How to impress your new employer

Here’s what you need to know to be successful during your first year at a new job.
By Cheryl Meyer

Most CPAs have experienced the exciting and challenging first 90 days on a new job, when they are learning the ropes and being coached and scrutinized. This trial period can be stressful but is essential to both short- and long-term success at their organizations.

Although there is a talent shortage in the profession, it’s still important to put your best foot forward at a new job. According to a recent survey by Robert Half Finance & Accounting, 54% of chief financial officers said new hires have one month to less than three months to prove themselves in their new roles. Organizations—both companies and public accounting firms—want return on investment, even when it comes to employees. That applies to employees fresh out of school and to veterans changing jobs.

“The first 90 days are critical,” said Bryon Garrety, CPA, founder and managing partner at Garrety & Associates in Baton Rouge, La.

Even after the 90-day trial period ends, it’s important for new employees to stay focused. After all, many organizations have an annual review process—and that can help determine whether or not you receive a raise or bonus. “You still have to add value to the organization, even if you are past the one-year mark,” said Syed Hussain, vice president with Robert Half Financing & Accounting, North America.

Thus it's important to continue to work hard—and smart—well after the end of the 90-day trial period. Here are some tips to help you wow your superiors during that first year.

Start strong. First impressions are critical at any job, and it’s important to meet and exceed your manager’s expectations. “You are really judged by the amount you improve from day one,” said Garrety, who manages 15 employees. Initial impressions start with the interview process but are equally important throughout the first year.

Get to know your clients, staff members, and partners. If you’re a manager who has changed jobs, work to understand your clients’ business and meet their deadlines to earn their trust, advised Jodi Brown, CPA, a new manager in the Baltimore office at RSM US LLP. Understand staff members’ career goals and what makes them tick. And recognize the expectations of individual partners to gain their trust and respect as a leader. Also, “ask for feedback so they know you are concerned about your performance,” she said.

Be punctual and work hard. This is classic advice for pretty obvious reasons. Of course, workers in today’s world sometimes have more flexibility when it comes to when they arrive and when they leave the office. In that case, make sure you follow your company’s policies and don’t abuse the flexibility options offered.

Learn, learn, learn. The learning curve for new accounting employees can be very steep. Begin by learning about the processes and systems of the firm and the various people inside and out of it. Once the 90 days are past, “show constant improvement in the quality of your work and your knowledge of projects,” Garrety said. There’s also another important way to show how much you’ve learned: “Get your CPA certification or any other type of certification that might be helpful,” Hussain advised.

Get connected. Try to get to know people in various areas of the organization. “If you’re in finance and accounting, connect with the sales team,” Hussain said. Brown said she joined a kickball team made up of employees inside and outside of her department to meet more people. You can also, as Robert Half’s survey notes, invite colleagues to coffee or lunch, and offer to assist them when you can. Networking is key.

Find a mentor or mentors. Mentors, such as managers or partners, are vital because they can teach you how to be successful—and give you a heads-up about promising professional opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t know existed. Hussain suggested finding a mentor inside the firm, in addition to one outside the company who can guide you as you mature professionally. 

Make yourself known, but don't be a know-it-all. Even before the 90-day trial ends, it’s important to show initiative and be a go-getter. Employers value self-starters, and today's companies do give some autonomy to new hires. But make sure you learn the company culture and learn your role in the firm. “Everybody has a position to play,” Garrety said. “Play your position, and don’t play somebody else’s, especially during your first year.”

Also, be humble. “Tread lightly,” Brown said. “Listen a lot more before you speak. Make sure before you assert an opinion that you know the facts.”

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this story, email Chris Baysden, senior manager–newsletters at AICPA. 

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