On August 1, 2016
Offices are offices and people are people. That can make for some awkward moments when you return to work as an unsuccessful (experienced) writer at a public accounting firm. Some of those moments may be funny and others probably not so much.
One of the things you are likely to discover is how many really good people in your firm did not pass the UFE on their first attempt. At the senior partner level, they wrote at a time when the UFE pass rate was around 50%, and many of the most successful partners are not the folks who passed the first time. The UFE pass rate rose over the years from around 50% to around 75% (give or take a little), so many of the people in the new partner and senior manager ranks came through when one in three or one in four candidates were not successful.
You are not alone as the only candidate who did not pass this year and you are almost certainly not the only person in your office that was ever unsuccessful (unless of course you are in a very rare, very small office). You are likely to have a number of quiet conversations, with people who may surprise you, about how it works as an experienced writer.
There may be some initial awkwardness with successful candidates, and the CPA candidates coming behind you, but that normally wears off really quickly and things usually get back to normal within a day or so. Not passing is probably going to be a much bigger deal to you than most of your co-workers, so try and keep some perspective. Most of the interactions you will get will be supportive, with people trying to be helpful.
You might want to have a stock answer in place to address the inevitable questions about “What happened?” and “What do you plan to do?” Something like, “I am going to look at my CFE results to figure out what went wrong and then plot a strategy.” Or “I only have to rewrite (insert Day I or Days 2 and 3), so once I figure out what was missing I will create a specific study plan to get it this time.” By responding with an action plan, it will make you look pro-active and in control. It will also get people off your back because it looks like you have some plan or strategy in place.
You have a short honeymoon period where others are going to let you feel sorry for yourself. However, eventually you are going to be expected to pick yourself up and start moving forward. The sooner you get to that stage, or are at least faking it well, the better off you will likely be perceived in a work environment.
Public accounting firm offices are competitive environments and not all of your co-workers are likely to have your best interests at heart. Reality is that there is likely to be someone who will try and build themselves up at your expense and will see you not passing the CFE as an opportunity. This can come in the form of open, or behind the back, comments about you not passing. In other cases, it can be in the form of someone pretending to be your friend but the whole time sabotaging you on jobs and trying to grind down your confidence.
The trick here is to not give the snakes traction. Do not come into the office looking weak and like a victim. Come back with an attitude of, it happened, I am going to figure out why, and I am going to figure out what I need to pass the rest of the CFE. The vast majority of people want you to succeed and do well. Focus on those positive interactions to build your confidence and avoid the office snakes by not acting like a victim.
All candidates go through a process similar to grieving when they do not pass the CFE. There is disbelief/denial, anger, avoidance, and acceptance before productively moving ahead. The sooner you break through the grieving, the better off you will be. There is every expectation that you are going to ultimately pass the CFE as the initial public practice candidate results appear very strong. Project a positive attitude as you work your way through the process and initially deal with co-workers.
Consider that your results do not define you as a person; rather, they reflect your performance during a mere 13-hour sliver of your career. How you react and rebound from the hit you have taken will be what ultimately defines you.
(Bruce Densmore – August 1, 2016)