1) Work an internship during college. An internship is a vital part of the learning process. It gives the accounting student the opportunity to learn skills and office processes that are not taught in a classroom environment. It can help new accountants determine the size of firm they feel comfortable working for. It also provides an opportunity for students to narrow career focus by providing opportunities to try out their real world skills in areas such as tax return preparation or income statement audits.
2) Attend the career events or “Meet the Firm” events hosted by the accounting associations at your college. Many firms send a representative sample of partners, managers, and staff to these events. Firms are often looking for students who are outgoing and display personality traits that will meld easily into their firm culture. Firm members who attend these functions often gather resumes and discus which students they believe should be offered an opportunity to interview for an internship or for a permanent position.
3) Maintain a higher than average GPA. The closer to 4.0 the better your chances of standing out from other candidates. Although there is some debate regarding the relationship between a low grade point average and work performance, a low grade point average does tell a potential employer several things about the student. Here are some examples of what a low GPA may convey to potential employers:
a. The student may not understand the material or may not be able to grasp accounting concepts. Students who have difficulty grasping basic accounting concepts in a college setting will most likely need to learn them on the job. Firm managers and partners are busy running engagements and managing clients. This leaves little time to teach concepts that should have been learned in school. Firms are becoming less and less tolerant of students who enter the workforce without having learned the basic concepts of accounting.
b. The student doesn’t test well. This concept is based on the theory that the testing process is not representative of a student’s actual ability. The problem with this philosophy is that the nature of public accounting is similar to test taking. As public accountants we are often handed a set of facts and based on those facts we are expected to dissect, analyze and conclude. Basically this is the same process one goes through when taking a test. Therefore, public accounting may be unsuitable for someone who doesn’t “test” well.
c. The student didn’t have time to focus on school. For accounting students, college is an essential step towards moving your career in a positive direction. College provides you with the basic technical skills, the basic organizational skills, and the basic social skills necessary to survive in this demanding field. Students who are unable to maintain an acceptable GPA because of other commitments may not be able to perform at his or her highest level in a work environment for similar reasons. Maintaining a “good” GPA even when you have outside life commitments demonstrates good management skills and a commitment to your career choice.