I will be graduating in December 2018 with my Bachelor’s in Accounting. When I look back, I want to share some of the things that I learned during my undergraduate career that might be helpful for freshman and sophomore students. Also, how to use the available resources effectively. I will divide this into five parts:
1) Student Organizations and Networking: If you are an accounting major, you should at least be a member of a professional student organization like Beta Alpha Psi and/or IIA/ACFE Student Chapter. Through these organizations, you can attend professional meetings and volunteer events. Since they invite new companies to each meeting, you will learn about company culture, their experiences, what accounting jobs look like in the real world, things employers look for when hiring, the differences between audit and tax, what it’s like working in Big Four accounting firms versus smaller companies, what you can do to better prepare while you’re a student, and more!
You can also have conversations with professionals from these companies and connect with future mentors. Overall, it will help you to engage in a conversation, team work, network and have a basic perspective on what’s coming ahead in your career.
2) Job/Internship Fairs: You will have lot of job and internship fairs during your undergraduate period. If you just want to collect pens, flyers and other stuff, there is no point in going to these fairs. I know it’s crowded, and you may think you don’t have enough time for long conversations, but it’s worthwhile to attend.
First, research the companies that will be at the fair and pick a few that best interest you. You should not be stopping at every booth just to say “hi,” hand them a resume, and collect a flier that will end up in the trash. The point is to ask meaningful questions from your research, learn about career opportunities and listen to them carefully. Also, it’s a good idea to co-relate to interesting things outside of work like hobbies so that they remember you. At the end of the conversation, you should ask for their business card and connect with them on LinkedIn within a couple of days. It’s a good idea to send a short message saying, “we met at ____ internship fair and we talked about ____and ____.”
Always keep this in mind: all the networking that you do now doesn’t have to benefit you right now. Some of them might help you land your dream job or a better opportunity years down the road.
3) Excel Knowledge is Must: No matter how big or small of a company you work with, and no matter how sophisticated their accounting software is, you will still be using a lot of Excel functions. An accounting job is not complete without Excel/spreadsheets. There will be a lot of reconciliations, accruals and amortization in Excel. You will use these functions like pivot table, v-look up, sum if, what if, filter, grouping, index, concatenate, if error and analyzing functions in depth. If you have advanced Excel knowledge or certifications, this will put you a few steps ahead of others. Also, if you are good with Excel, this is how you will be well-known in your new company.
4) Financial Statement Analysis and QuickBooks Online Class: I suggest every accounting student take these two classes. This will help you connect all the accounting dots you learned in different classes and give you a bigger picture. I didn’t have a good understanding of accounting until I took these two classes.
There was a group project in Financial Statement Analysis where we had to study 10K filings of three competing companies for the last three years and analyze their income statement, balance sheet, ratios for profitability, liquidity, debt paying ability, investor analysis and post period analysis. You will be amazed at the understanding you get by doing this project.
Another class is QuickBooks Online. In this class, you do chapter projects every week that simulate real-world situations. You will enter business transactions for every month and do the month-end closing procedures. The best part is that you can see the report and understand what effect each entry has in the overall reports. You can see the magic of journal entry happening behind the scenes. The projects build on each other so that you can compare and corelate it to prior months and recurring entries like amortization for prepaids, interest expense, depreciation expense, etc. All the accounting terminology made better sense to me after taking the QuickBooks class. I feel like all the schools should make these classes mandatory.
5) Do Not Wait for CPA/Master: Are you graduating soon and can not decide if you should continue your master’s and take the CPA exam or if you should wait and gain working experiences for a couple years? I asked this question to more than 12 CPAs and the majority said you should not wait to take the CPA exam as there will be unforeseen circumstances, you will not have enough time and it just gets harder to get back into your study habits.
You will have a fresh memory to take the test if you decide to take it as soon as you complete your bachelor’s degree. On top of that, the pay increase is at least $10K to 2$0K. So, if you want to make a career in public accounting, the CPA just adds more value and you should plan to get the CPA designation as soon as possible.