Career Guide: What Can I Do With An Accounting Degree?

Benjamin Simiskey

Benjamin Simiskey

Benjamin Simiskey has seen it all. After earning a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Brigham Young University in 2001, he moved to Chicago and started his career in public accounting with Deloitte, one of the Big Four accounting firms, then served as vice president in the financial advisory services practice of a global consulting firm. He then made his way down to Houston, Texas, where he worked as a financial planner and investment advisor for an international wealth management firm. Today, he owns his own firm, PLS Advisory, where he primarily focuses on financial planning and investment management for high net-worth individuals. This sky-rocket trajectory has landed Simiskey on H Texas magazine’s list of one of Houston’s “Fast Track” professionals in 2009, and in 2012 he was named one of the 12 “Rising Stars” in the state by the Texas Society of CPAs. It’s not all work, of course. In his spare time, the devoted father of two is involved in a number of civic, religious and community initiatives in and around southeast Texas, including the Eagle Scouts and his local Little League.

Question: What drew you to accounting?

Simiskey: “I was really drawn to the power of having a degree in the language of business. Just about everything that happens in the business world is ultimately based in accounting principles. I also knew how resilient the job market was for those with accounting degrees and experience.”

Question: Accounting often has a reputation for being “boring.” Is this fair?

Simiskey: “Well I think that stereotypes exist for a reason. But the profession has come a long way from the days of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Today’s accountants are much more diverse, interesting and fun. For more than a year now, I’ve been the chair of the Young Professionals Committee for the Houston CPA Society (as well as for the Texas Society of CPAs for the past 8 months or so). Having been so involved in activities for the 40 and under CPA crowd, I can promise you that the Gen X and Millennial CPAs are not at all boring. They’re fun. They’re engaging. They’re well-rounded. They’re diverse. They even have personalities!”

Question: Accounting also has a reputation for grueling hours, especially during tax season. How demanding is it, and how do you get through that?

Simiskey: “Well accountants are involved in a wide range of industries and corners of the profession. Less than half are tax accountants, so to characterize the profession’s hours based on the tax calendar isn’t entirely fair. But just about every accountant has some form of ‘busy season.’ Whether that revolves around tax deadlines, audit deadlines, quarterly/annual filings for public companies, month-end book closings, etc, just about every CPA knows how to work periods of long hours. There’s no question that those stretches can be rough. But the silver lining is that they are generally followed by stretches of much shorter hours. So having that light at the end of the tunnel certainly helps you through the grueling periods. Generally, public accounting firms are also quite generous with the amount of vacation time they give their staff. And, at least in my experience, they encourage you to take that vacation time and unwind rather than letting it build for extended periods and/or go unused. That makes a big difference.”

Question: What are the best aspects of your job?

Simiskey: “I really, genuinely love what I do, and I don’t think many people can say that day in and day out. My career has transitioned through a number of different areas. But I’ve finally arrived at what I care about the very most and what fulfills me each and every day. If that’s the best aspect of my job, then a very, very close second would be the flexibility that owning my own business has offered me. As a single dad who is very involved in the lives of my two boys, scheduling flexibility is critical. Being able to volunteer significant time at their school, serving as a coach for their sports teams, trying to never miss an activity…those things would be significantly more difficult or impossible without the current flexibility that I have.”

Question: Where do you see the profession headed? For people just starting their education or their professional career, what should they consider specializing in or studying?

Simiskey: “I believe the profession is heading toward increasing prominence. As our nation continues to plunge further into debt and as the issues facing our country, our public and private companies and each American household become more serious, the need for knowledgeable, unbiased CPAs is becoming more critical by the day. For those just starting out, I would suggest they let themselves explore the wide range of options within the profession before settling on the one that speaks to them the most. Don’t feel like you need to pigeon-hole yourself too soon. Find something that you really enjoy, because if you enjoy your work, your chances of thriving are much greater. The accounting profession is a big, big tent with lots of options and opportunities. Take the time to learn about the various paths and then go after the one that fits you the best.”