Career Lessons I Learned As An Accountant – Part 2

It has been exactly a year since I published the first part of career lessons I learned as an accountant. I meant to release part 2 earlier than now but life got in the way. Now only did I learn a lot more in the last year, I am also ready to share something I was not ready to share before. When I started jenthinks, Eric asked me what I wanted to achieve. He asked me what my purpose was. I remember my answer clearly, “I want to be the mentor I didn’t have in the beginning.”

When I Was Threatened By A Superior Who Said to Me Privately, “The Accounting World In Vancouver Is Very Small.”

I have only shared this story with people close to me until now. It happened years ago when I gave my notice to the company I was working for. Mind you, I did not quit on the spot. I gave the standard full two-week even though the environment was so toxic. I think part of the reason why that superior was so blindsided by my decision was that I never outwardly showed any intention of leaving until that moment. I chose not to confront them on the lies they fed me and quit not long after I had a final conversation when I knew it was not going to get better. It happened even quicker than I expected because it took less than a week from me applying to getting a really good offer with a very promising team.

I knew my superior had no right to threaten me that way. I don’t mean legally but as a decent human being. I was shocked by how low that was. I was not angry or upset because I knew I was in the right. But I am a naturally very optimistic person with a healthy support network and high self-esteem (which also took years to build). What bothered me the most about that experience was the fact if it happened to someone else, it could have irreversible negative impact on their mental health and budding careers. Not because of the lack of job prospects from the threat because the threat actually works both ways. I personally would avoid crossing path with that person again because our values are not the same. I was bothered by how hurtful and damaging it can be if it happened to someone who did not have a voice in their heads telling them it was not their fault. Imagine living in fear your career is over before it even started.

The lesson I learned from this is to be protective of yourself. There will always be people trying to take you down and you owe them nothing beyond professional courtesy. Respect is earned, not given. Focus on developing your skills and providing value to managers and organizations that value you. While it is not possible to meet only supportive people in your career, I have definitely met more of them than the opposite.

A Good Manager Makes Or Breaks A Job.

I started off the post by sharing the darkest moment of my career. However, I want to lift your spirit by telling you that I moved on to an infinitely better place after. I worked under the most amazing manager with a very compatible and competent team at my next opportunity. My manager taught me (and actually everyone I got to share my experience with) everything a great leader should be. He was competent, fair, consistent and respectful. The person he reported was also all of those things which made for a very healthy work environment.

I remember sharing my initial positive thoughts of my manager with my friend while having severe doubts in the back of my head, “what if this was all a show?” While I was not shattered by what I had just experienced prior to joining the team, I was a lot more skeptical about management in general. I was worried about it changing after a while because it was just a honeymoon phase.

To my very pleasant surprise, it only got better. My manager was a very patient teacher so my team and I developed professionally under his management. He never made us feel like we were working for him – he always made us feel equal. In fact, he would remind us that it was his job as a leader to take care of things if our workloads were too much.

Our small team always felt safe to share our thoughts or ask for help. He would give us constructive criticism with the sole intention of helping us grow. He would respect our boundaries and not make revision to our work or process without checking first because he believed we are the owner of our work. This was empowering.

Most importantly, he was always upfront about what he can and can’t do. He did not sugarcoat with the intention to manipulate. He was transparent and never made promises unless he knew for sure he can get them done.

Basically, while I appreciate the technical skills I learned from him, what he taught me was way more than that. He was the embodiment of great leadership. It gave me hope that I can have a fulfilling career while protecting my optimism about the world in general.

The lesson I learned from this? Hold on to a good manager and run away from a bad one. It affects you more than you think for longer than you expect.

You Can Get Compensated Well As A CPA Without Being A Manager.

My most recent market check-in for Senior Accountants revealed that companies were offering base salaries anywhere from $85,000 to $135,000. These were all remote roles and open to candidates working anywhere in Canada. None of them required team management other than being some sort of a mentor figure to some of the junior staff. This is a fair ask because I have been mentoring for years despite never being a manager (the closest I got was a team lead role). While I understand a base salary of $110,000 (mean of the range) might not sound very lucrative to some, it is pretty solid to me and many accountants (CPA or not) I know.

I have to admit that the top end of the range definitely exceeded my expectation (in the best way) when I first started looking. However, at the same time, I thought the compensation made a lot of sense if you are experienced and/or designated. I am aware that there are companies out there offering less than the bottom of my range but I did not happen to encounter those. I don’t really believe it’s luck – I believe it’s purely statistics. There are simply more employers paying market rate for good talent than the ones paying under.

The lesson I want to share with you is this: if you are not ready or interested in becoming a manager as an accountant, you can increase your compensation by providing value another way. When I interviewed, I highlighted my experience in both start-up and mature companies. My experience gave me the best of both worlds: I know how chaotic a new finance department can be (translation: gold mine for process improvements) and how efficient established ones can be as well (translation: a short but accurate close requires solid processes). Remember, management skill is only one of the skills employers value. Learn your strengths and let them shine.