An Inside Look At One Waterloo Grad’s Accounting Career So Far

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I love autumn for the cool, crisp weather and the changing colour of leaves.

For my best friend, Shaina Chawla, autumn means the busy season is coming at the accounting firm she works for.

She recently completed her Master of Accounting (MAcc) degree at the University of Waterloo and is now working toward the Chartered Accountant (CA) designation in Ernst & Young’s Tax practice. Last December, she was one of only 18 Ontario UFE writers to be recognized by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario on the 2011 national honour roll.

We head inside a café and settle into our seats. We share a crêpe topped with vanilla and chocolate ice cream with slices of strawberries and bananas.

I smile at my best friend. “Are you ready for the questions?” I ask.

“I think so.” She sips on her water.

“You started out as an auditor for Ernst & Young. What did you do to stand out to them?” I hold my pen, poised to take lots of notes.

“I don’t know if there was anything particular I did to stand out to them,” Shaina says, laughing. “After high school, I went to the University of Waterloo and entered their Bachelor of Accounting and Financial Management (BAFM) program, which is a co-op program. [They] recruit a lot of students from Waterloo.”

Shaina says the recruitment process she experienced could be broken down into two parts:

1. Recruiting events

In the BAFM program at Waterloo, the first recruiting events occurred the summer before second year. All BAFM first year students were invited to these recruiting events, allowing firms to get to know students on a social level. Shaina says appearance and social skills were critical during these events because the firms decide early on if a student would be a good, professional representative for the company.

2. Formal application

This consisted of:

  • Resumé
  • Cover letter
  • Transcript of first year grades
Shaina says she believes they were looking for a combination of the following:
  • Extra-curricular involvement
  • Demonstrated leadership and teamwork skills
  • Potential to be manager or partner one day

An inside look at accounting

“So what is it like working in accounting? Any surprises?”I ask. I lean back in the leather chair.

Shaina ponders, fiddling with her fork. “I started my co-op term in January. That’s the start of the busy season [in accounting]. It’s something everyone in this profession will experience, but for me, experiencing the long hours in my first co-op term shocked me. Because I was still a student when I started working for EY, there were things that came up at work that I hadn’t learned yet in school so I had to learn it fast,” she explains.

She adds that her biggest challenge in starting her accounting career has been finding a balance between work and life: “I have to learn that when something isn’t due tomorrow, that it’s OK to leave it for tomorrow. I need to prioritize my life too. I’ve learned to let [my boss] know when I have a social commitment or a dentist appointment. EY is flexible with work hours, you just need to ask.”

“What’s the best part about working at EY?”

“It’s constantly meeting new people. There’s this pre-conceived notion that accountants are loners, but we’re not.” Shaina puts her fork and knife down. Uh-oh. That means she’s full and there’s still plenty on the plate.

“It’s actually a really social career,” Shaina continues. “You’re always working with new people and working in various teams. You’re also working with various clients.”

Shaina’s advice for accounting students:

“Do your research. I did an aptitude test and looked up what it’s like to be an accountant. I talked to CAs, people in the profession and to people that went to Waterloo. Also, I think it’s important to stay involved with what you love. You can still show leadership and teamwork skills in other clubs/groups at school, not just a business-related club.”

Visit the Accounting Career Guide to learn more about careers in the accounting industry, and find student and entry level jobs from top accounting employers, including PwC, KPMG, Grant Thornton, BDO and more

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About the author

Kleine Achiles is a budding freelance writer with an interest in marketing and communications. She has a love for art, fashion, fitness and motivational quotes. She graduated from U of T Mississauga and Sheridan College with an Honours B.A. in Communications, Culture & Information Technology (CCIT) and Professional Writing & Communications (PWC). She also recently completed a one year postgrad in Copywriting Advertising at Humber College. Kleine has a published book called "The First Time," which is an autobiographical collection of short stories about first time experiences that will always stay with her.