After several years of college and numerous years of school before that, you’re finally ready to dip your toes (or jump headfirst) into the real world. As a recent accounting graduate, you likely have a few preconceived ideas of what your life is going to look like once you start your first job. Let’s talk about what you can expect starting out (including some of the harsher realities), how you can navigate the CPA Exam, and how you can live a fulfilling life in the “real world”.

Starting your first job

Be prepared to work

Gone are the days where recent accounting graduates simply got coffee and made copies. You’re going to hit the ground running in your new job, whether you work for a public accounting firm or are starting out in the industry. Be prepared to take notes, learn, and apply the skills you built up in school to your new position. When you jump in feet first, your co-workers and managers will notice.

Just because it isn’t busy season doesn’t mean you won’t be busy

“Busy season” in the traditional sense refers to public accounting. But whether you work in audit, tax or industry, the first few months of the year are going to include several long days and short weekends. But that doesn’t mean it will be the only busy time of year.

One of the appeals of accounting seems to be that once busy season is over, it’s smooth sailing for the rest of the year. But don’t be surprised if you have plenty of work every month. Between companies with fiscal years ending at various times and tax and audit issues that last all year, you’ll have plenty to do once summer rolls around. Go into your job with the mindset that you’ll be constantly learning and growing, and working hard all year won’t come with as much sticker shock.

Learn to work with a fluctuating schedule

Having already discussed your busy schedule, it’s time to look at the other side of the coin. There are going to be entire days where you don’t have much to do. Accounting work fluctuates throughout the year, and sometimes you simply won’t have any work on your plate. So – what do you do?

You have two options: you can let the boredom and frustration set in, or you can use this time to grow personally and professionally. If you’re studying for the CPA Exam, use these days to further your study. If you’ve been eyeing a course to grow your career, see if you can incorporate it into your free time. Or, find a passion that helps fill up that time, like an online coding course. Free time is a great time to grow; just make sure you let your manager know beforehand so she knows you’re using your free time to develop your skills.

Learn to set boundaries for yourself

Make no mistake, you want to work hard and prove yourself in your career. But it’s good to set work boundaries early on to save you from having to back out of preconceived ideas about how you work in the future. For example, unless you’re required, don’t have email on your phone. And try to be diligent about your office hours. Don’t stay at the office just to look good even if you have nothing to do. If you do, your boss may start to expect this. Years down the road, you don’t want to be expected to answer emails at all hours of the day or night, or to work ten hour days every day. You want to dive into your job and show you’re serious about your career, but you never want to do it while sacrificing your own well-being.

Find connection with your coworkers

Accountants can be a pretty fun group of people! Take the time to go to happy hours or volunteer events with your coworkers. Developing good relationships with your coworkers early on will make your job a lot more fun. Many people don’t enjoy their jobs because they don’t enjoy the relationships they have at work; by developing those connections now, you’re more likely to enjoy your job in the long term.

Figuring out the CPA Exam

Use the summer for the CPA Exam (if possible)

Many companies offer positions starting in the fall after you graduate. If you have the entire summer off before you start your new job, use it to knock out a couple of sections of the CPA Exam! Even if you start work in June, the summer likely won’t be crazy busy, so use some of your free work time to study.

As a recent accounting graduate, using your last summer of freedom to study or the CPA Exam may not sound very appealing, but you’ll thank yourself later. You’ll have a lot of free time to study.

Finish the exam before busy season

Set yourself up early on to pass all four parts before Busy Season if you can. If that seems too daunting, at least try to finish up an exam section before busy seasons starts. If that seems too daunting, at least try to finish up an exam section before busy seasons starts.

Don’t beat yourself up

Passing all four parts of the CPA Exam before busy season isn’t an easy feat. That gives you 7 months after graduation to pass all four parts. So if it doesn’t happen, don’t worry about it. You can try to study on your days off during busy season, or you can take the time off and come back to studying once the spring rolls around. The key here is to create a schedule. Pick a day you’re going to jump back into studying and stick to that date. If you have to study for the CPA Exam during busy season, don’t worry, we have some tips to help you out.

Find your motivation

The hardest part about passing the CPA Exam is finding the motivation to keep going when the going gets tough. You need to have a pretty solid reason for taking the exam. So what’s your reason? Is it to grow your career? To make more money? To provide a good life for your family? Really dig deep to find your “why,” and then refer to it whenever you’re feeling like you want to give up.

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Discovering who you are

Keep an open mind

In college, it’s easy to think you know who you are, but once you’re introduced to a job and real life you start to learn even more about yourself. Life is all about discovery; if you don’t like your current position or want to branch out in the business world, remember, as a recent accounting graduate with a degree and CPA certification, you can take your career in a variety of different directions. Finance, management, and operations jobs are all available to those with a solid accounting background.

CPAs are also highly suited to start their own businesses or work with others to start businesses, whether in accounting or another field because they are very adept at the numbers behind a business. So, keep an open mind. What you’re doing in ten years may be vastly different than you imagined or expected, and that’s totally okay. Find your passion and follow it.

Find your hobbies outside of work

Once real life starts, it’s very easy to fall into a routine where you go to work, you come home, you hang out, you go to bed, you get up and start over. And on some days, this is just what you need. But do it for long enough, and you’ll find the monotony starts to drain you. Self-care comes in plenty of forms, and one of them is finding passions outside of work you can cultivate. Maybe this means joining a local sports league or creating a garden in your backyard you can come home to every day. Focus on what recharges you after the end of a workday and build more of it into your life.

Look for a mentor

Mentors can take on many forms. They can be within your chosen career or outside of it, but all mentors will help you discover and achieve your goals. Look for someone who inspires you and approach them about mentoring you. Make it a priority to sit down with them once a month to discuss your goals, the steps you’ve taken to achieve them, your setbacks and failures, and your future. They’ll be able to give you concrete advice and, more than anything, they’ll be able to keep you motivated to reach and grow in your personal and professional life.

Real-life can be a little scary, but with a few tips and tricks, you can jump into it ready for anything. As a recent accounting graduate, you have a huge variety of career paths you can take; now is the time to have some fun, enjoy your job, find your passion, and follow it to a career you love.

Ryan Hirsch serves as a Director of Market Development at Surgent CPA Review, focusing on Surgent’s curriculum solution, University Pass. Ryan previously worked at the National Association of State Boards and Accountancy (NASBA) where he managed the Ethical Leadership Training and Development Division. Ryan has a Master of Education degree in Leadership and Organizational Performance from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, and a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media Arts from Clark Atlanta University.