February 6, 2012
From Camp Counselor to Future CPA: What to Expect When You're Starting Out
By Marilyn Carnevale, Staff Accountant
I used to get through the hardest times in school by reminding myself that “this will all be worth it someday.” Well, “someday” has arrived! All the homework, studying, papers, projects, all-nighters, presentations, midterms and finals were all for this moment that I am living right now. At last, I've started my career!
I’ve worked as a camp counselor, waitressed, processed insurance claims and was a bookkeeper. But this is my first business-card-carrying “real” job – equipped with a salary, benefits and my own laptop. I feel so lucky to have received a job offer during these tough economic times from one of my top choices: Wiss & Company, LLP (Wiss)! Here’s how it happened:
Senior Year On-Campus Interview
I first interviewed with Wiss on campus at Rutgers in October 2010 and accepted the offer in the beginning of December. I spent the rest of my senior year obtaining 150 credits and spent the summer studying for the CPA exam.
I kept in contact with the Human Resources Coordinator prior to my start date. I was assigned a “buddy” to help me feel more comfortable and ready for training. She and I both went to Rutgers, so we already had things in common. She introduced herself to me via email and talked to me about a client that we would work on together. She told me where they were located, what they did and what we were planning to test when we first got there. We discussed Wiss’s policy for scheduling time to focus on the CPA exam during the work week. Once I spoke with the right person, it would be reflected in my schedule right away.
Before I knew it, November came around and my start date was a week away. As nervous as I was going into my interviews, I surprisingly was not stressed out about starting. My first two weeks were spent at “Wiss University,” the company’s training program. Here, I met the other eight new hires (Staff Is): six would be working at the headquarters in Livingston, one in the New York City office, and two (including myself) in Iselin. During these two weeks, we were educated about the different industry niches and our firm’s intranet, policies, procedures and databases. We were given an overview and hands-on experience of the tasks we would perform our first year, separate training about the larger industries Wiss serves, and audit and tax training.
Having Some Fun
In order to break up the technical components, we did a variety of activities coordinated by the “Phun Committee,” which serves to lighten the mood at the office and encourage camaraderie. We carved pumpkins, played icebreakers and trivia games, went on a scavenger hunt and even built a bicycle. During the last day of training, we gave back to the community and volunteered at the New Jersey Community Food Bank. I had a good vibe from Wiss when I first interviewed, but the culture is definitely more fun and family-oriented than I expected, which is more than I could ever ask for. I left training with everyone’s phone numbers, and to this day I still talk with them all on a frequent basis through our firm’s instant messaging program.
The Work Begins
Once training was over, I had a client right away. I was scheduled to a school board with a supervisor. I was a bit anxious to go to my first client because I was not sure what to expect. What would I be doing? What was my supervisor going to be like? What if the client was not the easiest person to work with? I definitely was more nervous than I should have been. The client was exceptionally amicable, and my supervisor explained everything I would be doing and kindly answered any question that I had. The second day at the client, I was by myself and I was completely fine. I called my supervisor with a few questions that I had and completed my work in a timely manner. One thing I learned is to always have confidence in yourself!
Since then, I have been on two more clients where I am part of a larger engagement team. From now until the end of “busy season,” I am scheduled to six more clients, in addition to individual and corporate tax preparations. Overall, my clients are in the construction, healthcare, manufacturing/distribution, public and not-for-profit industries. Most of my clients are within an hour’s distance from where I live, but I will have to travel to New York City for one.
Life in the Office
When I am not at the client site, I am at the office from 9am to 5:30pm. I sit next to a fellow new hire and across from my “buddy.” Wiss has a close-knit culture, and the lines of hierarchy are not enforced. I talk with other staff, seniors, supervisors, managers and partners on a regular basis, and everyone is treated with the same respect and consideration. I was amazed at how everyone knew my name within the first week!
With “busy season” now upon us, my hours will change. Wiss does not have a minimum number of hours that are to be worked each week; however, based on what I have been told, it is not uncommon to work some 12-hour days. My hours will ultimately depend on workload and client obligations. I may also need to work Saturdays whenever necessary. One thing’s for sure: working in a professional setting with deadlines has definitely helped me fine tune my time management skills. As for work/life balance, it is a struggle to study for the CPA exam, see friends and have hobbies – but it is certainly not impossible.
What I’d Do Differently
For those starting their careers, I would definitely suggest having an open mind, ask tons of questions, and put in the effort to interact with as many people as you can. The only thing I would do differently, but that I plan on doing in the near future, is getting more involved in extracurricular activities. Wiss has a Women’s Leadership Forum, “Phun” Committee, volleyball and basketball teams, as well as a Philanthropic Committee, targeted to enhancing the community. These are great ways to expand your horizons and really show your dedication to your firm.
The Pay Off
Looking back over the past two months, I realize I am still excited to wake up and go to work. I really enjoy working at Wiss and in the CPA profession because of the wonderful people and because of the amount of things I am learning. Two months ago, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing. By working with experienced professionals who are more than happy to help, I have learned a great deal about what to look for when at a client, why we are performing specific tests, how to be efficient when using certain programs, as well as a multitude of great advice they have to offer. I’m looking forward to growing as a professional.
Marilyn Carnevale is a staff accountant at Wiss & Company LLP in Iselin. She graduated from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, in 2011 and is a New Jersey Society of CPAs CPA Candidate Member. She is a member of the E-Young CPA’s Writer’s Pool and on the Tomorrow’s CPA Advisory Board.