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Navigating your first year as a CPA: Tips for success

CONGRATULATIONS to all the successful examinees of the May 2024 Certified Public Accountant Licensure Exam (CPALE)! Entering the professional world as a certified public accountant (CPA) is a significant milestone. The first year can be both exhilarating and challenging as you transition from academic learning to practical application. This article will guide you through what to expect in your first year, key skills to develop, strategies for managing your time and maintaining work-life balance.

In your first year, especially if you are entering public practice, you will be introduced to the work culture of your firm. Expect a steep learning curve as you familiarize yourself with company policies, software and the specific industry nuances your firm caters to. Initially, you might feel overwhelmed by the volume of information, but this is a natural part of the adjustment process.

As you settle in, you will likely start interacting with clients early on. These interactions can range from gathering financial information to discussing tax returns or audit results. Building good communication skills is essential. Listen actively, be respectful and ensure clarity in your interactions.

Simultaneously, you will be assigned various tasks, including conducting audit procedures and fieldwork, as well as preparing detailed audit documentation, working papers and audit reports. Successfully managing these tasks, prioritizing them and meeting deadlines are essential skills. There will be times when the workload peaks, especially during tax season or year-end audits. Mentally preparing for these periods can help mitigate stress and maintain productivity.

The accounting field is dynamic, with frequent updates in tax laws and accounting standards, and development of accounting software. Develop proficiency in accounting software and stay abreast of changes in the relevant laws and standards by attending workshops, webinars and pursuing additional certifications. This not only enhances your knowledge but also demonstrates your commitment to the profession.

In addition to technical skills, enhancing analytical skills is critical. You will be tasked to analyze financial data, identify trends and provide insights that can help clients make informed decisions. Practicing data analysis and interpretation will strengthen your ability to offer valuable recommendations. Moreover, you will often encounter complex financial issues that require innovative solutions. Enhancing your problem-solving skills, which involves critical thinking and a methodical approach to problems, is essential. Consideration of various perspectives and potential outcomes before arriving at a solution is key to effectively addressing these challenges.

Effective communication remains a cornerstone of accounting. Whether you're writing reports, explaining financial concepts to clients or collaborating with colleagues, clear and concise communication is vital. Work on both your written and verbal communication skills.

Effective time management begins with prioritization. Use tools like to-do lists, calendars and project management software to organize your tasks. Identify high-priority tasks and tackle them first. Breaking down large tasks into manageable steps can also help maintain focus and productivity.

In the first year, you might feel pressured to work long hours to prove yourself. While dedication is important, it's equally vital to set boundaries. Clearly define your work hours and communicate them to your team. This practice helps prevent burnout and ensures you have time for personal activities.

At the same time, recognize the importance of delegating tasks when necessary. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, don't hesitate to discuss your workload with your supervisor. They can help redistribute tasks or offer additional resources. Learning to delegate not only eases your burden but also nurtures a collaborative environment, empowering team members to pool their skills and work together toward common objectives.

Regular breaks are essential for maintaining productivity and mental well-being. Use breaks to stretch, hydrate or take a short walk to recharge.

Equally, having a support system both at work and outside is crucial. Building relationships with colleagues can provide a network for professional support and advice. Outside of work, lean on friends and family for emotional support and to maintain a healthy social life.

Lastly, engaging in hobbies or physical activities outside of work can significantly reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Whether it's reading, hiking or playing a sport, make time for activities that bring you joy.

Your inaugural year as a CPA is a journey of growth and learning. Equipped with insights into what awaits, dedication to honing key skills and the adoption of effective time management and work-life balance strategies, you will navigate this transition successfully and with confidence. Remember, this journey is akin to a marathon, not a sprint. Take it one step at a time, seek guidance when needed and stay committed to your professional and personal growth. Congratulations once more on your success in passing the May 2024 CPALE, and best wishes to a successful career ahead!


Laurice Mae Calantas is the quality assurance review director of Paguio, Dumayas and Associates, CPAs (PDAC)-PrimeGlobal Philippines and a member of the ACPAPP. The views and opinions in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of these institutions.

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