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Accounting Career Conundrums: Planning for the CMA, Working on Vacation, and Who Needs a Car?

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It’s the week before Labor Day so that means everyone checked out yesterday around 8:30 am. This seems like the perfect excuse to dish out some lightning round advice, so I dug through the mailbag to see what’s what in the lives of the GC readership. If you have a career question, hit us up at [email protected], but, for the love of the Old Gods and the New Gods, try to keep things brief. Some of you people have words for days. We don’t need your life story, just tell us what the problem is and we’ll answer it in the best way we know how. Are we clear? Great. On to your letters:


Curious of what you guys at GC think about getting a CMA? I already have my CPA and a month before before my start date. I will be an auditor at a big 4 and wondering if this will beneficially impact my career once I’m ready to get out or a waste of time. I figure I could get the first part done before work and have 3 years before I have to pass the second.

To answer your question directly — Generally speaking, I’m a fan of obtaining a CMA. Ninety percent-ish of you won’t be in public accounting forever and there are plenty of budgeting, financial analysis, cost accounting, forecasting, etc. etc. jobs out there that you’ll have little exposure to as a Big 4 auditor but are perfectly suited for someone with your analytical chops. Some people turn up their nose at the CMA, suggesting it has no value, that employers overlook it, but if you market yourself as someone who has committed to obtaining both a CPA and a CMA, that will serve you well long term.   

As for the rest of your message, I love nothing more than a well-laid plan. Why? Let me tell you why. It’s because I love hearing the story of how it went to complete shit and yet you reached your end goal anyway. Email us the tale once you’re a proud CMA.


Hey Caleb,
So I am in a bit of a predicament. I just joined a growing company in the finance industry (3 months) in the Internal Audit department and have quickly found out that it is not my cup of tea. I report to one person, and he is super nice and highly invested in me and the position I am in. How do I tell him that this isn’t right for me and that I am looking for other places? I have taken one interview for an accounting position in the same level as I am in now. Should I keep looking?
You wrote the answer yourself: Tell him that this isn’t right for me and that I am looking for other places.
It’s strange that you’ve figured this out in such a short period of time, although it does happen. Maybe you were sold a bill of goods; maybe you were desperate for a job; maybe the hiring manager was hypnotically hot and you were simply nodding at everything (s)he said, I don’t know. Be honest with your boss and keep looking for a new gig. This way you can both move on quickly.
I have been interviewing with small to regional firms. At one of the interviews I was informed that things have changed and CPA firms as well as industry positions no longer offer health insurance for spouses and dependants. I was told that if I checked the internet I would find support for this claim. Benefits at firms appear to be a closely guarded secret. Also, the new hire threads don’t care about health insurance for family and the promotion/raise threads are all about money. People don’t seem interested in the rest of the package. I can’t find anything that supports this change in practice. I did find information on surcharges etc, however my spouse is a stay at home parent. Have things changed? Is it typical to pay full premiums for family out of your own pocket? I have spent more than 7 hours browsing the internet, please help!
Your advice is appreciated!

First of all, you can find support for ANY claim on the Internet. Cruise the Daily Caller or National Review for a few minutes and you’ll find people stating in earnest that Obama will be impeached by Christmas.

Whoever told you that employers are no longer offering health insurance for families is essentially saying, “Good luck finding something better than us because we’re on top of the trends in this business.”

Firms that keep their benefits “closely guarded secrets” are doing so because their benefits suck. Many of these small and regional accounting firms are run by shrewd pricks. If they dance around your specific inquiries about the health benefits, cross them off the list. A good business will pay some portion of a health insurance because they know it will attract good employees. And remember, you’re an accountant, you have lots of options.  

Marshal Mathers:

Dearest GoingConcern Overlord,
When I started at Big 4 in August I heard about all the wonderful vacation time I’d accrue and be able to use. Soon I realized this expectation, like many expectations I had going in, was completely wrong. It was a long January through June busy season, but here I am in the middle of summer; I’ve got a bunch of vacation time accrued and by golly I’m gonna use it. I’ve already booked a week to travel to California, and I’ve got a few more vacation days booked that effectively give me a good line-up of 3 and 4 day weekends in the months ahead. But now I find myself in unchartered territory. The managers on my jobs want their coaching notes responded to and the seniors want to be able to get in touch with me with any questions. All I want is to make like Slim Shady and drop my computer like he can drop a mic and disappear for my week off / long weekends. However I get this sneaking suspicion that those above me feel that using vacation time means I’ll still be available to pop open my laptop and jump on a call/finish some work whenever they need me to.
So here’s my question: do I really have a responsibility to be available for my seniors/managers when I’m on vacation? How about on weekends that are book-ended with vacation days? While I do care about what I do, I (fortunately or unfortunately) don’t care enough to want to devote every precious waking hour to it, especially not when I’m taking a roadtrip to hit some beaches and do things in the great big world outside the doors of our clients. I want to draw a few lines in the sand that spell out “NO” but I have a feeling thats going to be easier said than done.
Please don’t tell me I need to start being responsible.
Here’s the thing — once upon a time, associates and senior associates didn’t get smartphones and therefore, could escape questions from superiors while trying to get some R&R. For whatever reason, at some point associates and seniors cried about not having shiny work toys like managers and partners so the firms caved to their wishes. BUT NOW the expectation is that you will be available because you have this fancy phone provided by your EMPLOYER. and people are crying about how they can’t get away from work. The lesson: Be careful what you bitch for.
Anyway, the trick in this game is to get ahead of everyone and everything. Before your longer vacations, answer the coaching notes and have sit-downs with your seniors so there are no misunderstandings about where things stand. For those three and four-day weekends, it’s not as crucial to meticulously prepare the team for your absence; you’ll be back soon enough, so you can get away with blowing them off. In both cases, be sure to set up your auto-out of office email because people REALLY hate it when you don’t and like to send snipey emails back to you about why you haven’t responded.


Hi Going Concern,
I am in big 4 advisory group since last july, and my job is to test General IT Controls for the audit teams. Coming in from Accounting background with a Masters and Bachelor’s in Accounting, I had no clue about IT. I tried my best to learn and worked hard on the engagements I was assigned to, I got 3 rating on all my projects except for the very last one before the year-end. On the last project before my year-end rating, although I was officially given a ‘3’, a document was attached which basically said I didn’t meet expectations for the whole year.
What happened on that engagement was that I went over-budget and charged hours spent on closing open notes. I was also given more work than my originally assigned budget, but all the variance was added as being my fault. My manager also asked me to do testing different than last year and when the review time came, he did a flip flop and said why had I done things different than last year. Not to mention there were 2 people who left the firm during the project and I had to work on some of their open items. At the initial close of the engagement, they gave me a 3, but when the manager reviewed again, he added that document.
So, at my year-end discussion, I ended up getting a 4 (did not meet expectations). I was put on performance improvement plan and basically they said I could be fired. Now I am confused as to what should I do, I don’t like this work (controls testing) to begin with. I like working with numbers and I am not really good at writing narratives. I am trying to switch to audit, but I don’t know if that will be better for me or worse. I live in a state where there is not much opportunities than to work with the same senior and manager, who were on the year end project. I am depressed, and every day feels like I am going to be fired, so I don’t even feel like going to work each day. I have passed the cpa exam though, should I stay with the firm or should I quit and start looking elsewhere?
I love it when people write in things like this, “I’m depressed. I dread going to work. I haven’t been performing too well. Should I stay at this job?” Not because I enjoy the misery of others, mind you; I love it because my advice is simple: Quit. And do it sooner rather than later.
Listen, friend — if you stay with this firm you’ll be let go for performance-related reasons. It sounds like things didn’t break your way and it’s not personal (or maybe it is), but it happens to all kinds of people so it’s time to shake this experience off and find something else. Simple as that.
I’m got a slightly odd question and I apologize if you’ve covered it before. I currently don’t own a car and really can’t afford to buy one until I’m out of school. In every summer internship position I’ve seen, on of the qualifications usually involves having the ability to travel to a client’s location. The one thing that concerns me is whether or not not having a car would prevent me from getting a summer internship much less a job. What are the odds of be loosing out on an opportunity because I don’t have personal transportation?
Thank you for taking to time out to read this.

I’m not much of a handicapper, but I suggest figuring out some options for transportation. Here’s an imaginary conversation:

Dude #1: Hey, dude. You get that internship?

Dude #2: Dude. No.

Dude #1: That sucks, dude. What happened?

Dude #2: I don’t have a car and I told them I couldn’t travel to the client’s location.

Dude #1: Why’d you do that?

Dude #2: [shrugs]

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Don’t let it be you.

Have a friend give you a lift, ride a bike, take the bus, use Zipcar, carpool, WALK, whatever you can do to get yourself to the client’s location, do it. There are plenty of ways to get from Point A to Point B that don’t involve a car. Cars are dumb anyway. Why do you think I stayed out of this conversation?

Good luck, everyone.