get things done make really great accountants, IMO.  I like accounting in the sense that there must be balance.  Sometimes it's like solving puzzles, I like that, too.

I started my career in the DC metro area, but have since moved to a suburb of Philly.  My starting salary in 2003 was a measly 36K.  (Yeah, I got lowballed, for sure.)  I stayed in public for just 2 years, leaving just one raise later at 40K, and then moved to corporate accounting.  My starting salary in corporate as a staff accountant was 45K (2005), and within 6 months I was promoted to senior and my salary went to 50K.  Only stayed a year at that job before moving to another senior position at 70K (2006).  I relocated from the DC to Philly area, and landed another senior job at 80K (2007).  Only stayed a year, then took time off to be a SAHP.  Re-entered the workforce in 2010 in another senior position, at 80K, which I was grateful for, given the economy.  Stayed at that job for 4 years, but the environment got pretty bad (too bad, first two years were great, but I made the mistake of taking a lateral move there that didn't work for me).  My salary had climbed to $92K, and I left for a new job and environment I love for $85K.  I think my point is here that it only took me 2.5 years to get to a senior position, and only 3 years to get to 70K, and my salary has continued on a pretty decent upward path despite remaining "only" in a senior role for the last 7 years.  I like the work, I like that I don't really need to manage a staff (I only did that at my very first senior position), and mostly I like that I can pull in this kind of salary for a job that is mostly "easy" for me.

You like writing long expositions on obscure laws?  There's definitely a place for you in accounting, like regulatory and compliance positions.  And I definitely think getting the CPA will help you land interviews.  Corporate places like to see them, they think they prove that you are clever or at least persistent.  Whether that is true or not, I'm not sure.  But as far as respected credentials, it's definitely a good bang for the buck.  No hefty tuition, just exam fees and your studying time.  Most companies will pay for your CPE and association dues once you are licensed, too.  I don't think it's a hard exam to pass, you just need to put in the time to prepare/study.  I think most accounting concepts/rules are easy enough for an average person to understand.  You just have to look at them long enough to remember them for the test.


Joel

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #28 on: June 11, 2014, 11:12:22 PM »
At my job I'm usually the main hiring manager that works with HR to fill accounting positions. We certainly don't require a CPA but it is a very big plus. The only non CPA's we have either were entry level when they started or have significant and progressive industry experience.

I am personally biased. I have my CPA and I've signed many annual performance reviews or provided feedback on a whole lot more. In my experience I've never worked with a top performer who didn't have their license. I've worked with many people who tried and didn't succeed. None of them were top performers and that population of folks had a lot more lower performers.   

With 15 years left in an accounting career in which you will likely change jobs again (given you are a contractor) I strongly encourage you to either get the license or consider a different career.

I agree with these statements.

In all honesty though, you are working in the government arena. Do you need your CPA? Does the career path you hope to be headed down require a CPA? Have you completed the experience requirement? or will you be able to in your current role? It really sounds like you may be in a position where getting your CPA is not worth your time.

(Senior Audit Associate / CPA from Big 4 in California)

Trudie

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #29 on: June 12, 2014, 08:17:06 AM »
I'm a CPA, and I've been working for about 10 years now.  I have at least 5 more years before FI.

I passed the exam right after graduating. (2nd to last paper and pencil exam, all four sections in 2 amazingly stressful days!)  I was working at a regional firm at the time, it was my first real job, it was my first busy season (December graduate), and I studied my ass off for that exam.  I had post-its on the outside of a clear shower curtain so I could study while washing my hair.  It was nuts.  So, point number one, it takes a real effort to pass that sucker, even if you get to focus on one section at a time.  I'll be forever proud that I did it, though.  So maybe you can give it one really serious effort?

I really like my job.  I have also definitely had many jobs that I hated, all in accounting.  It has to do with the company culture and your supervisor, your colleagues, the work, and your ability to do it.  I definitely want to RE, but really there are days when I think I will miss going in to work at my current job.  Am I passionate about accounting?  No, not really, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be passionate about a set of rules for recording transactions.  But I really like tinkering in excel, making sense of numbers, improving processes, etc.  I would guess a lot of mustachians like to do that kind of stuff, actually!  People that spend time thinking about the most efficient ways to get things done make really great accountants, IMO.  I like accounting in the sense that there must be balance.  Sometimes it's like solving puzzles, I like that, too.

I started my career in the DC metro area, but have since moved to a suburb of Philly.  My starting salary in 2003 was a measly 36K.  (Yeah, I got lowballed, for sure.)  I stayed in public for just 2 years, leaving just one raise later at 40K, and then moved to corporate accounting.  My starting salary in corporate as a staff accountant was 45K (2005), and within 6 months I was promoted to senior and my salary went to 50K.  Only stayed a year at that job before moving to another senior position at 70K (2006).  I relocated from the DC to Philly area, and landed another senior job at 80K (2007).  Only stayed a year, then took time off to be a SAHP.  Re-entered the workforce in 2010 in another senior position, at 80K, which I was grateful for, given the economy.  Stayed at that job for 4 years, but the environment got pretty bad (too bad, first two years were great, but I made the mistake of taking a lateral move there that didn't work for me).  My salary had climbed to $92K, and I left for a new job and environment I love for $85K.  I think my point is here that it only took me 2.5 years to get to a senior position, and only 3 years to get to 70K, and my salary has continued on a pretty decent upward path despite remaining "only" in a senior role for the last 7 years.  I like the work, I like that I don't really need to manage a staff (I only did that at my very first senior position), and mostly I like that I can pull in this kind of salary for a job that is mostly "easy" for me.

You like writing long expositions on obscure laws?  There's definitely a place for you in accounting, like regulatory and compliance positions.  And I definitely think getting the CPA will help you land interviews.  Corporate places like to see them, they think they prove that you are clever or at least persistent.  Whether that is true or not, I'm not sure.  But as far as respected credentials, it's definitely a good bang for the buck.  No hefty tuition, just exam fees and your studying time.  Most companies will pay for your CPE and association dues once you are licensed, too.  I don't think it's a hard exam to pass, you just need to put in the time to prepare/study.  I think most accounting concepts/rules are easy enough for an average person to understand.  You just have to look at them long enough to remember them for the test.

I think your descriptions of *HOW* to pass the exam here are apt.  I passed on my first try also -- back in the paper and pencil days -- but it was real work.  I bought a set of BISK review books and set up a schedule 5 months out from the exam and stuck to it.  I nailed my ass to a chair and just got it done. I set aside time on vacation.  I set aside time on the weekends.  I remember studying in a coffee shop a month before the exam while my husband was just outside running a marathon. A key thing for me was to understand how I learned.  I am visual ... so creating my own notes and study cards was key in committing things to memory.  So that is my first piece of advice -- understand how you learn best and use that technique.

I don't quite remember how many hours a week I spent at it, but I had read somewhere that a candidate should devote XXX hours and that's what I did.

I cannot underestimate the importance of focus.  I did not listen to music while I studied.  I did not have the TV on in the background.  These were the days before massive use of FB, texting, and other gadgets... but if I had them today I would turn them off.

A person really has to analyze the *time* they're putting in and if it is most productive.  If you are distracted, anxious, unable to focus... then you're dead in the water.  You can't just say, "Well I put in the time every night" and wonder why the results aren't working out if you're loathing it the whole time and have a negative tape running in your head.

More than anything I do think getting the CPA reflects a person's ability to focus, meet goals, meet deadlines, and manage their time.  It takes grit and tenacity.   Irrespective of the debits and credits and knowledge base (I think little of it applies to my current job), it does say something about work ethic, how "clever" you are (in terms of being able to master material), and commitment.

My observations about career change and growth here are similar.  I think I will always be able to find work.  I view it as my calling card.  I took my additional accounting coursework later in life (after working in finance) when I had already amassing the 150 credit hours I needed.  I was able to take my courses at the college where my husband works for almost zero cost.  I think all told I paid about $1500 for text books, study guides, six accounting courses, and the exam fees.  I hunkered down and got it done in a little less than a year.  Basically I leveraged the resources in front of me to make the best of it.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #30 on: June 12, 2014, 08:28:53 AM »
That pretty much sums it up. Whenever I am having trouble at work I bring that anxiety home and cant focus. I have the experience and credits and my job pays for cpe. But i dont need the cpa for govt but i worry about having to leave (tho i dont want to).
I am getting help for anxiety.

Trudie

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #31 on: June 12, 2014, 09:49:28 AM »
Anxiety is the common cold of our society.  Good for you for recognizing it and getting help.  I assume you have an employee assistance program that can probably link you up with a counselor.  Talking to a professional may help you sort out much of what you are experiencing and my help you get on a path.

Take care of yourself first.  Until you do that I think you may have some difficulty.  Is it possible to get money back on your registration for the exam?  I think you may benefit from getting off the exam treadmill long enough to sort through and cope with your anxiety.  I think what you will find is that you will either return refreshed and ready to conquer the challenge or you may decide that it's not what you want.  Either way, the process will be beneficial.

I experienced a lot of anxiety when I was in my 20s, and I recall being pretty disillusioned on my 30th birthday (I am almost 44).  Starting your career is hard, and can lead to many questions about if you're where you that you would be by such-and-such an age or if you're progressing.

Just some observations from the school of hard-knocks:
(1)  Life is not linear; careers are not linear.  You will take detours along the way and use the on and off ramps.
(2)  Most of the ideas we have about what our careers and lives will be like in our 20s are idealistic and can lead to great disappointment.  When you give up unrealistic expectations you will be healthier and happier.  I am much happier at 44 than 24 and wouldn't want a "do-over" of my 20s.
(3)  Take care of your health first, and the rest will follow -- this includes your anxiety.
(4)  While we should all strive to find a way to pay the bills that is -- at a minimum -- not soul crushing and hopefully more fulfilling than that, you are so much more than your job -- regardless of whether you ever get your CPA.  Keep telling yourself, "I am bigger than this.  I am more than this."  It helps to remember that we all have different purposes in my life.  Sometimes we need to practice kindness to ourselves and others... that is our only goal.
(5)  Your "marketable skills" aren't just one thing (e.g. I am a CPA).  We all have a portfolio of skills.  For instance, I am a great cook and landscape designer.  I love bringing people together.  While I may never work at any of the above as a full time gig, I can envision developing them in some fashion into a "side hustle" that allows me to retire early.  I am not handy, but I can landscape.  So, perhaps my marketable skill is that I can barter with my neighbor (who needs landscape help) for his help in putting a kick plate on my front door.  You get the idea?

Take care of yourself.  Be kind.

keepitsimple

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #32 on: June 12, 2014, 08:48:05 PM »
I'm an accountant without a CPA.  I worked in the DC area for many years in both non-profit and for-profit environments, then moved away to a more rural area.  I've never had a hard time finding work nor met any other accountants who did.  In fact I was often(occasionally still am) recruited for other positions.  My experience is that a strong resume trumps certifications.  To be honest, if you left your govt job, you could probably be making more at most for-profits in the DC area anyway.  You need to weigh the effort vs. reward.  For me I would have to go back to school to earn more credits before I could sit for the exam.  I'm past that point where I'm willing to spend my time and energy on that.  Heck I barely even want to work full-time any more...that's why I'm here!

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #33 on: June 13, 2014, 02:37:31 PM »
Thats cool! I get calls from recruiters regularly. Problem is they are all for jobs in northern virginia. They pay more but i would have to commute 15 miles in traffic vs the 2 miles now. If you don't know about beltway traffic thats a really big deal. Nice to hear from a non cpa accountant. I finally have enough experience to be considered mid career, but not too old to descriminated against.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #34 on: July 30, 2014, 07:46:40 PM »
Update:

Here we are a month and a half later. After reading these responses I decided to neither get serious, or give up, so I stumbled a long for a few weeks. I studied, but in a half ass way.

« Last Edit: May 10, 2018, 11:50:08 AM by mozar »

G-dog

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #35 on: July 30, 2014, 08:07:52 PM »
. My problem has been that when I go for interviews they ask me if I am passionate about whatever the mission is, and well, I'm not. But that's neither here nor there. (Yes I am heartless :-)

"Passionate" seems to be one of the newer buzzwords in business - I suspect it is a way they try to figure out how much they can underpay you in the job.  But I am cynical, and heartless.
It is like the BS they want you to spew when they ask why you want to work at company X. They want you to fawn all over them about your passion for the company's products that somehow altruistically serve mankind and the betterment of the world.  Versus, ummm, you advertised, I am qualified, organized, and hard-working??

G-dog

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #36 on: July 30, 2014, 08:28:27 PM »
Congratulations on the new job, and for asserting what you wanted! I hope this works out for you

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #37 on: July 30, 2014, 08:59:35 PM »
Thanks!
And yes, I also think passion is a newer way to make sure that poor people don't get jobs.
Here is an article about it.
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/do_what_you_love_love_what_you_do_an_omnipresent_mantra_that_s_bad_for_work.html

G-dog

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #38 on: July 31, 2014, 07:42:10 AM »
Thanks!
And yes, I also think passion is a newer way to make sure that poor people don't get jobs.
Here is an article about it.
http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/do_what_you_love_love_what_you_do_an_omnipresent_mantra_that_s_bad_for_work.html

Thanks for the article, I hadn't seen that. That's a whole other layer of manipulation I hadn't thought of.  I am in a highly compensated field (degrees, certification required), but it is still a job.  I have lots of interests, this fulfills some, but not all. It is nice that there is some personal payoff (1st world benefit), but that doesn't replace being treated with respect and reasonable compensation.

rmendpara

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #39 on: July 31, 2014, 09:05:44 AM »
Good to hear you got a new job and a raise.

The CPA is hard already, and nearly impossible if your heart (or other motivation) isn't in it. See how your new job goes, and maybe in another year you can revisit whether or not it will help your career.

I'd suggest you do it, not because you love studying, but because it puts a floor on your salary and makes you much more marketable (i.e. you have more leverage if you are unhappy with a job in the future because you can fairly easily find something else).

In any case, good luck on the new job!

COlady

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #40 on: July 31, 2014, 09:40:28 AM »
It took me 16 months to pass the CPA exam back in 2009.  It was hard and pretty isolating to work all day and study all night. My typical day was work from 8 am to 5 pm, go to the gym from 5 pm to 6:30 pm, eat dinner from 6:30 - 7:00 and study from 7:00 to 9:30 four days per week.  I didn't get home until 10 pm every night. I usually spent most of the day Saturday studying.  I never gave myself the option not to study and not to pass.  You can't half a*ss studying for the CPA exam, you either study or you don't.  If you half a*ss it then you forget everything you studied last week.  Anyone can pass the CPA exam if they put in the time.  If you're going to continue in accounting I would encourage you to get your CPA. Trust me, no one's heart is "in it" when they're studying for the CPA exam.  It opens doors for you and you'll most likely make more money over the duration of your career if you have your CPA.

Sorry if this is harsh, maybe I've just been around too many people who have given up. A senior accountant I used to work with purchased Becker every year for 5 years at $1,000 per year ($5,000!) and never passed. It was like she hoped that she would pass if she bought the software. 

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #41 on: July 31, 2014, 02:37:40 PM »
So what happened to the senior accountant who failed? That's what I am wondering about. Ive been slowly finding stories of people not passing. Doesn't seem like the end of the world exactly. I'm not saying I'm against it, I'm weighing the pros and cons. Last time I took it in April I studied 7-10pm every night and six hours per weekend and I got a 30. I wish I could just buckle down and do it, but the responses here have helped me realize its a mental health issue.
I don't doubt its worth it, but CPAs have a vested interest in defending it. One poster said I should leave accounting. I doubt that everyone who doesn't get it leaves accounting.
So far, having a grad degree has put a floor under my wages, and I have had a relatively easy time getting jobs. But that can easily end, which makes me anxious to think about, which makes it hard to focus!
« Last Edit: July 31, 2014, 02:43:18 PM by mozar »

COlady

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #42 on: July 31, 2014, 02:51:00 PM »
I'm sorry that your mental health is interfering with your ability to study effectively.  I'm glad to hear you're getting help for your anxiety. I have to admit that the job I had at the time was very low stress. 

I don't agree with the person that said you should leave accounting if you don't have your CPA.  My brother works for an O&G company in their financial reporting division and doesn't have his CPA (and as far as I can see isn't planning to drop his party lifestyle to get it) and he's doing great.  Where it hurts you is when you get to the Manager promotion level.  The person that I was referring to in my last post had been at the company for 6 years and was to be promoted to Manager when she passed the CPA exam.  She never passed it and a woman 10 years younger than her who had her CPA was hired and within 3 years of being there was promoted to Manager.  The older woman had much better experience but the firm simply wouldn't promote her to Manager because she didn't have her CPA.  She's stuck because the firm she works for is very niche so she can't just go get a different job.  I guess thinking through this whole story - the most important thing is to be in an industry or practice that is really thriving.  Whether you have your CPA or not you'll have experience behind you that people value.  The icing on the cake is having your CPA and beating out someone else for a job offer simply because they don't have a CPA. Just know that someday when you're older not having your CPA could come and bite you in the b*ooty hard. I hope that helps.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #43 on: July 31, 2014, 03:32:07 PM »
Thank you for the nuanced reply COlady.

Cpa Cat

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #44 on: July 31, 2014, 04:15:33 PM »
It's pretty standard practice at public accounting firms not to promote anyone to manager without the CPA exam. It's usually a very clear and written policy. It gets brought up in annual reviews. No one should be taken by surprise when that happens. The reason being that you must have your CPA in order sign various important public accounting documents.

But if you're not in public accounting, the picture is less clear. And there really are plenty of opportunities outside of public accounting firms.

I've known of plenty of people who chose to remain at the Senior Accountant level without a CPA. They know they are limited in promotions, but for the most part, they are happy with their level of responsibility. But it holds them back in promotions and in mobility - since at a certain experience level, it gets hard to make a lateral move to a new firm without your CPA.

In a way, it's a shame, I suppose, since most are women with children and it does seem that they hold themselves back. But in the end, they know what's right for them more than I do! They will watch other people get promoted over them time and again, despite their level of experience.

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #45 on: July 31, 2014, 08:45:34 PM »
I was thinking about this, as I am not in public accounting. In my very specific but broad niche of federal consulting I've noticed that people rarely get promoted at all. The only managers I know of either had supervisory experience very early in their career, or they founded the firm. In the internal audit dept at work there are people with CPA's who have never been promoted to manager, and the manager is much younger than them.
There are still plenty of other reasons to get it though.

Trudie

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #46 on: August 05, 2014, 03:10:53 PM »
Hi,
Have you considered talking with a counselor -- either a regular counselor or a career counselor?  I might suggest the former.  Putting this out there to a neutral other party might help you better define your heart's desire and help you get focused -- either on studying for the exam and getting it done or learning how to move on and find satisfaction in your career without it.  It seems like right now you are trapped in a gauntlet of anxiety and self-doubt that is not helpful.

Good job on getting the new job, however.

We all reach crossroads or bubbles in our careers, but I think if you are very anxious about it or find yourself unable to make a decision,  then you will not be helped by airing it here for a long period of time.  This is where I think a counselor could help move you along in your decision making process.

I have done the same at times with my own job dissatisfaction, but have found that I take steps when I am not distracted.

With that said, I think you have been offered many different perspectives here which could be helpful to you.  (I am a CPA.)  But, the perspective that matters the most is a truthful searching of your own goals, desires, inner assets/resources.  Ask yourself, "What would I really want to do if I didn't care how it appeared to others?"  Then you will be closer to your own truth.  You will often find that your own *truth* is not a disaster.  Not having a CPA doesn't mean you will have a life of utter meaninglessness or career advancement... it may just happen in another way.

And, if you're simply anxious about quitting something, I really think you should listen to the podcast "The Upside of Quitting" from Freakonomics.  It will make you think.  You can find the link in "Around the Web" (where I originally posted it).

mozar

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #47 on: August 05, 2014, 06:20:33 PM »
Hey Trudie,
I am doing cognitive behavioral therapy right now. I am definitely in a better place than I was two months ago.

Trudie

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Re: Life advice for youngish accountant
« Reply #48 on: August 05, 2014, 06:38:01 PM »
Mozar,
That is great that you are talking with someone.  I know it has helped me in the past when I have been "stuck."  As accountants we typically spend a lot of time in our heads, and that is not always a good thing.

I think it is relevant to ask yourself, with the help of a therapist, "What would be the worst that would happen if I didn't become a CPA?"  You seem to be beating yourself up over this unfinished business.  Maybe the unfinished business is telling you something?  Maybe you don't want to do it?  Maybe you would feel totally free if you didn't?  When you're free, maybe you would find another path you wish to pursue even more?

It seems to me you are weighing the perceived costs/implications to your career of NOT becoming a CPA, but have you considered the opportunities of not becoming one?  For instance, the energy you've directed toward that goal (at this point a "sunk cost" in economic terms) is not the most relevant.  But what about the opportunity costs of continuing to pursue this goal at all costs?  What about the financial costs, the anxiety, the law of diminishing returns?

I certainly don't mean to imply that you are "less than" for not doing it.  But I can say -- from experience -- that you don't wake up after having completed the goal and say to yourself, "Wow - I'm a complete, happy, self-actualized human being."  In fact, there is a very good chance you will say, "Huh?  Is that all there is?"

Find out what you truly want in your heart and dedicate yourself to that.  It sounds like some decent things are happening for you without it now.  If this is "all there is" would that be so bad?  Are there other non-work related things you want to do with your life that might make you happy?  After all, even maintaining your license if you don't enjoy it is a real time requirement and can be a slog.

Your counselor can help you explore the other sides of the coin.  Good luck to you.