March 2013


The economy is slowly but surely making its way towards recovery: Now is the time to plan for the next step in your career. Below are a few tips that will help you along the road to success:

Know your industry
According to the Department of Labor, accounting firms are expected to see an average of about 27% growth each year between now and 2014. So what are some of the causes and the effects of this increasing demand? As the economy continues to grow, so will many businesses—which means that the need for accounting and finance will continue to increase as well. With so many available opportunities approaching, it’s good to take a step back and look at the big picture of your industry.

Know your tools
Since technology is constantly changing and improving, staying updated with the latest functions and plug-ins for your everyday tools is essential for optimal productivity. Whether it is a new interface, latest app, or just a strong grounding in excel for accountants, be sure to take the time to brush up on your software skills.

Know your material
Things like financial statements are more impactful if the users of the statements can make better decisions. Yet many financial statements land in a file somewhere and that is the end of it. Adding analysis of ratios, trends and comparisons allow accountants to gain more actionable knowledge, and communicate them to other departments.

Know your people
Those who aspire to be leaders in their company (CFO or Controller position) must  know beyond the numbers and programs; they must also be able to communicate with the people they work with. This includes people outside of the accounting and finance department, who require more explanation of numbers.    So in order to obtain a leadership role, develop your emotional intelligence and communication tactics as well as your financial and technical skills.

To provide you with the tools you’ll need to advance in your career, CPE Link has designed a special CFO Success Package complete with courses on excel, financial statements, and leadership training.

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In our previous post, we talked about the core competencies for interviewing. In the following post, we apply those compentencies in a step-by-step break down of how to conduct a successful interview.

1.
 Break the ice
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as an interviewer is to immediately sit down and start hammering the interviewee with questions. Everyone needs a little time to get used to each other; you need to feel out the personality of the interviewee and he needs a moment to acknowledge that you aren’t that intimidating after all. So, start with something non-threatening and build common ground with the interviewee.

2. Brief the interviewee
Tell the client the objective of the audit and the purpose of the interview. Tell him what you hope to accomplish with this meeting. Then ask him if he has any questions. This makes sure he is clear on what you are doing and establishes more equal footing—more of a peer-to-peer relationship. Also tell the client about your status on the audit. Are you the in-charge or the staff person? Who do you answer to? This is another equalizer and folks always like to know the status of the person they are communicating with.

3. Obtain background information from auditee
Here is the interviewee’s chance to show his feathers—or establish his status. Giving the interviewee a chance to tell you more about himself goes a long way to reducing his fear. Sharing about his role in the company slowly levels the playing field and makes him feel more confident and trusting. Ask him to tell you about his:

  •  Job title
  • Scope of responsibility
  • Tenure

4. Ask interviewee if he has any questions
Before you begin with your questions, it is a good idea to ask the interviewee for his questions. Get all that baggage out of the way so you can have a clear, focused conversation. How you phrase this makes a difference. Ideally, you ask, “What are your questions?” This has a much more welcoming and non-judgmental tone than, “Do you have any questions?”, “Do you understand?”, or “Is there anything you need to say?” Each of the last three questions could be construed as mildly condescending.

5. Questioning
Here is where you get down to business. It is time for you to get answers to your most pertinent questions.  Instead of using a questionnaire filled with closed-ended yes/no questions, try using some open ended ones. It will make your interview more conversational and less like an  interrogation.

6. Summarize and paraphrase
Paraphrasing does several powerful things:

  •  It lets the interviewee know that you respect him enough to listen.
  •  It makes sure you “got it”.
  • It allows him to change his mind and save face by saying, “Oh, no. You misunderstood. What I meant to say was…”

The response to each significant question should be summarized or paraphrased as well as the results of the entire interview.

7. Close
After you have asked your questions and summarized the results verbally—basically parroted the main points of the interview back to the interviewee—you are ready to leave. But don’t just stand up and walk out the door. A little ritual is necessary here to maintain happy client relations.

Before you leave, you need to:

  •  Explain what happens next
  • Leave the door open for follow-up
  • Ask if the interviewee has any questions
  • Leave your business card
  • Say “Thank you”

8. Documenting the interview
Write down everything from your interview before you forget.  Don’t worry about formatting it or grammatical correctness, just write it all down. You can go back and edit it after your coffee break.

The information in this list was pulled from Leita Hart-Fanta’s  Essential Skills for the Government Auditor. To learn more about the role of the Auditor, be sure to check out her course.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us are not naturally good at interviewing. The first few times you conduct an interview may feel awkward, and you never know what to ask. All you want to do is get to the bottom of your list of questions so everyone can go back to their daily routines. Thankfully, our instructor Leita Hart-Fanta has put together a list of skills and competencies every auditor needs in order to conduct interviews and build client relationships.

Eleven competencies for interviewing
1. Analyze background materials
Coming into an interview unprepared can backfire on you. The client does not feel respected if you don’t know their name and the names of the others in the organization to whom you have already spoken. You should also be aware of this person’s job responsibilities and the objectives of their department.  Write everyone’s name down on a pad of paper and take it with you to the interview. Take an organization chart with you. Use whatever you need to jog your memory so that you show respect to the client.

2. Assure preparation of the meeting site
You called the meeting; therefore you are responsible for making sure that the meeting is held in an environment that is conducive to communicating. If the client is distracted or unable to concentrate on your questions because the environment is chaotic, noisy, or uncomfortable, then you – the leader of the meeting – need to do something to remedy the situation.

3. Establish and maintain credibility
Your credibility as an auditor will never come from knowing how the client’s accounts payable process works. You will never know their job as well as they do, nor should you or should they expect you to! Your credibility comes from knowing how an audit works and always having a “plan” – a clear next step, a confidence that lets the client know that you know what you are doing in terms of your job.

You can admit – and I suggest that you admit it frequently – that you don’t know the details about their job. Hesitate to admit that you don’t know what happens next on the audit or why you are asking certain questions. This alternative source of credibility – your knowledge of auditing – is what allows a 23-year-old to audit a 60-year-old finance executive’s job functions.

4. Manage the emotional and physical environment
If the client is upset over something, it won’t do you any good to keep hammering her with questions. As a matter of fact, it can do quite a bit of damage.

5. Demonstrate effective communication and presentation skills
This isn’t anything fancy. You just need to present your best self to the client. That self is clear spoken and energetic. You can go back to your desk later and rest or be bored. But in front of the client, you set the tone for the meeting and manner which it is conducted. It is a good idea to have an agenda and communicate that to the client up front. An agenda also helps you keep the meeting on track.

6. Demonstrate effective questioning skills
Close-ended questions get terse, close-ended responses. Build in open-ended questions that encourage the client to share. You do not have to have a witty follow-up question prepared for every statement the client makes. If you are worried about your next witty follow-up question, you aren’t listening… the focus of our next competency.

7. Demonstrate effective listening skills
If your mouth is moving, you aren’t listening. In most interviews, 90% of the words should be coming out of the client’s mouth.

8. Provide clarification and feedback
The client will be much more comfortable with you if you allow them to participate in the conversation by asking for their feedback and making sure they are clear about your audit objectives. A few well-placed, “What are your questions?” go a long way to build relationships and clear the air of any uncertainty or unpleasantness.

9. Record results in a clear manner
After an interview, get right back to your desk and document what was discussed. Don’t stop for coffee; don’t go to lunch. Sit down and type what you found out. Every minute between the interview and the typing is another chunk of your memory gone! You can edit and tweak it later to fit the format that your supervisor or manager prefers.

10. Resolve all outstanding issues
Sometimes, the client brings up things in an interview that don’t fit neatly into the scope of your audit. Unfortunately, we can’t just let those things simply “hang out” in our interview documentation. We must resolve them formally: report them, discuss them, add them to our audit plan, create a separate project for them, or formally include them in next year’s audit planning.

11. Evaluate interviewer’s performance
To get better at anything, you have to do a little self-examination. After each interview, ask yourself whether you did your best or whether there is anything you would want to change for your next interview. Interviewing is a competency that is learned by correcting mistakes and practicing.

Need to further sharpen your interview skills? Our next blog post will go over how to conduct a successful interview step by step. If you feel like you’ve already got enough interview experience under your belt and want to  learn more about what it takes to be a great Government Auditor, check our Leita Hart-Fanta’s course Essential Skills for the Government Auditor (You can even earn 9 CPE hours).

Hiding and unhiding rows and columns are mundane tasks that many users take for granted. However, sometimes simple tasks can trip up Excel users, like unhiding just one row or column within a hidden set. Other users don’t know simple keystroke commands that can streamline hiding and unhiding columns or rows. In this article, I’ll explore these techniques as well as discuss two powerful alternatives to manually hide and unhide rows and columns. I’ll also discuss how to re-enable an Excel keyboard shortcut that’s disabled in any operating system subsequent to Windows XP.
Continue reading at AccountingWEB.

This article is written by one of our esteemed Instructors, David Ringstrom. David is a CPA and owner of Accounting Advisors, Inc., an Atlanta-based spreadsheet consulting firm that he started in 1991. Throughout his career David has spoken at conferences on Excel, and written dozens of freelance articles about spreadsheets. He presently writes for AccountingWEB.com, and offers Excel training and consulting services nationwide.

Last week we went over the Advantages of Budgeting, yet we did not discuss the number of serious disadvantages. This week’s article gives an overview of the general issues, while the following sections address the particular problems associated with capital budgeting, as well as the use of budgets within a command and control management system.

  • Inaccuracy. A budget is based on a set of assumptions that are generally not too far distant from the operating conditions under which it was formulated. If the business environment changes to any significant degree, then the company’s revenues or cost structure may change so radically that actual results will rapidly depart from the expectations delineated in the budget. This condition is a particular problem when there is a sudden economic downturn, since the budget authorizes a certain level of spending that is no longer supportable under a suddenly reduced revenue level. Unless management acts quickly to override the budget, managers will continue to spend under their original budgetary authorizations, thereby rupturing any possibility of earning a profit. Other conditions that can also cause results to vary suddenly from budgeted expectations include changes in interest rates, currency exchange rates, and commodity prices. 
  • Rigid decision making. The budgeting process only focuses the attention of the management team on strategy during the budget formulation period near the end of the fiscal year. For the rest of the year, there is no procedural commitment to revisit strategy. Thus, if there is a fundamental shift in the market just after a budget has been completed, there is no system in place to formally review the situation and make changes, thereby placing a company at a considerable disadvantage to its more nimble competitors.
  • Time required. It can be very time-consuming to create a budget, especially in a poorly-organized environment where many iterations of the budget may be required. The time involved is lower if there is a well-designed budgeting procedure in place, employees are accustomed to the process, and the company uses budgeting software. The work required can be more extensive if business conditions are constantly changing, which calls for repeated iterations of the budget model.
  • Gaming the system. An experienced manager may attempt to introduce budgetary slack, which involves deliberately reducing revenue estimates and increasing expense estimates, so that he can easily achieve favorable variances against the budget. This can be a serious problem, and requires considerable oversight to spot and eliminate.
  • Blame for outcomes. If a department does not achieve its budgeted results, the department man ager may blame any other departments that provide services to it for not having adequately supported his department.
  • Expense allocations. The budget may prescribe that certain amounts of overhead costs be allocated to various departments, and the managers of those departments may take issue with the allocation methods used. This is a particular problem when departments are not allowed to substitute services provided from within the company for lower-cost services that are available else where.
  • Use it or lose it. If a department is allowed a certain amount of expenditures and it does not appear that the department will spend all of  the funds during the budget period, the department manager may authorize excessive expenditures at the last minute, on the grounds that his budget manager may authorize excessive expenditures at the last minute, on the grounds that his budget tends to make managers believe that they are entitled to a certain amount of funding each year, irrespective of their actual need for the funds.
  • Only considers financial outcomes. The nature of the budget is numeric, so it tends to focus management attention on the quantitative aspects of a business; this usually means an intent focus on improving or maintaining profitability. In reality, customers do not care about the profits of a business – they will only buy from the company as long as they are receiving good service and well-constructed products at a fair price. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to build these concepts into a budget, since they are qualitative in nature. Thus, the budgeting concept does not necessarily support the needs of customers.

The discussion of budgeting has cast serious doubts on the need for a detailed and rigorously-enforced budgeting system, especially one that integrates the budget model with bonus plans. Nonetheless, the decision to install a budget is up to the reader. In Budgeting: The Comprehensive Guide, Steven Bragg shows how to create a budget, whether there are variations on the traditional budgeting concept that may work better, and how to operate without any budget at all. The discussion also covers capital budgeting, flexible budgeting, zero-base budgeting, and all of the procedures, controls, and reports needed for a functioning budget system.