#CareerConvos: My Career Advice for Students & New Professionals

Updated: May 9, 2021

While chatting in a Facebook group with my accounting friends, we were asked what advice would we give to accounting students and new professionals.

Here’s my career advice:

Before you say, "Ok Nikki, that sounds good but how do I do this?" Easy! Keep reading.....

Ask ALL the questions!

One of my favorite movies is Home Alone and creating this post reminds me of a clip from the opening scenes. As The McAllisters jet off to France for vacation, the driver is loading up their van. One of the neighbor's kids randomly appears and started asking the driver a thousand questions about vacation, what kind of engine the van had, if it had 4-wheel drive, and a plethora of things that he asked without coming up for air. Ok, take 35 seconds and watch the clip for context and a good laugh.

As uncomfortable and annoying as it may sound, ask questions. Ask Questions. ASK QUESTIONS! The mechanics of your work almost never mirror the textbooks and accounting projects that you did in undergrad so you will have to invest some time in understanding how things get done, what systems are used, and where your data sources are.

Another thing: embrace being a beginner. Keep in mind that being a beginner is a recurring circumstance - when you change jobs (internally and externally) or move into leadership roles or get promoted.

Don't change who you are to fit a job, find a job that loves you back.

I get it - this is so much easier said than done. We all have different motivations for taking new jobs, even if it isn't ideal. If you have to keep "covering" at work, you'll never fully be bringing your authentic self to work. It's hard trying to be something or appear to be something that you're not. What's the harm with showing the world who you really are? I bet there's a lot dopeness within you that we’d love to see!

To find that job that loves you back might take some trial and error. If so, that's totally OK - enjoy that ride. How do you even know what your dream job is? You might have to spend some time in diverse roles to discover what you love. If you don't know yet, that's OK too.

Have the audacity to learn.

You should be learning something everyday - not literally enrolling in a class but reading, listening to podcasts (like The WERKin' Mommas podcast), and journaling - to learn about yourself.

These days, learning on the job is more like baptism by fire. Don't be intimidated - you will learn a lot and learn fast. Don't be afraid to do your job. Here's a meeting scenario I'm sure you can relate to (if you havent seen it yet, just hold on):

I was in a meeting, mostly for my education and awareness. I wasn’t presenting or providing commentary, but nonetheless I was present. The thing about these kind of meetings is that oftentimes a few people can get caught up on a talking point and then it feels like it's only them in the room. The others, like myself, can get lost when they start talking about projects or mentioning phrases and acronyms you've never heard. In this situation people do 1 of 2 things:

  1. they either go along and stay lost in the sauce OR

  2. they pause and ask clarifying questions

With my own eyes and ears I know that most people tend to go with #1 where they choose to remain quiet, almost aloof to where you forget that they're there but me, being the disruptive millennial that I am, who is also intellectually curious, I’m pausing for clarity.

I was in a situation like this where 2-3 people got really deep into a conversation about something that many other participants weren’t familiar with. Totally random but let's call the topics “Applejacks.” I'm using Applejacks for simplicity but you can replace “Applejacks” with anything at your job that you're curious to learn about.

They continued this extended conversation about “Applejacks” - its performance, how it's impacting future plans, the teams involved, the budget and I'm sitting here like, "OK wait, what is Applejacks?" So I said, "I'm curious, what is Applejacks?" And 1 of the attendees said, "Oh yes, sorry, for those of you who may be new or unfamiliar with Applejacks here's the backstory..."

So me asking those clarifying questions did 2 things: first, it halted a side-conversation that had overtaken the entire meeting and secondly, it added value for others because there were other people in this meeting who had no idea what was being discussed, yet they lacked the courage or interest to speak up.

Actually it did 3 things: the 3rd one being it reminded my colleagues that I was there - that I was PRESENT. Why is that important? Because in my industry, I'm usually the ONLY - the only woman, the only black woman or person of color, the only millennial. It's getting better now but especially when I first came out of undergrad in 2004, I worked at a company where I was 22 years young and my peers were pushing 50!

One last thing regarding presence - it put people on notice like, “Oh ok, THAT'S Nicole.“ So in subsequent meetings, I felt like when I spoke or raised a question that I had everybody's attention because they knew I had the courage to speak up and the audacity to learn.

Unlike other functions, working in accounting & finance is unique. Everything the business does, for the most part, impacts our roles in some way. Whether it's closing the books and trying to figure out new expenses that hit the P&L and what they were for, or awareness of the discussions being had about investments, cost reductions, and systems, all these things impact our roles.

Also - don't rely on your employer to hold your hand and teach you everything. Learn inside your company of course, but explore outside the walls of your organization. Expand your network by joining professional organizations or participating in industry events.

What's your career question? Head over to the #CareerConvos section of my website and ask your question and I'll respond!