Become A CPA

Become A CPA

A Journey to the Field

by Theresa Athappilly | Oct 09, 2013
My journey to the field of accounting was, in some ways, totally unexpected. As far back as I can remember, I dreamed of becoming a medical doctor. The business arena could not have been further from my mind, nor lower on my list. I was interested in the natural sciences and in mathematics. However, these only became genuine interests once I entered Nathan Hale High School. My sincere gratitude goes out to all the fabulous teachers who challenged and supported me. In my sophomore year, Hale offered an accounting class, but I scoffed at the idea of joining an elite group of bean counters. So, that opportunity was flung out the window. 

It wasn't until my sophomore year at the University of Washington that opportunity came knocking at my door once again. My schedule was nearly overflowing with biology and organic chemistry lectures and labs. This time, however, I took the opportunity, and experienced my first foray into the world of accounting through a class taught by William (Bill) Wells. The lecturer and the course itself were so incredibly different from their science counterparts. And I liked it. 

After a year of more business and science classes, I joined the Michael G. Foster School of Business at the UW and entered the Accounting concentration. But I continued with the pre-med track, taking upper division science and ethics classes, volunteering at the ER in Harborview, helping out in a pharmacology lab, etc. Business and Accounting were still only "Plan B" - until my final quarter at the UW. 

One of the last courses I had to take was on Auditing Standards and Principles, taught by Lisa Sedor. Few courses have left lasting impressions on me, and this was one of them. This professor-course package was single-handedly responsible for making me change my career plans. Getting an M.D. and saving lives -- as noble as those goals are -- no longer fueled me. I wanted to become a CPA and I wanted to audit. That fire was lit, and there was no putting it out. 

Before long, I signed up for a CPA exam prep course, which started on the day of my graduation. So, instead of joining my purple-gowned and tasseled colleagues at Husky Stadium in June 2010, I was studying for the FAR section of the four-part CPA exam. By Thanksgiving that year, I had completed and passed all the four parts of the CPA exam. There was so much for me to be thankful for (as clichéd as it might be, I cannot stress the importance of taking those exams sooner rather than later)! 

At this point, the only thing I was missing for my CPA license was the work experience. By January, I had begun my job search in earnest. Due to my earlier pre-med track, I had no prior accounting work experience. Despite my hot-off-the-press Bachelor's degree and my eagerness to hit the ground running, I was still looking for work in June 2011. During those six months, I had attended career fairs and workshops, submitted countless job applications, and attended several interviews. Yet, the results were less than optimal. Also during that time, my mom kept encouraging me to go out and network with people. 

Network? As in put yourself out there in the midst of so many strangers and beg for a job? Wrong. I found out that networking does not -- and should not -- have to be so intimidating. 

After I had passed the CPA exam, I decided to join the WSCPA, which has since opened many doors of opportunity for me. The first came in the form of the June 2011 Annual Meeting, where I was able to re-acquaint myself with Bill Wells after not having seen him for about 4 ½ years. Bill was the only person there whom I knew, so I ventured out to talk to him. Within half an hour, he introduced me to several amazing individuals (including Julleen Snyder, Audit Partner at Jacobson Jarvis & Co., PLLC). For the following couple months, I attended more WSCPA events. Sure enough, I met Bill once again on the WSPCA Argosy Cruise networking event in August 2011. And once again, he helped me expand my network by introducing me to a recruiter and former student of his. Within a matter of weeks, I was offered an audit position with the non-profit-focused Seattle-based CPA firm Jacobson Jarvis & Co., PLLC. 

The swiftness of events was only made possible by the fact that I was "in network" with individuals who knew my background and qualifications, and who, themselves, knew where to look for the opportunities. This, I think, is what networking was intended to be. Everyone has a network of friends and colleagues. The toughest part is plugging into those that add value for you. For those interested in accounting, I would highly recommend attending any of the WSCPA's vast selection of events (including the Annual Meeting). Any time you meet someone new -- or merely get reacquainted -- is an opportunity for you to expand your network. 

For both the field veterans and those who are new, go ahead, attend some WSCPA events and start your own journey or help someone down their own path. You can be surprised by the results. 

Now, I am a licensed CPA in the state of Washington. In my day-to-day activities as an auditor, I don't go around saving people as a doctor might. But with Jacobson Jarvis, I am able to serve several non-profit organizations, which, in turn, serve thousands of individuals. What a great mission to be a part of!

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