Friday, July 19, 2019

Top CPA Exam Scorer Katherine Griesemer on Studying, Work-Life Balance

At age 23, TSCPA member Katherine Griesemer, CPA already has an impressive list of achievements in her accounting career. She was a top student all through college at Lee University and received many awards, including three scholarships from TSCPA’s Educational and Memorial Foundation and a place in the Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges® for 2017. She graduated with a 4.0 GPA with her Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Bachelor of Science in Business, Finance Emphasis in 2017. This spring, Griesemer was awarded TSCPA’s John Glenn Award for being the top scorer on the CPA exam in Tennessee in 2018.

Griesemer currently resides in Ooltewah, Tenn. and is a member of TSCPA’s Chattanooga Chapter. She has been a member of TSCPA since 2013. She is passionate about nonprofit financial management and currently works as CFO, Assistant Director and Principal Touring Artist at Unity Dance Troupe in Cleveland, Tenn.

What drew you to the profession of accounting?
My mom, a former CPA, encouraged me to take a dual enrollment accounting class, which I did my sophomore year of high school. My professor, Dr. Hart, truly made accounting fun. With that experience and the knowledge that accounting can open a variety of opportunities, I decided to study accounting at the age of 15.

Why did you decide to join TSCPA?
I joined TSCPA as a student member while attending Lee University. The professors encouraged involvement in TSCPA and the accounting profession as a whole. Working as an intern to Lee University’s CFO Chris Conine, I was able to attend TSCPA events with my colleagues as well as apply for TSCPA scholarships.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to those currently studying for the CPA exam?
I wish there was a magic secret! The best training tool is time. Start early because cramming is impossible. Stick to a weekly study schedule and be consistent to avoid last minute stress. As Nike says: “Just do it”: Review ALL the material and do ALL the practice problems and tests. I created detailed outlines of the material to review instead of re-opening a huge review book with hundreds of pages, which feels overwhelming.

You have always been very active in school, work and your community. What is your advice for staying balanced?
Staying balanced is tricky! I saw 4 a.m. more times than I would have liked while studying for the CPA exam. My grandfather says if you enjoy what you do, you won't work a day in your life. Enjoy the process to fill each step of the journey with joy. If you remember the reason behind what you do, you will have all the passion and energy you need to accomplish it. On a practical note, it is important to have something you do just because you love it! For me, this is ballet. I enjoy the physical exertion and creating something beautiful. Finding your own version of ballet will help shed the stress of life and refuel you for what is next.  

Where do you see yourself in your career in ten years?
My ultimate goal is to build a network of sustainable funding sources to support orphanages in Eastern Europe. Whether or not this will happen in just 10 years, I am not sure, but hopefully in 10 years I will be on the path toward that end.

Originally published in the July/August 2019 Tennessee CPA Journal

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Get Involved: Tips to Successfully Engage with Your Community

By Michael Murphy, CPA

If your city is doing great things for its people, do you ever wish you could be more actively involved? If the answer is yes, then you are in luck. I can guarantee that if great things are being done in your community, there are abundant opportunities for you to get involved. If the answer is no or you are unsure, consider this: Helping your community grow and thrive provides a strong sense of belonging and pride in the best possible way. In addition, being involved in the community can build great relationships, both business and personal, and help develop soft skills such as communication, professionalism, leadership, negotiation and more.

Getting Started
You don’t have to look far to find evidence that volunteering is personally and professionally beneficial. So, put aside whatever may be keeping you from volunteering in your community and just go for it! Here are a few steps to help you get started.

1. Google it.
One great way to find volunteer opportunities in any community is to utilize an online search tool such as Google. And it already knows where you live, so you don't even have to specify the community in which you are seeking opportunities. Later on, it may even provide advertisements related to volunteering when you are browsing the internet.
Besides Google, there are countless resources online to enable you to find out what opportunities are available in your community and how to get involved.

2. Ask friends or co-workers.
Ask people in the community that are already giving time to or leading community events for volunteer opportunities or suggestions. Nonprofit employees or volunteers are very eager and willing to explain what they do and how you can help. They are usually passionate about the causes they serve and ready to recruit more helpers. These inquiries don't have to be face-to-face either. A beneficial conversation can occur through email or social media.

Finding a Role
Finding opportunities to volunteer in your community may be easy enough. It may be more difficult to find your ideal role in volunteering and which organizations you should get involved in. I have listed several things to consider while searching for the right volunteer opportunity.

1. Know what you have to offer.
It is easy to think that you are not qualified to serve on certain boards or have a leadership role in volunteer groups. However, most nonprofit boards are eager to recruit anyone willing to put forth time and effort for a cause. Quite often, there is a lack of young talent in many positions within nonprofit organizations, and there is a high demand for the talents of this demographic. The greatest asset you bring to the table is not years of experience; rather, your value can be your passion, intention and a genuine desire to serve. If you use the resources around you, ask for help and harness your passion about an organization, you can be of more benefit than you probably think possible.

2. Choose a mission you’re passionate about.
This may be the most important suggestion of all. If you are not fully committed to an organization’s value, volunteering will most likely become a chore and your service will become ineffectual. Being passionate about your cause changes your perspective on service.

3. Remember that you will get out what you put in.
If you choose to become engaged in a community service organization, invest as much as you can. It's easy to sign up to serve on a board and show up for meetings once every other month. It's not so easy to put forth effort and time outside of the minimum required meetings. This is where you can truly make a larger impact.

4. Do not take on too much.
Now that you’ve decided to get involved, and you’ve found your special call to service, take care not to overdo it. There is an abundance of worthy community programs and organizations in which to invest. Spreading yourself too thin does a disservice to you and your organization(s) of choice. You can't be a benefit to anyone if you don’t have spare time to volunteer or help out in a special situation. It is best to fully commit to one or maybe two community outreaches that you truly care about rather than overcommit yourself.  

If you are interested in getting involved in your community but have been putting it off until now, just open a new tab on your browser and start a new search. Opportunities are everywhere once you decide you’re ready to commit.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Five Things Accounting Students Should Consider When Entering Public Accounting

By Brad Culbreth, CPA

Public accounting is an extremely rewarding career path but can be competitive and intimidating to enter. However, there are actions students can take while in school to set themselves apart from the crowd. Here are five pieces of advice to help get the job and ultimately, succeed in your career.

1.  Lay the Foundation
When entering the public accounting profession, there will be plenty of new information to absorb. There will be new software, firm procedures and policies, tax laws and auditing standards. This is exciting but can be overwhelming. Don’t compound this by having to relearn basic accounting principles. Put in the time to study and solidify your basic knowledge of the debits and credits while in school. Focus on strengthening your ability to think through accounting problems and find a solution. Laying the proper foundation now will set you up for building a successful career.

2.  Spread Your Wings
Networking is a crucial aspect for success in public accounting. Having a core group of peers in various professions is a vital part of public accounting. This network will become your source of referrals, advice in areas outside of your expertise and assistance with client needs outside of typical accounting services, just to name a few areas in which they can assist you. In short, they will help you retain current clients and refer new clients. For many people, this skill requires getting out of your comfort zone to meet new people and try new things. Attend social events, join service groups on or off campus and make an effort to meet people in your classes each day. There are plenty of opportunities available to students who seek them out.

3. Take Opportunities
You don’t have to be a senior close to graduating to begin making contact with professionals in public accounting. Schools typically hold several events each year that allow students the opportunity to meet current professionals from area firms. Don’t miss out on that opportunity. Obtain business cards and follow up with those you meet. You may be surprised how open many professionals will be to getting lunch or coffee to answer questions you may have. By creating these contacts early, you set yourself apart from your peers. This demonstrates initiative and makes you more memorable when the time comes for interviews.

4. Get Involved or Get a Job
Many firms in public accounting like to see that a student participates in activities outside of classes. Get involved in clubs, student organizations, community organizations or get a part-time job. Being able to maintain your GPA while also being active elsewhere demonstrates strong time management skills and work ethic (as well as helps with point #2 above). These types of extracurricular activities look great on resumes and could be the difference between you and your peers. In addition to building a strong resume, there are a broad range of soft skills that can be developed.

5. Be Adaptable
As evidenced by the overhaul to the tax laws last year, rules and regulations are always changing. Professionals in public accounting must be able to take in change and adapt to new sets of rules almost constantly. Being able to digest these changes quickly and develop appropriate strategies creates the value our profession demands. Always be learning and growing so that when change comes, you’ll be equipped to handle it.

Public accounting is definitely a fast-paced work environment but can be an extremely rewarding career.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Getting Involved and Going Deeper: How My College Involvement Led Me to Accounting

By Victoria Heavey, Knoxville Chapter Student Ambassador

For a college freshman, getting involved on campus can be deceptively more difficult than the expansive list of clubs and organizations may suggest. However, waiting until you feel comfortable on campus before joining an organization could put you at a disadvantage. I would advise anyone new to a university to dive right in and find connections early on. Getting plugged in with a group based on shared interests, values or goals will not only help acclimate you to your new home for the next four years, but it will also help you stand out to potential employers.

While in college, I chose to pursue a select few organizations and go deeper in my involvement within each one. With school as my first priority, I decided to focus my efforts mainly on the Chancellor’s Honors Program and Greek life. I rushed during the fall of my freshman year and ran for an executive position for the upcoming calendar year. Starting in the spring, I served as Treasurer for my sorority. This somewhat off-the-cuff decision to run for treasurer led to switching my major to accounting based on my positive experience acting as the controller of all chapter finances. This truly hands-on position allowed me a great amount of autonomy in decision making which came with a strong sense of responsibility and accountability. Perhaps the most notable task as treasurer, planning the annual budget, challenged my critical thinking and confidence in my decisions because I was given such free reign to analyze the budget variance from the past year to decide how to allocate our funds appropriately. Of course, I consulted the Area Collegiate Operations and Finance Director for advice when I was unsure and then submitted the budget for multiple levels of approval. However, this opportunity opened my eyes to the great potential I might have in the accounting field.

Consequently, I developed the necessary skills for a career in public accounting through this leadership role. While taking a heavy course load as I adjusted to this full-time position, I constantly managed my time wisely by planning ahead and keeping track of deadlines. I communicated professionally with external parties, such as vendors, venue managers and catering companies. Likewise, I communicated financial information to members, parents and other executive officers in a way all could understand. Tailoring your communication style for your audience can be the key difference between executing a plan effectively the first time rather than facing the inefficiency of redoing something due to a simple miscommunication.

Serving in a leadership role can completely change your professional trajectory. Getting more deeply involved with one or two organizations, as opposed to stretching yourself thin across a multitude of clubs but not actually participating, develops the skills needed in the business world and presents the chance to network.

Forming connections early on and having leadership experience on your resume may help secure you an interview. Then, being able to expound on the knowledge and skills you gained through these positions during the interview will give you a better chance of landing the job. I referenced my experience as treasurer during interviews for my current internship. I believe it set me apart and has directly contributed to my success in accounting after seeing a glimpse of its real-world application.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Business Travel Tips from One Young Professional to Another

By Ben Russell

Traveling for business is an exciting idea for many young professionals. Some millennials have mastered the art of blending business travel with leisure travel, and research shows millennials associate business travel with job satisfaction. However, business travel can present new lessons and challenges, including what to pack, how to navigate airport security, and learning proper etiquette when dining with a client. Here are a few tips for young professionals who have just started, or are about to start, traveling for business.

Be Aware of TSA Security Rules and Procedures
No one likes being the person that holds everyone else up in line. Take a moment to research the rules and procedures for travelers and always be respectful to TSA agents. Expert tip: If you know that you are going to be a frequent flyer, sign up for TSA Precheck. The license is $85, but lasts for five years and includes perks that can save you valuable time, especially if you are in a rush.

Buy and Wear Comfortable, Appropriate Business Attire on Travel Days
Airport chairs and long car trips are uncomfortable even for the most seasoned traveler. Invest in some comfortable, appropriate business attire. A relaxed pair of fitted pants or a cushioned shoe can make a world of difference.

Invest in a Portable Charger for Your Phone and Laptop
As a traveler, it is inevitable you will encounter some kind of a delay on the trips that you take over the course of your professional career. With portable technology becoming more integrated in modern business, your devices need to be charged and ready to use. Expert tip: Invest in a pair of wireless headphones and make sure that they are well charged before your travels.

Sign up for Frequent Flyer and Hotel Rewards Programs
If you plan to spend significant time traveling and staying in hotels, it is a good idea to consider a rewards program. In addition to the financial benefit, you can save time on creating future reservations and ticket purchases.

Get Travel Essentials
Showing up to a client meeting in wrinkled or well-traveled clothes is never enjoyable. A portable clothes steamer is beneficial and more time-efficient than ironing.

Building Client Rapport
While you are visiting a client, it is always nice to have some conversation about other items of interest. Finding common ground can lead to a more personal relationship, which means they are more willing to make time for your requests.

Dining Etiquette
When dining with a client who has taken you out for dinner, ask for a recommendation of what they like and either order that or something that is priced around the same as what they suggested. This eliminates any embarrassment or uncertainty about price and can be a talking piece.

Always Use Appropriate Language with a Client
Even if the client speaks inappropriately in front of you, inappropriate language in work situations can come across as unprofessional and give the client a different opinion of you.

Check What Items the Client Has for Use Before Packing
Before hitting the road or airport, check with the client to see if they have general items such as Wi-Fi, printers, scanners, extension cords, etc. Most clients are accommodating when it comes to allowing you to use these items and are sympathetic to the idea of traveling light.  

Take Care of Yourself When You Travel
Traveling can be stressful and hard on your body, so taking care of yourself is very important. The last thing you want is to be exhausted or sick while on the road. Make sure that you make an effort to eat healthy, relax, get plenty of rest and exercise for your own health and mental clarity.

Safe travels!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

10 Things I Wish I Knew Before My Accounting Internship

By Blake Hise, Nashville Chapter Student Ambassador

You have attended a career fair, interviewed and received an internship offer from the firm of your choice. Congratulations! As your start date draws closer, you may find yourself wondering what the work will be like and how it will compare to the coursework at your university. I found myself in this situation and wanted to do everything possible to increase the likelihood of a successful experience.

With two tax internships under my belt and several lessons learned, I have 10 practical pieces of advice to help you walk in as prepared as possible and get the most out of your internship experience:

1. Acknowledge that the first week will be the most difficult
Regardless of where you intern or how well you have performed academically, I can almost guarantee you will be overwhelmed by the volume of information that will be introduced within the first few days. Accept in advance that you may have impostor syndrome for the first week, and remain confident that proficiency comes with time. This was most evident for me watching fellow interns that were almost in tears the first week become extremely confident by the end of the internship.

2. Learn to use an adding machine (10-key)
In an academic setting, you are probably accustomed to using a four-function calculator. Unless you have worked in an office before, there is little reason for you to be familiar with how to use a 10-key. The fundamental difference between the two lies in how numbers are entered. Calculators accept the mathematical function followed by the number. In contrast, 10-keys require you to enter a number, followed by the mathematical function. For example, if you want to subtract 500 from 1,000 with a 10-key, you would enter:

1,000   +   500   -

Most firms use 10-keys and include the resulting calculations in tax or audit workpapers. While you can learn how to use a 10-key upon starting your internship, it can only benefit you to become familiar in advance.

3. Commit Excel key commands to memory
Accounting firms are increasingly utilizing technology, many times in the form of tax software and Excel. It is highly likely that most of your time will be spent on a computer. Therefore, learning key commands in Windows, Word and Excel is one actionable way to both increase your workflow and impress your employer with quick turnaround. I frequently use (Ctrl + B) to bold text, (Ctrl + I) to italicize and (Alt +) to auto-sum a selection.

4. Find out to whom questions should be directed
Given the variety of assignments you will be exposed to, you will undoubtedly have several questions every day. In fact, asking questions is one of the most critical aspects of your internship. Seeking assistance is much easier when you can identify one familiar person to whom you can always go for help.

5. Batch your questions
Your reviewer is trying to complete multiple assignments on an urgent timeline. While you should never be afraid to ask questions, it is not advisable to disrupt your reviewer every five minutes. I found it best to complete everything I could on each assignment and write down all my questions for later. Once I reached a point where I could not proceed further without guidance, then I would ask for help. If you make a habit of batching your questions, your reviewer will greatly appreciate it.

6. Always ask if it is a good time for questions
Another great way to make your reviewer’s job easier is to ask if it is a good time for questions or if you should come back later. Do not expect this to be a mere formality, as many times, they really will need to get back with you later. Even if your reviewer tells you it is not necessary to ask this, showing respect for their time in this way becomes more necessary as they approach deadlines.

7. Always attend social events
Attending every social event can be exhausting for those of us who are introverted, but participating in these events allows you to build rapport with other professionals in the office. Make your mind up in advance to say “yes” to any invitations to grab coffee or go to lunch. Aside from demonstrating your technical skill in accounting, one of the chief aims of the internship is to convince the partners and supervisors that they want to work with you for 8-10 hours a day. Participating in social events is a great way to make a positive impression in this regard.

8. Work quickly but not recklessly
In academia, you generally have days to complete your assignments. During a busy season in public accounting, your hours are billed out to clients. This, of course, does not mean that you should work recklessly, but it does mean that you should be ready to exercise strong time management skills.

9. Do not be afraid of constructive criticism
Whether you complete a tax return, audit or some other kind of assignment, a reviewer will check your work and let you know which parts were incorrect. Reviewers expect you to make mistakes. That said, make a written note of these corrections and ask for further explanation if you do not understand what they mean. Only when you make the same mistake multiple times will it begin reflecting poorly on your job performance.

10. Objectively reflect on your experience during the internship
Be sure to take the time to reflect on your experience. Would you want to come back next year or even accept a full-time offer? Were your strengths and personality a good fit for the firm’s culture? Internships are a great time to both discover which niche in accounting suits your interests and learn from professionals who have extensive experience in the accounting profession.

Best of luck!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Finding a Healthy Balance Between Involvement and Academic Success Throughout Your College Career

By Hunter Wallace, Chattanooga Chapter Student Ambassador

As many students quickly learn, time management in college can be a tricky skill to master. Finding that perfect balance between work, school and their various organizations may take some students more time than others. It is crucial to maintain a high GPA in college, but that is not the only task expected of you. Coursework is only a component of college; involvement is a large factor in what will make you stick out as you begin to apply for internships, and even careers. Most recruiters not only look at your GPA throughout college, but they also look at what you did apart from school. They look at what organizations you were involved in, whether you had a job, performed community service, what leadership roles you held and many more extracurricular activities that a well-rounded college student should be taking part in. Joining Accounting clubs and organizations at your college are also a great way to stand out to an employer and show your dedication and interest in the field.

Learn to maintain balance. It is the balance of juggling numerous activities that makes you stand out. Juggling too many activities, however, can lead to a burnout and a lack of attention to each one. Participating in too many roles at one time takes away from your commitment to all of them. Take on only what you know you can handle so you can not only perform each role but succeed in each role. No single task should overshadow the rest.

Aside from leadership roles and organization participation, make sure you do not let your coursework sit on the back burner. While being in organizations and clubs help enhance your college experience, you are ultimately enrolled to learn. Studying hard allows you to gain the knowledge you need to succeed in your chosen career field. Try to establish a weekly schedule ahead of time to keep your days more organized and ensure that nothing gets lost in the dust. Keeping your week organized allows you to make sure you dedicate enough time to each of your tasks without ignoring any of them.

You should even be sure to schedule in some time for yourself. It is important not to overwork yourself or get in too far over your head. Taking care of yourself is important to make sure that your brain and body are in the right shape to succeed. Instead of cramming all night for a test, try going to sleep a little earlier and wake up to finish studying early in the morning. Many students would be surprised what a full night of rest can do for their productivity.

You may need to tweak your schedule as you find out which of your tasks are more time consuming, but that is just part of the process of finding your balance. Certain tasks may take more time for some than others to complete, and that is okay. Finding balance is trial and error. If you find yourself struggling, take a step back and prioritize. If your organizations are taking away from your ability to study, then you might have taken on too many roles at once. Take more time to devote to studying. Give it a little time, and you are sure to find a balance that works for you. Participating in as much as you can helps make you a well-rounded student, and balancing it all assists in making you as appealing as possible to a potential employer.