Stepping into a new accounting career
A recruiter and a CPA give advice on how to choose the right path for you.
College is a time when students explore career paths with their advisers and career counselors, as well as through internships in a variety of settings. These opportunities provide a window into the many types of trajectories in the accounting profession such as tax and audit work, financial advising, strategic planning, or business coaching.
But when it’s time for freshly minted accounting graduates to embark on their careers, they may find themselves at a crossroads.
Facing a vast landscape of options, recent grads may set their sights on public accounting at large or small CPA firms focusing on individual or corporate clients, or other lines of work.
Public accounting offers myriad opportunities, from tax to auditing to financial planning to fraud and valuation services. Recent advances in technology and an increasing emphasis on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) considerations are constantly creating exciting new career opportunities as well. (More information on the benefits of working in public accounting can be found here.
New CPAs can also consider management accounting if they are interested in working in business and industry, and pursuing paths up the corporate ladder to become CFOs.
“Whether you take joy in preparing financial statements that tell the story of a business over a specific period of time, or doing budgeting, forecasting, or data mining, there are many directions you can go as an accountant,” said Kathleen Downs, an Orlando-based senior recruiting manager at Robert Half.
Downs, along with David Almonte, CPA, CGMA, a financial reporting and analysis manager at Amica Mutual Insurance Co. in Providence, R.I., share advice on what new accounting graduates and young CPAs should consider as they embark on their careers.
Research roles that fit skill sets. He cited in-demand skills that would cut across any business sector from public accounting to management accounting, such as critical thinking, leadership, collaboration, and the willingness to take risks. For college students, focusing on developing these skills and traits will pay off when time to enter the workforce.
Determine what is important. Downs has seen clients express a variety of reasons for gravitating toward certain companies or firms. Many of her clients describe ideal jobs that range from remote working to being part of an organization that reflects their values and goals. “They have told me that corporate culture, the commitment to diversity and inclusion, and community service initiatives are important to them,” she said. Today’s marketplace favors job candidates, and now is a good time to explore opportunities for jobs and companies whose values and culture align with yours.
Examine long-term goals. Almonte encourages CPAs to examine their career goals and pursue work that will help them get there. That might mean making partner in a public accounting firm someday, launching an accounting practice, or heading into the C-suite at a large corporation.
“The first step is determining the kind of work you enjoy and are good at,” he said. He suggested soliciting advice from family, friends, and colleagues. Consulting with recruiters and career advisers can offer additional guidance and insight and help steer you in the right direction.
Learn from pros at career fairs. Downs recommends students participate in career fairs where HR and finance professionals from both the corporate environment and public accounting are available to provide information, review résumés, and describe their organizations. It’s a great opportunity to spend some time with company representatives who can describe their office culture, their expectations of new hires, and what a typical day at their workplace looks like. They may be willing to share stories from their careers.
“Take advantage of any chance you can get to speak with people working in public accounting as well as management accounting, and you may find someone with a story similar to yours who can describe their journey and lessons they learned along the way,” Downs said.
The nuggets of information and advice you receive from the professionals may be just what you need to determine a first step on the road to a fulfilling career.
Those looking for more insight about career opportunities in accounting can find resources at This Way to CPA from the AICPA.
— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden at Chris.Baysden@aicpa-cima.com.