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Can a Reformed Degenerate Drug Addict Break Into Public Accounting?

Ed. note: Are family and friends frequently throwing labels like "workaholic loser who will be alone forever" in your direction? Maybe you need some advice on how to balance things better. Email us your situation and we'll shovel some guidance your way.

I would appreciate your guidance on how to break into the public accounting field for someone in my situation. I graduated with a 3.97 in May and in August finished the credit hours required for the C.P.A. exam. That ends the list of my strengths. The other side of the ledger is much larger. Before my return to college, there was period of approximately 8 years I didn't spend a single day sober. Between finally treating my mental health problems and school, I did not making working a priority. This means my last work experience was more than a decade ago and I have no references. For a 31 year old (there's no passing for a fresh-faced youth), it is difficult to explain why I have no job history. My résumé is about a half page and I suspect size 20 font would be noticed. You can imagine I did not enter the job market with much confidence. I had a few interviews and unsuccessfully adopted different strategies. 1) Omission. Simply saying I've never worked 2) Admission. I'm a degenerate drug addict, but I have reformed myself. 3) Fabrication. I applied to a few jobs with a modest, imaginary history. I only did one interview under this pretense. I refuse to do it again. I suspect you will advise me to have done an internship in the past. That may prove difficult. I'll tell you about the options I am considering to improve my situation. 1) In the past six weeks I've also been applying to menial jobs (e.g. Subway) hoping to get anything at all on my resume. So far, no luck. I am uncertain whether including such a job after graduation on my résumé would help me find an accounting job. It might instead be interpreted as a signal that no other accounting firms found me suitable. 2) I live in my dad's house; he's supportive. The cost of rent is just my sense of pride. I have thought about studying for the C.P.A. exam and passing all the sections as soon as I can. Do you think this would indicate to employers that I am capable of the work? How well does it correspond to what an accountant actually does? 3) Would it be easier to start with an internship? They all want undergrads. If employers have lower standards for these positions because the cost of a mistake is lessened, I am willing to ask anyways. 4) My understanding is that a Master's in Accountancy is pretty much as useless as gills on a monkey for someone with a bachelor's degree. The only reason I would return to school at this point is to get a chance to do an internship. Any assistance you could offer would be most welcome.

Maybe Caleb's bleeding heart is rubbing off on me but I'm having a hard time mustering up the courage to berate you for your life choices. Lord knows I've made some questionable ones myself, but lucky for me I grew up to be a writer, and we're expected to be a bit of a train wreck. So I have to ask, what on Earth made you pursue accounting? Let's address this in pieces. First, Subway is NOT going to do anything for your public accounting résumé but working might offer your battered and beaten pride a little reprieve from the self-loathing, at least momentarily. And I'm pretty sure you're comfortable with the fact that you will likely never be offered a Big 4 position and are OK with this, in which case your best bet is going to be some kind of public accounting angel who sees you as clay to be molded. Mid-tier firms don't necessarily have Daddy Warbucks recruiters out there looking for orphans to take under their wing, so I hope you realize the huge mountain you have to scale ahead of you. To answer your question, yes it's easier to start with an internship. That's what almost everyone does. Why employers prefer it this way is irrelevant in your situation; with your spotty past and disappointing résumé, you're going to have to take whatever you can get just to get your foot in the door. That may end up being a gig filing tax returns for a small private CPA office. Hell, that may end up being brewing coffee in a small private CPA office. If I were you, I would be open to anything anyone is willing to offer me and make the most of it.

Do you have the luxury of pursuing a MAcc? If you have the financial ability, you certainly have the time and in your case, it can't hurt. It might not help but if there is no net risk to be had, why wouldn't you take that route? Whatever you do, if you are able to get on track to take the CPA exam immediately, do it. Again, it can't hurt and unlike the MAcc, it can only help. The other issue here would be that some states require "recommendations" confirming your moral fortitude, and without a large network of professionals who are familiar with your work to vouch for you, finding a few endorsements might prove difficult. So there's that to consider. Being a drug addict doesn't necessarily disqualify you from public accounting completely but I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the very nature of the prestige of the Certified Public Accountant designation implies a level of trust in the work of said CPAs, and the questionable judgment previously proven by your choices in your 20s will be difficult to overcome. Honesty is your best policy but let some of your weaknesses work in your favor. Having overcome such miserable circumstances in your short life, you are appealing to a more progressive employer willing to take a chance on you if you can prove you will make it pay off for them in the long run.

Reading your letter, however, I am not overwhelmed with your excitement about public accounting and that might make interviews all that much more awkward. When someone is really excited about work and willing to do anything to benefit the employer-employee relationship, that outshines any dents on your permanent record. I'm not saying you'll be beating off the recruiters with a stick if you show a little excitement about the prospect of slaving away in public accounting but some enthusiasm might be nice. As long as you are genuinely in recovery, being treated for your other issues and somewhat stable at this point in your life, someone somewhere will give you a chance. It might take awhile and you're going to have to beat down the door of every accounting firm large and small in your area but eventually, it'll happen (if you actually want it, which I'm not convinced of based on your letter). Everyone loves a good project.