Competing with Accounting Peers
Periodic Reviews occur at many accounting firms after each job in which you exceed a certain number of hours (typically 20-40 for interns and 40-80 for full time hires). It's important to understand how you're rated before you start on your very first job. A bad review out of the gate can be hard (certainly not impossible) to recover from. If you are going to receive a rating (and even if you're not), I recommend you do the following three things:
1) Meet with the person who supervises you on day 1 or 2 to set expectations for performance, dress, hours, areas you will be working on, etc.
2) Ask for feedback, or find out what else you can help the team with at least twice per week. Try to do this when you are alone with your supervisor, not in front of the group as you want to get true feedback.
3) Before you leave the job, get verbal feedback on how you did, what can be improved, and when they will be willing to do your written review.
The annual review process differs between companies but the basics are the same. Top management (and if you’re a new employee to the industry, middle management) meets to discuss your performance and in many instances, stack you from top to bottom against your peers.
You usually don’t see who is first and who is last (although if a company is doing that, let me know) but many people share the results at the end of the year, especially if they’re upset with what they received.
I bring up the ratings and review process as it serves as the judgment for how you did when compared to others and is the substantive measure of how you competed with your co-workers.
Rating scales at companies can differ, however from what I have seen there is typically a 1-5 scale rating and depending on the company 5 could be the highest performer or the lowest performer. Let’s assume for the moment that a 5 is the highest rating. If you receive a 5 then you’ll be getting the top raise amongst your peers and the highest bonus, and you will most likely be selected for special projects, company development activities, and top clients.
I also think of it as a kind of “safety net,” wherein the highest rated people would usually be the last to get fired if a downsizing occurred.
There is room for everyone in your firm. When you work at an accounting firm or other consulting-type company, you are the revenue generating activity. When that’s the case, you can always build a position for yourself.
There are a myriad of positions available so don’t feel like you’re competing against your peers for a set number of opportunities. If you’re really good, you could create something that didn’t previously exist, particularly if you can sell to new clients.
There are successful tacticians who help build companies' technical skills and methodology frameworks. There are others who you can hardly trust to reconcile their own bank accounts, but are incredible when it comes to sales/marketing and client relationships. Others are great at motivating the team, building the business, and running operations. Find out what’s unique about you and what you would be passionate about.
Are you technically smart? Great with clients? Skilled in running the operations? Cultivate these unique skills rather than comparing yourself to others.
Bring to the table what you have that's different and something others cannot do. Win by be being yourself, not by destroying others. That is the key.
For some detailed things you can do to exceed the expectations of management, here are a few suggestions:
- Always do your current job first. You may want to stand out and show that you can take on new responsibility, but don’t let your core job suffer
- Find someone who has been successful at the company and reach out to them. Ask them to go to lunch and be your “unofficial mentor” (some companies assign you a mentor but it’s rarely the best person for you)
- Don’t have a mindset that you are trying to beat your peers, just try to be the most successful in your own right. Learn from others, take their advice, and learn their skills.
- Don’t stress when other people try to sabotage you. The sword they stick at you is often double edged and will come back to haunt them.
- Always volunteer for a new opportunity. People make fun of the word opportunity, believing it’s a euphemism for a new piece of drudge work that a higher up doesn’t want to do and is dumping on you. However, in my experience that’s hardly the case. It generally does mean more work, but usually much more growth.
- Maintain your connections outside your company and leverage those connections when you need to start selling work or when you’re ready to make the jump somewhere else. Your Rolodex can make for a soft landing.
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