Find the Hat

John McCaskill

Are the organization’s policies achieving the desired ends? There are multiple ways to emphasize the lessons from the following parable, but in this instance, I would like to focus on emphasizing the need for flexibility in applying rules. A little empathy can go a long way toward avoiding “principle-agent” issues in the workplace and keeping everyone focused on growing a prosperous organization. The name of this story is “Find the Hat.”

A few generations back, it was common for men to wear a fedora with a suit. A paving equipment manufacturer required its salesmen to wear a suit, tie, and yes, fedora when they went on customer calls.

One particularly windy day, one of the salesmen was on an asphalt paving job site discussing the purchase of machinery with a potential customer when a gust of wind blew his hat off his head and into a patch of molten asphalt. When the salesman recovered the hat, it was completely ruined. That evening, when completing the day’s paperwork, he filed an expense report to recover the cost of the hat. Upon receipt of the expense report for the hat, the accounting clerk dutifully informed the salesman that costs for personal items were not reimbursable and the expense report was rejected.

The salesman thought there had to be an exception to that policy if a personal item was damaged in performance of activities on behalf of the company, so he wrote a lengthy explanation of the circumstances involving the destruction of the hat and resubmitted the expense report. This time the response was more severe. “Costs for personal items are not reimbursable.  YOU ARE NEVER GETTING MONEY FOR THIS HAT!” The salesman shook his head and then filed a third expense report with a brief note at the bottom: “Find the hat.”

The moral of this story is not the encouragement of cheating on expense reports. The point is that we need to consider what the ends are that we are hoping to achieve with our policies and the enforcement of them. Are we working together in the interests of the company or are we using policy as a method to settle scores and keep others in their place?

This goes back to a post I’ve written earlier regarding a positive attitude toward colleagues. Should the clerk have ignored the rules and just processed the expense report? Probably not, but there could have been alternatives suggested to ameliorate the issue – being harsh obviously didn’t help.

This anecdote ties back to the idea of being positive instead of negative. We should look for ways to be supportive instead of looking for ways to say no. The culture in many companies pits one group against the other with the mistaken idea that competition will bring out the best outcomes. The moral is to demonstrate empathy and pull together. Don’t weaponize the rules to increase your own sense of power – doing so can backfire and lead to unforeseen adverse outcomes. The organization is much more successful when we pull together versus pushing against each other.

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Turning Micro-level Actions into Macro-level Outcomes

John McCaskill

A question you might ask yourself when reading about transformational leaders is, “How does that relate to anything I have control of in my place in the organization?” The answer is at once surprising and inspiring: exert influence on your organization’s social architecture. That may seem a bit obtuse, but it’s actually quite simple: influence the culture, or “the way we do things around here.”

Hal Rainey (2014), a noted management scholar, reviewed several studies of the techniques used by transformational leaders. Those are leaders that “raise their followers goals to a higher planes” (Rainey 2014, 349).  To get their organizations to change and follow the new vision they have, transformational leaders use one particular leverage point that all organizations have in common. They use the organization’s culture to get individuals to release their orientation on their own narrow self-interest in favor of the organization as a whole.

This demonstrates that the culture of an organization is a point of leverage for influence. If you want to change an organization, change the culture. If this strategy is what makes the transformational leaders of exceptional organizations successful, then why not use it at lower levels? Great question; the answer is, we should!

By bringing a positive and engaged persona to work each day, we influence our organization’s culture for the better. Be empathetic to those in your working group without being a pushover. Be respectful, and open to new ideas. We have powerful influences on each other. Stanley Milgram showed that negative peer role models gave others incentive to do horrible things (Check out the Milgram experiments online). He also proved that one person providing a positive role model had an extremely positive outcome – those that saw one person resist negative actions encouraged others to do the same. Be that positive influence in your group. Avoid close-mindedness and resistance to change, in favor of thoughtful input presented in a respectful way.

There are many ways to disagree. You can be insulting, injecting ad hominem attacks into your argument, or you can be respectful of the person or group with the opposing view, while still providing an evidenced based counter to their arguments. If this sounds like advocacy for political correctness, it is. You can present differing points of view without being difficult. The best way to win people over to your side – and display leadership – is to present reasoned arguments and then listen. The impact you will make on your group’s culture will be profound. You will be the person that can reach agreement and get things done.

To summarize, the way the most successful leaders leverage their position is to focus on culture. The way an individual, at any level of an organization, can influence culture is to bring respect, curiosity, and an open mind to work each day. Modeling positive behaviors, coupled with successful outcomes, leads to imitation. That is how micro-level actions turn into macro-level outcomes.

Rainey, Hal G. 2014. Understanding and managing public organization, 5th edition. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

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Accept New Challenges and Attain Your CPA – Even If You’re Older!

Student blogger: Jason Huber

Don’t hesitate to continue learning as you get older. I am forty-seven years old and attending the University of Texas at Dallas studying accounting. I was a traditional student at the University of Oklahoma in the nineties. I completed a degree in economics because I enjoyed studying the subject. At that time, I thought I would never study accounting. I would talk to business students that were majoring in accounting and strongly believed I would never have anything to do with the accounting field. Ultimately, I completed my degree in economics and entered the workforce.

When I entered the workforce after college, I learned that I enjoyed working in accounting. I worked diligently over the years and decided to attain a CPA license to move my career forward. When I went back to school, I felt a little self-conscious being around people half my age in the classroom. Also, I noticed that I learned a little slower than in my twenties, but I do not have any regrets going back to school to attain a second bachelor’s degree. I always enjoyed learning new things, and overall, I enjoy being in school again attaining new skills.

The other students are very accepting of someone that is not a traditional student. I enjoy being around these students and feel I can provide a perspective that only age can provide. Everyone learns more as they move through life, and all of a person’s past experiences aggregate to create a world view that matures and changes over the years. Hopefully my experiences in the past can give a different perspective to a traditional student in their twenties.

If a person is thinking about taking the coursework necessary to attain their CPA, I would encourage them to work towards their goal at any age. It is truly never too late to learn new skills and grow professionally. Don’t avoid new experiences that can assist you professionally. These new opportunities for growth may make you feel a little uncomfortable, but these new experiences will create rewards for the rest of your life.

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What Does it Take to be a Good Leader?

UTD blogger: William King

Some people may think that being a leader means you just get to boss people around and tell them to do this or that. That is not the case. At least not the quality of a good leader. Being a leader is much like being a team player. I will be showing you three principles that can and will help you become a good leader.

1. Lead by example

First and foremost is to lead by example. A good leader can demonstrate a path to success. When a leader is doing all of the right things, he/she seems more apt to be a leader. No one wants to the follow a person that is on the wrong path, so if a leader shows an inability to complete their task, how can they inspire and encourage others to complete theirs?

2. Inspire and encourage

A good leader must know how to inspire a team and encourage them to get the task completed.

Inspiring a team is one of the hardest tasks for a leader because people are inspired by different things and, even if everyone has a goal to be successful, people often have their own ideology of success.

3. Listen and adapt

Yes, even leaders have to listen if they want to be considered a good leader. They have to not only hear but also listen to everyone’s thoughts and ideas. If there is an issue, they are responsible for changing the situation to better the team environment. Making the situation ideal for everyone will increase team productivity.

These principles show that being a leader is more than just being the boss and bossing people around. A leader must be able to conduct themselves in many ways to be successful.  If you follow these simple principles, you yourself can become a great leader too.

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Why did I choose accounting?

By: Johnny Fu, student at The University of Texas at Dallas

When I was a kid, I always wanted to do something in the business world since my parents had their own business back in my home country. During my senior year in high school, I took an accounting course and I fell in love with the subject.  I knew that I was going to study this in college. Also, there are a lot of job opportunities in this field. My main goal for obtaining my bachelor’s in accounting is to open my own firm and have my own business someday. First, I must be able to pass the CPA Exam before this can happen.

Future goals after getting my bachelor’s in accounting.

My future goal after achieving a bachelor’s degree in accounting is to work for a company for a year. While working for a company, I would like to go back to school to complete my master’s degree and complete the requirements to take the CPA Exam. After obtaining my CPA license, I will slowly start a firm.

Between my CPA and my own firm, I would like to gain some experience working for a Big Four firm. We hear a lot about these firms in school and I know the experience will be beneficial. Getting this job is hard, but I have a few ideas to tackle this goal.

One of them is to go back to school and obtain my master’s degree in accounting and pass the CPA Exam. This will help me get my foot in the door to work for these firms. Beyond the education part, I must get the experiences in the field and start networking with other accountants. The more experiences I get and the more I can network, the better chances I have to open doors for a job and for my future goals. Everyone should have a plan, and this is mine for now.

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A Few Takeaways From My Undergraduate Career

Student Blogger: Ashesh Pandit

I will be graduating in December 2018 with my Bachelor’s in Accounting. When I look back, I want to share some of the things that I learned during my undergraduate career that might be helpful for freshman and sophomore students. Also, how to use the available resources effectively. I will divide this into five parts:

1) Student Organizations and Networking: If you are an accounting major, you should at least be a member of a professional student organization like Beta Alpha Psi and/or IIA/ACFE Student Chapter. Through these organizations, you can attend professional meetings and volunteer events. Since they invite new companies to each meeting, you will learn about company culture, their experiences, what accounting jobs look like in the real world, things employers look for when hiring, the differences between audit and tax, what it’s like working in Big Four accounting firms versus smaller companies, what you can do to better prepare while you’re a student, and more!

You can also have conversations with professionals from these companies and connect with future mentors. Overall, it will help you to engage in a conversation, team work, network and have a basic perspective on what’s coming ahead in your career.

2) Job/Internship Fairs: You will have lot of job and internship fairs during your undergraduate period. If you just want to collect pens, flyers and other stuff, there is no point in going to these fairs. I know it’s crowded, and you may think you don’t have enough time for long conversations, but it’s worthwhile to attend.

First, research the companies that will be at the fair and pick a few that best interest you. You should not be stopping at every booth just to say “hi,” hand them a resume, and collect a flier that will end up in the trash. The point is to ask meaningful questions from your research, learn about career opportunities and listen to them carefully. Also, it’s a good idea to co-relate to interesting things outside of work like hobbies so that they remember you. At the end of the conversation, you should ask for their business card and connect with them on LinkedIn within a couple of days. It’s a good idea to send a short message saying, “we met at ____ internship fair and we talked about ____and ____.”

Always keep this in mind: all the networking that you do now doesn’t have to benefit you right now. Some of them might help you land your dream job or a better opportunity years down the road.

3) Excel Knowledge is Must: No matter how big or small of a company you work with, and no matter how sophisticated their accounting software is, you will still be using a lot of Excel functions. An accounting job is not complete without Excel/spreadsheets. There will be a lot of reconciliations, accruals and amortization in Excel. You will use these functions like pivot table, v-look up, sum if, what if, filter, grouping, index, concatenate, if error and analyzing functions in depth. If you have advanced Excel knowledge or certifications, this will put you a few steps ahead of others. Also, if you are good with Excel, this is how you will be well-known in your new company.

4) Financial Statement Analysis and QuickBooks Online Class: I suggest every accounting student take these two classes. This will help you connect all the accounting dots you learned in different classes and give you a bigger picture. I didn’t have a good understanding of accounting until I took these two classes.

There was a group project in Financial Statement Analysis where we had to study 10K filings of three competing companies for the last three years and analyze their income statement, balance sheet, ratios for profitability, liquidity, debt paying ability, investor analysis and post period analysis. You will be amazed at the understanding you get by doing this project.

Another class is QuickBooks Online. In this class, you do chapter projects every week that simulate real-world situations. You will enter business transactions for every month and do the month-end closing procedures. The best part is that you can see the report and understand what effect each entry has in the overall reports. You can see the magic of journal entry happening behind the scenes. The projects build on each other so that you can compare and corelate it to prior months and recurring entries like amortization for prepaids, interest expense, depreciation expense, etc. All the accounting terminology made better sense to me after taking the QuickBooks class. I feel like all the schools should make these classes mandatory.

5) Do Not Wait for CPA/Master: Are you graduating soon and can not decide if you should continue your master’s and take the CPA exam or if you should wait and gain working experiences for a couple years? I asked this question to more than 12 CPAs and the majority said you should not wait to take the CPA exam as there will be unforeseen circumstances, you will not have enough time and it just gets harder to get back into your study habits.

You will have a fresh memory to take the test if you decide to take it as soon as you complete your bachelor’s degree. On top of that, the pay increase is at least $10K to 2$0K. So, if you want to make a career in public accounting, the CPA just adds more value and you should plan to get the CPA designation as soon as possible.

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Essential Tips to Prepare for an Interview

Student blogger: Khadija Moten

The first question that pops into a student’s mind once they get an interview is what do they do next?

Well, in my experience, if you have multiple interviews for an internship or a full-time job you should keep a journal to keep track of the dates, times and locations of the interviews so you don’t confused or end up double booking an interview for the same date or time. It is crucial that one is organized when it comes to recruiting because that can be a stressful and chaotic period.

The first thing I would recommend is to research the company you are interviewing with. This can be done by visiting their website, looking them up on LinkedIn, talking to people you know who have worked there or even exploring the company on Google for any articles that they were mentioned in. Through this step, you will be able to come up with several personalized questions that will make you seem like you did your homework, will make you look credible and will show your interviewer that you are genuinely interested in the certain position you applied for. A general example of a question may include:

Your firm (mention the name) was voted best place to work by Vault in 2017. In your opinion, what makes this a good place to work?

Moreover, if you know the person you are interviewing with beforehand, then you should gather some information about them through LinkedIn and ask questions according to their experience. This will not only help you establish a rapport with them, but it will also aid in making a connection with them. Some examples may include:

What is your favorite office tradition?

OR

You have been with the firm for over 10 years. What do you think are some opportunities the firm will face in the coming years?

OR

I see that you have a number of years of accounting experience (be it in the private or public industry). What attracted you to this firm (mention name)?

OR

What are some initiatives that you would like your firm (mention name) to take up for their community service aspect?

Your goal should be to steer the conversation away from a business facet so you can stand out and are easily remembered because this will indicate that you tried to talk to them about something that you and him/her clicked on. This could be a variety of things which will show that you are able to keep a conversation going smoothly and are personable. Additionally, you will be able to show them your personality and the things that are important to you.

You also have to focus on making your resume as perfect as possible and try to showcase your skills that will assist you in doing your job. Highlight your work and leadership experience and come up with examples that indicate how you will be an asset to the firm. It is also a good idea to come up with a short elevator pitch that you will use to introduce yourself when you meet your interviewer. This could include your name, major, and things that you want your interviewer to know. It can also be important details that you want your interviewer to have knowledge of and may comprise of either volunteer work or your future plans and what you wish to achieve.

One question that terrifies people is: “Tell me about yourself.” This is because people do not like talking or bragging about themselves. To really get the answer down, it is vital to first understand what point you want to convey. Do you want your interviewer to know your background, what exact event shaped you into the person you are today or simply why you chose your major and what you wish to accomplish? So, my advice would be to stay calm while answering this question and be true to yourself.

The night before an interview, I would have my clothes ready and ironed, a pad folio or folder with questions prepared and at least five resumes printed because you never know how many people will interview you and you want to be on the safe side.

Deciding what to wear to an interview can be a dilemma for women. For men, it is fairly easy because it is usually a suit with a tie. For women it can be numerous things.

First, all interviews require professional dress unless strictly specified so you could consider wearing a pant suit or a skirt suit. If you are wearing a skirt suit then you have to keep in mind that the length of the skirt is appropriate and conservative so when you sit down, you feel comfortable and are covered properly for a professional setting.

Furthermore, try to wear a blouse or a button-down shirt that does not have a low neck, is not sheer and is not ripped. Women also have to keep in mind to wear comfortable shoes that they can walk in which may include ballet flats or heels (pumps). Men have to keep in mind to polish their shoes. In addition, both men and women should make sure that their suits are neat, tidy and pressed to make them seem like they’re dressed for the part and determined to ace their interview.

Lastly, all you have to do is arrive at least five minutes before your interview, have a positive mindset and be determined to succeed and impress your interviewer. If you follow all these steps, then there is no stopping you from getting that offer and fulfilling your dreams.

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