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Making a good impression on a new boss

Tips can help you form a great working relationship right from the start.
By Anita Dennis

You've landed a great job and are eager to make your mark. Or you have a new supervisor and you're unsure what he or she will expect of you.

Getting off on the right foot with a new boss can set the tone for your working relationship. Follow these tips from fellow CPAs and career consultants to get off to a good start.

Be genuine and authentic. Show your confidence by making eye contact and being personable, advised Colleen Wevodau, CPA, senior manager at Baker Tilly in Tysons, Va.

"Take the initiative to show you know what you're doing," she said. If the boss is new to the organization, "offer to show them the ropes, but be sure to be open to hearing about their new ideas, as well."

At the same time, be careful not to overpromote yourself, recommended Jackie Brown, chief operating officer of the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA). Your efforts could sound like bragging or set unrealistic expectations about your abilities that you may struggle to live up to.

Get familiar, but not too familiar. While it's a good idea to know something about your boss coming into the relationship, don't overdo it. For example, you might review the boss's background on LinkedIn so you can "come into the job knowing what you have in common," Brown said. But to avoid looking too much like a stalker, introduce your knowledge about them over time and as appropriate. If you know you both play tennis, for example, ask if they happen to have seen a recent championship match. "Take time to build a relationship" and discuss your shared interests as they come up naturally, Brown advised.

Be responsible with their time and yours. While your boss may want to get to know you, be mindful of their schedule and preferences about how they like to set up meetings. For example, Marie Brilmyer, CPA, partner at Cohen & Co. in Akron, Ohio, has a packed calendar, so she prefers when employees schedule a time that's convenient for both of them, rather than just showing up in her office unannounced to chat. Come prepared with an agenda of points you want to cover. "That sets the stage for a meaningful discussion," she said. If you're new to the company, find out if the organization has preferred scheduling software or systems.

Seek clues to how the boss wants to work with you. Some bosses may be eager to answer questions and teach you about your new role, while others may not welcome interruptions, noted Rebekah Brown, CPA, director of development at MACPA. "You should be comfortable asking for what you need, but start out by doing as much research as possible on your own" about an assignment or task, she recommended. If you still have questions after doing some homework, your boss will at least see that you made an effort to gather as much information as possible before turning to him or her.

Be tactful to get what you need. When Amber Smith, CPA, now a senior manager at Baker Tilly's Tyson, Va. office, worked for someone who had just taken over as a first-time manager, Smith had to determine the best way to give upward feedback. The new boss "had been a doer and now she was in charge of telling other people what to do and keeping them motivated," said Smith. The new supervisor didn't interact a great deal with employees, and they found her expectations unclear. Smith came up with a diplomatic way to tell her boss she needed information and help understanding what the expectations were. "I asked her if she could walk me through the process so I could understand what she was looking for," Smith said. The manager was happy to comply.  

Have a vision. When Brilmyer has moved into new roles, she has taken time to reflect on what she wants to accomplish and talked with her boss about what success looks like for both of them. As an example, if the firm does not have clear guidelines for chargeable hours goals set by level, "you may want to set that expectation early on with your boss so that when the year is over, what you have achieved can be properly evaluated," she said. She also advises new hires to let their new bosses know about their backgrounds and what excites them about the job and the company. "I like to see that they've given thought to their new role and what they want to accomplish. I also appreciate it when they ask me about my vision" and how the department works together, Brilmyer said. While the ladder of advancement in public accounting is well established in the first few years of a professional's career, "it gets less prescribed as you move up the ranks, so you need to discuss your expectations and set goals," she said.

Keep your objectives in sight. When starting a new job, it's tempting to be accommodating and volunteer for optional new responsibilities, but also consider the best use of your energy. "You can end up spending time on tasks that aren't necessarily career drivers," Smith said. To remedy the problem, "take time to remind yourself what attracted you to the job in the first place." While a new employee will not want to decline any assignments, try being intentional and focused when it comes to volunteering for projects or taking on new initiatives. You may have to tell a supervisor directly what you need. As they built a relationship, Smith told her boss that she would like to be coached on how to grow in her role.

"She responded very well, and our relationship became more conversational," Smith said. 

In the end, the secret to bonding with a new boss is simple: "It's a matter of treating people with respect, whether they are above or below you in the organization," Wevodau said.

Anita Dennis is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. To comment on this article or to suggest and idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a JofA associate director, at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com

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