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!