We did a wide-ranging interview with Michael Aukamp CPA, to find out what being an accountant is really like.
Some of Michael’s responses might be surprising to some. For instance, he identified creativity and good listening skills as two of the essential traits for his accounting career.
How did you discover you had a talent for business and accounting?
I have always enjoyed and excelled at maths and science, but was not interested in pursuing the “pure” fields of these subjects. Accounting has offered an opportunity to use my maths abilities, as well as working directly with clients.
How did your career unfold?
After graduation I started working at a mid-size accounting firm with about twenty accountants. After a few years, that firm splintered into two firms, and I decided to go with the smaller firm. I had worked most closely with those two partners at the old firm, and they offered me more learning opportunities and autonomy.
After several years as I developed my own clients, they admitted me as a partner to reflect my growing share of the practice. I am now a partner at Dunham, Aukamp and Rhodes.
If you had to define yourself vocationally in one sentence what would it be?
I do what I have to do to get the job done. In business, there are no excuses for missing deadlines or not completing a task. Hard work and creativity can really make a difference.
What has been your key (or keys) to success?
My clients tell me that I am the most patient person they have ever worked with. I truly listen to their needs, and try to explain what I am doing for them and why. This client education really helps them understand what we are trying to accomplish, and the benefit they receive from working with me.
Most accountants can do the same work as you can, so you have to find a way to stand out from the rest of them.
What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?
There are many different aspects to the accounting field, such as auditing and taxation, that you constantly meet interesting people and are presented with new challenges each day.
What are your favorite career achievements and why?
I am most proud of becoming a partner in a firm before I turned thirty. I think this reflects the hard work and dedication with which I approach my business.
Would you do anything differently if you could re-live your career up to this point again?
I would have tried harder to find an internship position while at university. This would have given me some work experience before graduation and make me more attractive to prospective employers.
Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?
I have an uncle who is a CPA and owns his own firm. I spent a lot of time with my cousins as I was growing up, and always looked up to and respected him. Also, my father has shown me the value of working hard and taking care of your family.
What are some common myths about accounting firm executives?
Accountants are generally typecast as boring and unimaginative. However, the best accountants typically are the ones who can think creatively within the boundaries of tax law and accounting standards.
The Actual Work
Describe a typical day of work for you.
A typical day usually involves many changes in the day’s plans. Clients frequently call with important questions and problems. It really requires you to focus on the task at hand while being responsive to the “interruptions” that occur.
How do accounting firms use technology?
Virtually all tax preparation is done via tax preparation software, and people usually file electronically. We also rely heavily on spreadsheet packages and word processing software.
What is the most popular software used by them?
There is a wide variety of tax software available, depending on the size and nature of your practice. Microsoft’s Excel and Word are pretty much the industry standard for other work.
What are the different business related specialties within the field of accounting?
Public accounting is generally divided into two specialties, tax and audit/accounting.
Is it important to collaborate with colleagues in the field?
It is very positive to network with other accountants. People may approach the same problem in different ways, so having experiences and practices to draw on may help to find a positive solution to a difficult problem.
How have your professional collaborations benefited your career?
Talking with other accountants has helped me point out my own weaknesses. When possible, I can then choose to work with someone from whom I can draw on their strengths.
Job Information and Advice
What are people at the top of this profession paid?
Once you become a partner in an accounting firm, you have the ability to control your own salary by how much work you bring in.
What is the average salary for your position in Australia?
Salaries can vary greatly by geographical location, but students entering public practice can typically expect starting salaries of between $45,000 and $55,000.
What are the top five employers to work for if you are a graduating accounting student?
Accounting students have a variety of employers they can choose from. You can enter public accounting and work for a CPA firm, either a large international firm or a small local one. There are also many opportunities in the private sector or for a government agency.
What are the hottest accounting specialties for the new decade?
Accounting for technology research and development and start-up companies can be interesting, and poses quite a challenge to satisfy business owners, investors and government regulators.
What are the best ways to find a job in accounting?
You should try to find out information about your potential employer before you apply and try to pick one that best fits your abilities and personality. Try talking with friends and recent graduates about their experiences with their employer to narrow your choices.
Describe your ideal job candidate and your nightmare job candidate.
The ideal candidate is someone who has a good appearance and is eager and energetic. Good grades are helpful, but grades are not always indicative of a person’s true abilities to perform.
Be confident in yourself, but no overly so. You can train a hard-working person into a good employee, but you cannot change their attitude.
What ways can graduating students gain an advantage?
Finding a firm that offers internship positions can give you experience in practical applications in accounting.
How available are internships in this field?
All firms are different, so I would encourage checking around in your area. An energetic student in the latter stages of their degree should have little difficulty finding someone to give them an opportunity. Plus, internships frequently serve as auditions, and may lead to full-time employment after graduation.
How is the job market now for the accounting industry? How about in 5 years?
The currently is a shortage of qualified accountants in the industry. The technology sector has drained a lot from the talent pool, and the education requirements for certification may be scaring some people away. I would expect this trend to continue over the next five years.
Education Information and Advice
Tell us about your education.
I have a Bachelor Degree in Accounting, with a minor in Management Information Systems.
What did you like and dislike about your accounting related education?
I found the study of accounting quite interesting. It is almost like learning a new language with its own vocabulary and structure.
How does a prospective accounting student assess their skill and aptitude for this field?
A solid maths background is helpful, as well as basic computer skills. Try taking an entry level accounting class to see if the subject interests you, and speak to those already in the profession about their work.
What factors did you consider when choosing a university?
Prospective employers have limited time and information to find out about you from your resume, so university reputation can be a factor. I also looked at the business school’s size and geographic location to be certain that it would provide the right environment for my learning.
If someone has a knack for accounting already, should they go to school for it and why?
Although there are tax and bookkeeping jobs available in the field for those without advanced education, a university degree is required to become a CPA.
What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in accounting?
Selecting the right university is an important first step. Research the business school and visit the campus while uni is in session to see if it is a good fit. Talk to current students while you are there about what they think of the campus and professors.
When is it a good idea to go after a post-graduate degree in accounting?
An accounting background can benefit everyone working in a business profession. An advanced degree is typically more beneficial to individuals working in the government or private sector rather than in public accounting.
What should accounting students try to get out of their education?
When you start your first job, your learning is still just beginning. There is so much about accounting that cannot be taught at university, but only through experience. A solid knowledge and understanding of the principles of accounting is imperative so that time can be spent on more advanced training.
Can you give us a super condensed, history of accounting?
Accounting started out as handwritten ledgers using pencil and paper, and has evolved into a heavy reliance on technology. This has helped speed the flow and processing of data, making business more dynamic than it has ever been.
How has the online accounting services affected your profession?
More people have begun preparing their own tax returns on computer software, and filing electronically, taking away some of the lower level tax work.
What are some of the trends that you see in the world of accounting which could help students plan for the future?
There is more information available online, so I believe, as in most industries, computers will play a key role. Tax filing and accounting research can be done online with great speed and accuracy.
Learn more: Accounting career paths and job types