In the world of public accounting, experience is not based on years, but rather on the number of busy seasons worked. For those of you who are entering your first busy season, this will be a rite of passage. You have worked hard to earn your degree in accounting and the experience of busy season will transform you from student to professional. It is a busy time and it is certainly hard work, but it’s also exhilarating and rewarding. You will learn more in four months than you have in the last four years of college.
While I am not an accountant, I have worked in public accounting for fifteen years. As the person responsible for hiring individuals right out of college, I have seen and heard what these “newbies” go through. I have also gotten an earful from the experienced professionals regarding the performance of new people. So with that in mind, here are a few helpful hints.
- Pace yourself. A huge chunk of our work needs to be completed in a compressed period of time. With deadlines looming and hundreds of hours of work piled up, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Just remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint.
- Prepare yourself. This will be a grueling but exciting time for you. Start to get prepared personally by getting your hair cut, setting up your wardrobe, running errands and figuring out your budget.
- Prepare your family and friends. Those who care about you don’t always understand the demands of busy season, so enlighten them. Warn them that you may not be able to stay in touch as much as usual. Ask them for their support and understanding. If they offer to prepare food for you, clean your apartment or wash your clothes, say YES. Make it a habit of accepting any support during this time of year.
- Ask questions. As you start to work on various assignments, remember to ask questions. If you can’t figure something out in 10 minutes or so, ask questions. If something doesn’t look right, ask questions. If you’re struggling or confused, ask questions. If you’re not sure of when it’s due, ask questions.
- Answers may not be immediate. Remember that the experienced professionals are also working on urgent and challenging assignments. Therefore, they may not be able to answer your question immediately. Be prepared to set one assignment aside and work on the next one while you are waiting for an answer. An efficient process is to pull together a list of questions and schedule time with a professional in order to get all your answers at once.
- Act with a sense of urgency. Nothing will annoy experienced professionals more than someone who doesn’t show some urgency in completing a task. In other words, assure the professional that you will get to it, walk at a faster pace and don’t waste your time. Develop a reputation for following through and getting things done.
- Be proactive. Often you may have a pile of work on your desk but are unable to move forward due to missing information. Let others know when you have availability for work. If you see or hear about a task or project that you can help with, offer your assistance. Nothing will propel your career more than jumping in to help where needed.
- Be observant. Pay attention to everything that is going on around you. You will learn a great deal about clients and your team by observing. Every team has a style and personality. Figure out how to work best with your team. Listen and learn.
- Stay organized. Get in early each day and prioritize your work. Know your schedule and what is on your desk. Create a to-do list and follow up with people. Keep your email organized and clean. Keep up with timesheets and any billing assignments. Don’t be afraid to ask for help getting organized. Sometimes all you need is another perspective. By the way, “hit the save button” often; this can keep save you a lot of time.
- Be respectful. Everyone who works in public accounting plays a critical role and feels the effects of busy season. Be kind to everyone, including the administrative professionals, marketing managers and IT professionals. These individuals can be instrumental in providing support for you during busy season.
As much as I hear people complain about busy season, I also see how deflated everyone gets when the adrenaline rush is over. Busy season is prime time in public accounting; it is a time when our expertise is greatly needed. So, try to stay positive, make the best of it and keep smiling. Being stressed or grumpy never improves the situation. Join in on some of the fun activities that are offered and take time to laugh. Take screen breaks by walking around to check in with others; be visible. Eat healthy, get some sleep and remember that exercise can go a long way in relieving tension. Stay cool and don’t take everything so seriously. You’ll make mistakes, learn from them and move on. Don’t just survive busy season, but THRIVE during busy season.