My son Liam graduated from high school a few years ago. At the time, I was excited to have him come to our annual SuperConference in Miami where he would meet many of our members and clients who are CPAs and Advisors for public accounting firms. I had always told Liam from the time he was old enough to listen that accounting would be a wonderful professional degree with a huge upside for the rest of his life. He could work in a firm, a business, any organization, or even be well prepared to start his own business one day, as the skills would be useful and valuable in any environment.
At the conference, Liam had the chance to meet a lot of people. My excitement about making introductions turned to disappointment when I heard, not just one or two, but several people tell Liam not to pursue public accounting, how hard it was, and basically how little joy there was in the profession. Liam walked away with not so great thoughts about an accounting degree. The experience didn’t sway Liam to move in another direction as he probably was never going to be an accountant (they never listen to their parents!). However, it painted a solidly negative picture of the profession.
Similarly, I often hear negative responses when I ask CPAs whether their son or daughter is going to be an accountant. “No way they want to do what I do or work that hard.” I have worked in this industry for 14 years now and have always been surprised to hear people respond in a negative way toward the profession. I often wonder if this contributes to the fact that many firms struggle to compete for talent or that many people choose an industry over public accounting.
I had a conversation with a practice leader the other day who said the thing that causes her the greatest stress is finding young people who want to be in public accounting. I shared with her the story about my son, and she said, “You know we all do that. We put down our profession. We think about, and then express, all the negatives of what we do to anyone who asks.”
When I asked what brings her joy in her work, she described a sense of satisfaction from helping people, the enjoyment of doing new things, and how she likes that no day is ever the same. Now those are sentiments that young people can understand and embrace. Add to that the opportunity to grow and develop skills and have an impact in a firm that is, in turn, having an impact on business owners and the community, then you have a very compelling case for attracting many talented young people to the firm. Why is it that so often this type of message is never expressed when an opportunity arises to describe what it’s like to be a CPA and advisor?
There is no more exciting time than now to be part of the accounting industry. Many of today’s opportunities in an accounting firm did not exist in previous generations. In the past, the only things firms had to offer was either audit or tax work with a smaller dose of consulting. Now firms are involved in so many activities outside the norm of what was the typical practice; thriving services in many firms these days are things like technology, consulting, HR, engineering, and a growing list of other practice areas, that provide an incredible range of choices for young people to latch onto and grow themselves into a highly impactful and rewarding career.
The accounting profession is a terrific one for any young person to consider. It is of huge value to organizations, businesses, and even community leaders to work with an accountant they know and trust to give them solid advice. Most CPAs genuinely enjoy what they do, love working with clients, and feel great about helping clients improve their organization. I imagine the most successful firms, when it comes to recruiting, are the ones who can share with people, and genuinely express, this type of joy for the profession.
It should be an easy habit to form that whenever a situation arises and there is a chance to express how you truly feel about what you do, that you sincerely communicate to everyone, not just candidates in a job interview, but to everyone (family, friends, and acquaintances), how much you enjoy your work and the impact it has on peoples’ lives. Too often the opposite happens, and, when the chance occurs, the only things people hear are how busy CPAs are, how hard they work, and all the reasons why someone would not want to be walking in your shoes. It’s okay to paint a true picture of the profession and what the work entails, however when you include the why, the upside of a career filled with enjoyment, satisfaction, impact, diversity of work, and the rewarding service you provide as the drivers for what you do, you will begin to attract the type of talented people that engage in your story and have a desire to bring that same joy into their life.
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