October 3, 2012
Uncovering the Truth About the Accounting Profession
By Marilyn Carnevale
Most of you are probably aware of the negative stereotypes and myths that exist about the accounting profession. My intent is not to repeat the myths that most of you already know are not true – such as all accountants are mathematicians who prepare taxes in an isolated back room without any human contact – but rather to shed light on some of the myths of the profession once the work begins. While some of these myths are partially true, most are not. Thus, it is important to know what to expect when beginning your career in public accounting.
Myth: You Will Have No Free Time
One myth about accounting is that you will have no time. Now, if you choose to work for a public accounting firm, it is true that time will be of the essence from January to April. However, there’s no need for you to go on hiatus from the world. You will certainly be working long hours and weekends. But if you are organized and work efficiently, you will be able to keep a work-life balance. Typically, work-life does not consist of staying up all night and engaging in festivities, but there will be time to see your friends and family, as well as partake in the things you enjoy.
Myth: It's All About Taxes
About that myth that accountants do taxes all day... While we know that taxes are just a fraction of what the accounting industry entails, there are times when accountants may have to prepare tax returns. Personally, I chose to start a career in audit for a medium-sized regional public accounting firm. While I primarily perform audits and reviews, I do process numerous tax returns ranging from individual to corporate to even fiduciary returns. Depending on the firm you ultimately work for and the demands of their clients, some tax preparation may be in your future.
Myth: It's All About Numbers
Another common misconception about the accounting profession is that it is entirely numbers-oriented. Although being able to analyze numbers is integral, writing skills are also quite essential. Clearly, with email as a fundamental part of businesses, being able to compose a coherent, yet concise, email to someone is crucial.
Myth: Accountants Are Introverts
The myth of an accountant as an introvert without social contact is false. However, the profession requires individuals to be more than just friendly with clients. Accountants are expected to be able to communicate effectively and frequently with professionals of all levels and specializations. This includes communicating with the various levels of individuals on a team and in a department, as well as with clients. Teaching is a big component of accounting, as you may need to explain matters to clients, educate co-workers on how to do something and discuss findings with stakeholders. There is no curriculum when it comes to what you may have to teach and communicate to others, but it is important that you have a solid grasp of your client’s business in order to facilitate these discussions.
Myth: Everything You Need to Know You Learned in School
Another common myth is that the accounting coursework you did in school is reflective of what you will be doing on a day-to-day basis. The knowledge you gained from these courses is definitely beneficial to understanding what goes on internally at a client, but it is certainly not what your job will most likely entail. It is imperative that you realize there is no typical day in public accounting—making monotony an antonym for the profession. If you are in audit, you will find that every client is completely different and has unique accounting matters, which may require performing specific tests. You will also come across certain things for one client that will be irrelevant for another. If you are in tax, you are aware that not every person has the same sources or amounts of income, expenses, deductions or exemptions. Everything that you do will be situation-specific, and having a general knowledge of accounting and critical thinking skills are key in the profession.
While there are many myths regarding stereotypical personality traits that accountants have, those are not as important because we know we are not stereotypes but individuals. We can be fun, amiable, talkative and open-minded (certainly not boring, introverted, uncreative or unlikeable). We like to be challenged and that is, undeniably, what our career is all about. Here is another challenge for you: enlighten a friend, family member or business associate about what accounting really is like. Hopefully, this will change their minds and they may even consider accounting as a career choice.