“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”
This quote is attributed to Randy Pausch, and I think it’s a useful quote for people who are considering a career change to become a CPA. I made that change myself, four years after earning a business degree. I now spend my time explaining accounting and finance, because I found out I didn’t enjoy doing accounting work each day. So, if you’re considering the same type of career change, learn from my mistakes. I hope these tips will get you to the career that really fits you.
My career change
After graduation, I spent four years as a financial advisor, including two years working at a small boutique brokerage from with my dad. I went into the business because I liked finance, and I had some sales ability. As time went on, I found that I wasn’t effective enough as a salesman to sell all day long. I also found out that I liked learning more about the accounting details of the stock and bonds that I was selling. So, I decided to leave the brokerage business and become a CPA.
Take an assessment
Now, since I graduated from college before cars were invented (actually 1985), there was far less emphasis on skill assessments, so I didn’t take one until years after graduation. Today, just about every high school and college has students take assessments, which is a great idea. However, since your interests can change over time, I recommend taking another assessment before making a career change.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality indicator that is widely used, and you can take a free assessment online. There are more involved assessments offered by universities and psychologists, but the Myers-Briggs is a great starting point. In general, an accountant needs to be well-organized and enjoys performing detail work using sets of guidelines. CPAs also need to be able to think through issues in a particular order.
The skills you need
Say, for example, that you need to post five accounting entries, and then generate a trial balance and post adjusting entries. Well, accountants perform these tasks in this order for a reason. If you don’t have all of the accounting entries posted, your trail balance is incomplete. So, you need to be able perform tasks in a specific order to succeed as an accountant.
It took me several tries to pass all of the sections of the CPA exam, but I did pass and worked as a CPA for about five years. I started to realize that I just didn’t have the focus needed to do accounting detail all day. Some accounting work was fine, but full-time accounting just didn’t work for me. Over time, I slowly moved into training people in accounting and finance, which is what I do now.
A great profession
If your skill set fits the accounting profession, I can’t say enough about the opportunities you have. Working as a CPA can open doors for many types of jobs, including financial analysts, operations management, and even CEO positions. Accountants learn about everything that goes on in a company, so that they can generate financial statements. That knowledge makes CPAs valuable as employees.
Invest the time to meet with some CPAs that you know and ask them about their typical workday. Find out what it is they like and dislike about their jobs. If accounting fits your personality type and skill set, it can be a great career choice.