Post by Dan Asbaty
Picture this: You are strapped into the seat of a rollercoaster that is making its ascent to the top of a vertical drop that frankly, scares the life out of most people. There is no way out, no room for baggage, just you and your thoughts, and of course the other 25 or so people on the ride going through a similar balancing act of feelings… both panic and excitement. I have always enjoyed the shot of adrenaline that pumps through your body upon the first drop of a rollercoaster. That feeling of letting go and accepting that you have no control, just letting the ride take you wherever it is going. It’s a blissful feeling full of excitement and despair – that leaves you awakened, yet terrified, illuminating synapses that are not often sparked. While all of this is well and good, typically that feeling is left at the amusement park and rarely finds its way into our lives any other way.
For me, that familiar feeling of anticipation and anguish somehow crept into my mind in the third week of my first busy season. I awoke early Monday morning from a terrible dream that I had overslept and rushed to work without any shoes on… strange, but telling. I went through my morning routine and headed to a client’s office. On my way I felt a growing anxiety, much like the one you get while waiting in line before boarding a coaster, as I thought of the laundry list of open items left to complete in my previous client’s work papers as well as the client before that. The thought made me nearly lose my breakfast (thankfully I eat light in the mornings). How was I going to handle all of this on my plate… Three clients with things to “wrap up” and a brand new client, complete with its own task list?
I arrived at the client shortly after and took those vaulting steps from my car to the clients conference room, just like strapping yourself into a rollercoaster as the ride attendants voice echoes, “We’re all set. Enjoy.” During my walk I drilled through the list of assignments left to be completed for all of the clients I had worked on thus far, informally prioritizing them and making mental notes of just how much had to be done for each task.
Whether I liked it or not, I was scheduled on this audit and five others just like it in the coming weeks. The jobs were going to move forward with or without me constantly worrying about them. At that moment I decided that being apprehensive was not the best approach because after climbing to the top of the coaster’s tracks, it doesn’t make sense to panic. Rather, you would be best served to throw your arms up, take it all in, and simply enjoy the ride! (And leave the worrying to the managers).
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Post by Lauryn Hanrahan
This week of tax season is a four-letter-word as far as I’m concerned because it is marked by a CPA exam failure. I received a section of my scores a few days ago. They weren’t a 75, and that’s all that matters, really. Through talking with people in the office, I’ve realized that other people have also failed the exam before they’ve passed it and have gone through what I’m going through. However, that doesn’t mean I feel comfortable with the idea. This week, I’m learning to deal with failure.
This may sound…wrong? But I’m not used to doing poorly at things. I don’t think I had ever studied throughout elementary school or middle school. Maybe a bit in high school and a bit more in college, but never the kind of studying where you had to spend hours wrapping your head around something. I always sort of “got it.” It was not until recently I had discovered that although I have been an excellent student, I am somewhat of a lousy studier. If I could help it, I have never allowed myself to do poorly (or even mediocre) at most things. I have always been very hard on myself, possibly too hard at times, in not just academics and athletics, but also in life. My mother, to this day, has kept a note from my kindergarten teacher saying, “Lauryn is doing wonderfully, but she has to learn that not everything has to be perfect on the first try.” I think about that note a lot lately.
I took my first CPA exam section two months after I graduated college and I was blindsided. I had aced all of my accounting classes in school, survived through long nights of Becker at Monmouth University, completed every single question (even the supplementals!), and ordered the outrageously priced extra flashcards. I sat for my first ever section of the CPA exam – FAR – in late July. I remember sitting in the waiting area of the test center and being called in to be finger printed, metal detector-ed and documented via photo. As I opened my testlet, my heart dropped. I didn’t know the first question, which is always a bad sign. I sat through the entire exam thinking I should just give up and run out and live my life being a hobo on the beach. Those thoughts came rushing back after this past week’s failed attempt.
Being good at “failure” is not a trait most of us think of on a given day or even want to associate ourselves with, but it’s a trait we all need to learn. I think a more proper term would be “good sport” or whatever the opposite of “sore loser” is. Gracious, maybe? Humble? We all need to be those things. Through this job, busy season especially, I am learning both the importance of those traits and how to improve myself, as a person. Whether it’s an exam, a tax return, or a workpaper, I am learning that it doesn’t matter if something is not done perfectly on the first try as long as we learn from our mistakes, improve the next time around and continue to improve from there on out. Hopefully, maybe later on this spring, I’ll have a more celebratory post as I learn from my mistakes and failed attempts and turn them around into successes.
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Post by Dan Asbaty
A team is defined as a number of persons associated as part of a joint action, cause or goal. While the New York Giants and New England Patriots were paramount examples of what a “team” truly embodies, the same can be said for an audit or tax team. We are, in every sense of the word, a team. We are associated and placed together to achieve one common goal. Whether you are conducting an audit, or figuring out the best way to save a corporation money on their 1120, there is a goal or joint action in mind.
Being part of a team can mean many things. It can mean that we are simply trying to band together to work towards an end, or it can represent something more. For myself and the other members of the Morristown office staffed to complete the audit of a dental client, being a team meant that each member had trust, admiration, respect and support for one another.
Typically a true team aspect and culture, much like the Giants or Patriots, can take years of bonding, and overcoming adversity to truly gel. However, our audit team (“Dental Force One” as we refer to ourselves) really came together seemingly overnight. I’m not sure if it was the ‘cozy’ nature of the client’s conference room, or perhaps the mountains of paperwork to climb, but something about our stay here made our team click and come together much faster than normal.
Throughout the long days and nights filled with caffeine and a few side stories, we each learned a little bit about each other that we would have never known otherwise. In just over a week, we had grown to care about one another and understand that although busy season is full of long hours, dizzying spreadsheets and a longing for a good night’s sleep, we were all in it together… as a team. There was something comforting about that realization; something that made me want to commit to the team and do my part. There was a piece of me that felt like my team relied on me and I knew, especially as an inexperienced Staff I, that I relied on them as well.
As my first busy season engagement moved forward, hard work turned into sign-offs and review notes and although this particular sequence of actions was rewarding, it left behind a bittersweet sentiment. On one hand, the hours spent at the client were paying off and the work was getting done, but on another hand my time there was coming to an end. I knew that in a sense I would miss being here. Perhaps not the work or the conference room, but definitely my team.
All in all, I never imagined that my first foray into public accounting would make me feel like part of a team, but over the first few weeks of busy season, I would have trouble describing it as anything else. Looking ahead I am excited about the prospect of spending time on new jobs, with different teams, and I hope that the hours spent working elsewhere will leave a similar feeling of camaraderie and fellowship.
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Post by Lauryn Hanrahan:
With the first few weeks of tax season ended, I must admit that I have not done a single tax return. I have been auditing. (And learning.) I can’t decide which one I’ve done more of. I feel that I am constantly learning – sometimes I wonder how all of this information fits into my brain! It’s daunting to think of the more senior staff and partners and about how much information must be stored in their heads. I can’t imagine it because I’ve only been at WS+B for four months and they have been around for many multiples of that. They should really just call accountants “sponges,” because that’s what we are.
I have come to learn that being on a first year audit is a whole new kind of animal. I like it because it is a challenge, and I love a good challenge. There is room for opportunity, improvement and adaptation. I have learned that being optimistic while going to work at a client is a good thing, but when reality hits, adaptation is key. Things may have looked easy in text books, but dealing with them takes much more thought. A recent engagement manager told me that sometimes it is beneficial when things are really complicated because that’s how we truly learn the most about them. I think this is absolutely accurate because anyone can balance a workpaper that is ideal, but it takes true thought to make a mess into something you are proud of. When finishing up an engagement, make sure you are proud of your work… Proud enough to show it to the world with your name on it as large as a bright red “PBC” stamp!
Throughout this past engagement, I have learned to really think hard, to ask questions (tons of questions!), and to have a good attitude even when your day (or week for that matter) doesn’t seem to be going how you wish it would. If you can adapt to a situation and develop a plan B (or C…or D), everything will turn out alright in the long run. Hard work and teamwork can solve almost anything. I’ve learned that when having a hard time with a workpaper or the idea of a tight budget… bounce your ideas off the manager or senior. They are there to keep you on track and to guide you in the appropriate direction. Over the past two weeks I’ve discovered that budgeting time can be challenging, but our mentors (both formal and informal) can steer us straight, so ask them questions if you have any.
On that note, I’ve learned how important the people around us are. I had three different accounting internships before I came to Withum, but nowhere else have I found the kind of people that we have here. The people here are both fountains of information and support systems. Utilize them! An unfortunate situation can be easily remedied by kind-hearted, intelligent and respect-worthy people. If you’re there for other people, they will be there for you. At Withum, if you fall, there are about 450 people waiting to catch you.
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Every day I learn something new. The learning curve of your first year working full-time is more like a straight line upward than a curve. Your first year is FULL of learning opportunities. You learn most about technical applications and concepts.
At this time of year, I work on preparing individual tax returns. Having two years of internship experience here at WS+B in Somerville, I’m familiar with our tax program and the procedures in the office that go along with preparing individual returns. This helped immensely during this busy season.
During my first two internships I clearly learned a lot. I came into my first internship at WithumSmith+Brown without ever seeing a consolidated 1099, or even a federal income tax return. Actually, I came into my tax season internship before I had taken my tax class in college. (Luckily for me, my tax class was a lot easier after have a tax season internship under my belt.) During the internship, I asked TONS of questions and everyone was more than happy to help. If I made a mistake I was shown how to correct it – and more importantly - WHY it was wrong. What can set you apart, whether it be as an intern or staff member, is learning not just “how” but “why”. If you don’t understand, don’t be shy to ask “why” again and take notes. This stuff isn’t easy at first, but after doing it over and over again you begin to understand more, and it becomes easier.
Repetition is how I improved so much from my first day as an intern… to the second year… and now to a full-time staff member. What’s also important, that people at WS+B understand, is that it’s important to point out people’s mistakes so they can learn, but also to acknowledge when they have done a great job. I’m sure you can remember that time in grade school when your teacher put a gold star on your test and wrote “Great Job.” Maybe you even took it home and showed your parents who then placed it prominently on the fridge.
I think everyone is still a grade school kid at heart and wouldn’t mind sending Mom that workpaper in your audit binder that got referenced as a “great job” in an email from your manager. Or maybe you want to bring home and hang up the note a partner left for you saving “Great Job! No changes” on a tax return.
When you work so hard, and make so many mistakes because you’re still learning, it can be VERY frustrating and discouraging. But when someone notices your hard work and goes out of their way to make it known to you, it can make things a much less stressful. Everyone likes to know that their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed.
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Tax season, also known as “Busy Season” is quite accurately named. Working 60-65 hours a week is physically, mentally and emotionally draining. There is only so much caffeine that can really keep me awake to work these long and late hours. When coffee and Diet Pepsi fail me, I turn to my co-workers who help motivate me through.
Spending more time in the office than at home, it’s natural for your co-workers to become more like family instead of just someone you work with. You share breakfast, lunch and dinner with these people 4 days a week for about 3 months. During meals, it’s a great time for us to blow off some steam, laugh and even nap (Master Ringel).
It’s important for employees to be “happy.” After all, a happy employee is a productive employee. In our industry, productivity and efficiency are highly stressed. Here at WS+B, our “culture” is just as important. Many offices have Wii’s for employees to play and enjoy. At Somerville, we like to “get away” and play Super Mario Brothers for Wii. It’s suggested to close the lunch room door when we play (I can get a little carried away). At that point in time, all you are thinking about is how not to die… or how to get the coins… or beat Bowser. All the tickmarks and tax returns fade away, even just for a few minutes.
Around WS+B, other offices do different things as tax season stress relievers. This past Friday, the New Brunswick, Somerville, Princeton and Philadelphia offices went bowling together. This is an annual event that WS+B holds to relieve some stress the tax season can carry. It’s always a great event! This year’s theme was “Jersey Shore.” You can only imagine the costumes and t-shirts made for this event. Prizes are given out for best costume, best bowler, and worst bowler (which was close to being my award). This coming Thursday is Somerville’s Late Night Mini Golf tournament. I’ll be sure to share the standings with you.
As the March 15th deadline for corporate returns passed, and spring has arrived (I think), that means only a few more weeks left until the April 18th deadline. A few more weeks of catered dinners, Super Mario Brothers, caffeine and little sleep. Bring it on! I’m ready (with coffee and Wii remote in hand).
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I think a very important lesson that I have learned so far is that it’s okay to say “No”. I have never really been one that can say it. The combination of being a bit of an over-achiever plus a new full-time staff accountant makes it very hard for me to say no when someone approaches me for help.
As a newer employee trying to make an impression, I don’t want to say no when given the opportunity to do work for a colleague. You learn by “doing” in this industry and it’s an honor when asked to do a tax return (or any project) for a manager or partner. So even though I may have over 60 hours of work already on the schedule… if I am asked if I can do a tax return that may take 12 hours sometime in the next 2 weeks, of course I say “Yes”. My thoughts are, “Who am I (new staff person) to say no to a manager who asks me to do something?”
Recently, I found myself in a similar situation. I should have said no - even though I could have “squeezed” it in and worked a few extra hours those two weeks (who doesn’t do that during busy season?) I learned that it’s ok to say no when you’re busy and have too much on the schedule… even if it is to a manager or a partner. I had over 60 hours on my schedule and maybe another staff person would have the available time to really dedicate the right effort to the project.
Luckily, my manager saw that I already had a lot on my plate and told me I should have just told her so. She gave the return to another staff person who had the available time to do it that week.
Knowing your limits and time constraints is important. It’s ok to say no if you’re too busy and already have a full schedule. The hardest part is knowing how much you can handle and what it means to be “too busy”.
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