Home » ACCOUNTANT » More Reader Questions – “I was wondering what I should do in the next year to help my chances in getting a job out of college”

More Reader Questions – “I was wondering what I should do in the next year to help my chances in getting a job out of college”

Recently I received this email from a reader.  I am convinced getting and retaining employment is a hot topic, so I thought, why not included my response in a post.
Stacie Kitts,
My name is Ryan and I am currently a rising junior at East Carolina University. I read your blog and I thought you did a phenomenal job with the blog. I enjoy reading your blogs about Accounting and have used some of your tips to help me in the internship process. I have a couple questions regarding the accounting job process.
Since I [am a] rising junior, I still have a couple more years of college but I was wondering what I should do in the next year to help my chances in getting a job out of college? I’ve tried going around to local CPA firms for any type of volunteer work and they all turned me down. Most local CPA firms have interns in graduate school and aren’t willing to mentor a student. If you have any advice for me, please feel free to contact me.
Thank you,

Dear Ryan:

You know, I can remember a time when accounting students were only concerned with choosing the right job offer. That was true for almost everyone who wasn’t sporting a 2.0 GPA and had like – no personality. Otherwise, most people were assured a job.

Today though with the downturn in the economy and accountants losing their jobs in public and industry, a guaranteed job appears to be something of the past.

So Ryan, what can I tell you that will help you in this job search process? I guess if I had a surefire answer, I could sell my secrets- you know like some sort of accounting job guru and make like a gazillion dollars.

Frankly, almost every day I am reminded how lucky I am that I am not dependent on someone else for a paycheck. In this type of job market, about the only people who can feel some comfort are the “rainmakers.” These people generate their own revenue by attracting clients to their firms.

I do hate to be a downer. Nevertheless, we need to face facts. In order to get and keep a job, you must present yourself as the ideal employee.

Now that I have totally depressed you – I guess I should at least try to give some tips that might help. Maybe you can try these out and report as to your progress…

I have been known to write posts intended to share the stuff I have learned working in the accounting industry. You may have seen some of these already:

ACCOUNTING STUDENTS -Don’t put yourself at the bottom of the potential hire list

An Accountants Search For The Bat Cave – A Story About Networking – A Tax Season Rerun

How To Be a Partner

What Does An Accountant Really Do? Fave Rerun

I think the most relevant post in regards to your question is this one:  Accounting Students – don’t put yourself at the bottom of the potential hire list. So let’s dissect the tips I provide here.

In this post I talk about working an internship

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.

Now, your question is:  how do I get this internship. Well, that relates to item number two of the post:

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.

Based on the current job market, I suggest that you step this advice up a bit. Rather than just attending the functions, you should consider running for a position within your accounting association and working on the committee’s that are arranging firm events. This will give you more exposure in front of potential employers and provide some experience coordinating and managing the events – besides there is nothing like some management skills to add to your resume.

Remember, the time to look for an internship is busy season.  This typically starts around February and lasts until April 15.  You can start your inquiry process now by asking firms if they hire interns during busy season.  If they do, follow up with questions about the hiring process.

Also, don’t discount the friends you make in college as sources of potential jobs. Many of these people will be moving on to take jobs at accounting firms. Stay in touch with these people. Let them know you would like an internship. There’s nothing like having an insider championing your cause.  My first public accounting job was the direct result of knowing someone on the inside.  For that matter, I was referred to my second public accounting employer by a friend I had met in college.

That leads me to item number three.

3)      Maintain a higher than average GPA. The closer [your GPA is] 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.

The idea here is not to damage your chances by blending into the crowd or setting yourself up to be portrayed as a slacker. In the post, I say:

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.

Now is also the time to work on your networking skills. In my post An Accountants Search For The Bat Cave – A Story About Networking – A Tax Season Rerun I talk about the different ways you can improve or develop your networking skills. Again, the idea is to stand out from the crowd. Get yourself noticed. Make friends with the people in the firms that you are interested in working for. When you are at firm events, you should be networking. If you want a job offer, these people need to remember you and be interested in talking to you more or requesting your resume.

I know how hard this is. I am not a natural marketer. In fact, in social situations I often need to force myself to talk to people. Otherwise I can find myself standing in the corner watching all the socializing while I peer over the rim of my cocktail glass like some pathetic wallflower. To help curb this, before you go, think of questions that are fairly generic that you can ask people, and try to keep them talking. This avoids the need to find things to say which contributes to those awkward silences that I dread.

Here are some networking tips I offer in the post:

1) Begin your quest by sharpening you craft. In order to sell your services, you need some services to sell. Have your “elevator speech” ready. Practice what you will say when people ask you questions about your profession, your employer, and your background. Treat it like an interview process because that is what it is – a five second interview meant to grab someone’s attention just long enough for them to find you interesting.

2) Socialize Socialize Socialize. Okay, so networking is directed socializing – meaning it’s about meeting people, in a particular profession, with a particular goal in mind. But as intimidating as that might sound, all it really is, is dating… In fact, networking for referral sources has many of the same elements as relationship dating. Don’t think so -Let’s explore the typical referral dating scenario:

First you attend a social event, you meet someone who interests you, you exchange phone numbers, you call the next day and set up a “referral date”, typically coffee, breakfast, lunch or dinner, you explore whether this person is someone who is going to help you get what you want, and then you consider if a more committed relationship is warranted.

Ummm sounds like a typical date to me. So sharpen your dating skills, be sure to follow up [you know, call the next day], be engaging, have fun, and for heaven’s sake, act as if you want to be there.

Now the question is – how to find people to “referral date.” Here are some ideas:

a. Join a business-networking group – this can help you to focus your energy towards people who have the same business goals.

b. Volunteer your time – besides just being a rewarding experience, you will undoubtedly broaden your social horizon.

c. Join social clubs that interest you such as a running club, bicycling club, softball team, the girl scouts… well you get the point – again the more people you know…

d. Tell people you are looking for clients – hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask – and if you don’t ask – frankly people might not realize that you are looking.

e. Get on the internet – write a blog, create a web site, join online social networking groups, send out email reminders with handy tidbits of info to people in your network – the point is to remind people you are around so when someone needs a service, your name is on their mind.

3) Be fearless in your quest. And I mean just that. Don’t be afraid – get out into the world and tell people what you do. Ask for business. Hand out your card – and do it over and over and over again until you find the right, group, network, or formula that works for you. Keep in mind that your partner’s journey may be different from yours. As networkers, we each have our own styles. So don’t get discouraged if someone else’s journey isn’t for you.

Lastly, one other avenue to consider is to work an industry job while you are going to school.  Look for a job in an accounting department.  Anything in the accounting department is good –  such as a clerk or even data entry.  You would be surprised how many firms are interested in accountants with real world experience outside of public accounting.  If you checkout my bio, you will see that I started my career in industry working full-time while I attended college full-time.  The experience and knowledge I gained helped me to progress in my career and provided insight that many of my peers just didn’t have.

Well Ryan, I hope that these tips are useful in your job search.  Don’t give up and be sure to let us know how you are coming along.


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