By Marilyn Carnevale, Staff Accountant
There are no limits when it comes to where you can work as an accounting professional. Your many options as a college student interviewing for internships or full-time positions can be overwhelming, and your list of questions may seem endless: Do I like audit or tax? What are the differences between the Big Four, regional and small firms? Should I work in public or industry? In which niche should I specialize? These and other questions ran through my head during my interview process. However, the more research I did, the more indecisive I became.
No matter where you look, there are both large factors and small details to consider that could make your choice easier. My perspective here is as a new member of a mid-sized regional accounting firm in New Jersey. While not all regional firms are the same, this will give you some idea of what you would encounter at a firm of this size.
I currently work for Wiss & Company, LLP in Iselin, but the firm also has offices in Livingston, Flemington and New York City. There are approximately 200 employees that service the construction, engineering, food, health care, manufacturing, nonprofit and real estate sectors. I personally feel like I have the best of both worlds: a small firm with a broad scope of services.
Before or during the interview process, it’s imperative to obtain information regarding company training. Wiss has a two-week training program to help new hires transition from college to the workplace. As one of nine new hires, I was educated about the different industry niches, firm intranet, policies, procedures and databases. In addition to an overview of tasks that we would perform our first year, we received hands-on experience by practicing tests of internal controls and specific accounts, such as cash, fixed assets and inventory. A seasoned staff member was there to guide us step-by-step through the processes and answer our questions. We also had separate training on the larger industries we serve, which addressed managing common issues and procedures. Furthermore, we had an entire day devoted to developing corporate and individual tax returns.
After training, it was time to for the “real” work to begin. Thus far, I’ve been to a school board, manufacturing facility and construction client. Currently, I’m on seven different engagements and assigned to complete 1040 tax returns for an entire month until the busy season is over. Regional accounting firms want their employees to be well-rounded individuals and, therefore, it’s not necessary to burden yourself with trying to determine a specialty. My firm schedules its new employees on engagements within various niches to give them a feel for the different accounting practices. I enjoy the fact that I’ll be working on different clients and completing both audit and tax assignments. Having the opportunity and flexibility to gain these experiences is definitely advantageous for building a fulfilling accounting career.
Each of my clients requires different tests and procedures depending on the engagement (e.g., audit, review or compilation). Typically, my engagement teams range from two to five people. The majority of the time I’m at the client site, which is generally within an hour’s distance from my home. If you like to travel, there are opportunities to travel to clients in Texas, Louisiana, California and elsewhere. These visits are typically annually or quarterly, with the duration being a week or less.
I do have my own workspace when I’m at the office. While perhaps seemingly small, this helps give me a sense of belonging.
These days, you can’t talk about work without discussing work/life balance. Standard hours are 9am to 5:30pm. However, there are times when staying later or starting earlier is necessary. I have yet to start my first busy season but, based on talking to others, 12-hour days are commonplace. My hours will ultimately depend on workload and client obligations. I feel as though these hours are relatively consistent no matter your firm. It’s a bit difficult working all day and then coming home to study for the CPA exam, but it’s not impossible. My weekends are free (for now), but come mid-January, I should expect to work Saturdays when needed.
Each accounting firm is unique, but they all have one common goal – to enhance their employees’ professional growth. When interviewing, have an open mind and ask as many questions as you can. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it will help you survive and grow in your accounting position.
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.