An Open Letter to Students: The Real World, the Talent Gap, and Your Future

Dear Students,

As a veteran professor, a common frustration I have is the limited amount of classroom time needed to cover all of the “required” content, leaving little time to discuss career-related topics, such as what to expect once you graduate and what’s expected of you at your first job. Many students only acquire this knowledge from hands-on experience or time spent with a mentor. With this in mind, I’ve compiled a few key topics I’ve conveyed to my students over the years. They also may be helpful to you as you take the next step into the professional world.

About the Real Worldbaby_boomers
Congratulations! You’re about to enter a growing profession that needs you: The accounting profession is rapidly growing in terms of the number of new jobs, and, at the same time, nearly 10,000 baby boomers will be retiring every day for the next 20 years, according to Pew Research Center. This is important because employers will look to you to fill these jobs.

In many ways, college has sheltered you – you enroll in the required courses, attend lectures, study your textbooks, prepare case studies, and perhaps perform some independent research. But that’s only part of what you need to do to succeed. Not only are you expected to know technical skills in the professional world, you’ll also need to have mastered numerous nontechnical skills including leadership, business acumen, strategic thinking/execution, change management, process improvement, and more.

The accounting profession is changing dramatically, and the expectation of accountants’ skills level is rising, along with expectations regarding their ability to contribute to the success of their organizations. The challenges you encounter in the business world will require you to draw upon the skills you learned in the classroom in an integrated manner, not in isolation as are often presented in class.

About the Talent Gap
The talent gap – also known as the Competency Crisis in accounting – arises when colleges’ curricula aren’t consistently aligned with the on-the-job demands for accounting and financial professionals.

Some schools are “CPA-schools,” training their students for entry-level public accounting jobs. That’s fine, except for the fact that more than half of students will transition to accounting and finance positions in companies within three years of graduation. In these positions, you’ll need a different skill set than those needed in public accounting positions. Often candidates are unprepared for these jobs.

To confront this issue, you should take courses that prepare you for a wide variety of positions in the field of accounting – this may include taking additional electives. You need to prepare for your lifelong career, not just your first job. In this regard, IMA has been working with schools to craft the curricula to provide a more-well-rounded skill set.

Preparing for YOUR Future
What can you do to ensure YOUR career success? Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure your college curriculum prepares you for a wide variety of career choices. Talk with your professors about the variety of accounting careers and what you should do to prepare for them.
  • Work on developing your “hard” and “soft” skills. For example, join and actively participate in the IMA student chapter at your school. (If there is none, start one!) You also can participate in IMA’s Student Case Competition or attend IMA’s Student Leadership Conference.
  • Use internships and mentorships to your advantage. Internships are a great way to gain necessary skills while building your résumé and networking with individuals in the field. Working in business and alongside industry leaders will give you a competitive advantage when applying for jobs.

You have a huge opportunity for future career advancement. Once you have found your career path, there are many ways for you to expand your career horizon: earn a certification, become a mentor or mentee, take continuing education courses, earn a post-graduate degree, and so much more. Today’s accountants are expected to continuously learn to keep pace with the rapidly changing business environment. Welcome to the exciting field of professional accountancy!

The profession needs strong talent for the future. Will you be ready?

Written by Dr. Raef Lawson, CMA, CPA, CFP, CFA
Follow me on Twitter @RaefLawson

Related Articles:

“Plan for the Future: A Career in Management Accounting” – Jeff Thomson, New Accountant
“Filling Jobs Wisely” – Doug Arms and Tony Bercik, Strategic Finance

De-MYTH-defying the Accounting Profession

Over the years, the accounting profession has accumulated a number of misconceptions, and it’s important for students choosing their career path to decipher the facts from the myths. Let me help you de-myth-defy the profession to clarify the role of the accountant and help advance the profession.

1. All accountants do taxes.
This is one of most common misconceptions about accountants. Although most people attracted to accounting like the numbers aspect of it, there are so many other paths you can take with an accounting or finance degree – becoming a tax preparer is only one of them.

Because many college curricula focus on public accounting – hence the misconception – it’s sometimes difficult to decide your path while you’re still in school. Once you’re in the field, however, the hands-on experience will help you decide what specialty is right for you.

S11_LENA_0432. Accounting is a male-dominated profession.
Contrary to popular belief, the field is actually dominated by women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women accounted for 61% of accountants and auditors in 2014. And women are earning the majority of bachelor’s degrees (52%) and master’s degrees (54%) in accounting.

3. Accountants don’t make important financial decisions.
Management accountants are increasingly becoming strategic business partners for their companies. Not only can we interpret the financials of the company, but we’re also able to advise top management on opportunities to grow the company, impacting the overall direction of the company and helping to maximize profits. Our skills in performance measurement, analysis, and risk management help organizations prosper in a sustainable way. We have gone from “bean counters” to “bean growers.”

4. You can’t make good money as an accountant.
IMA’s Global Salary Survey reveals that accountants’ average annual salary is $100,000 in the U.S. (the map in the survey report (Figure 1 below) shows the average salary and compensation rates from all over the world). Top management like CFOs and controllers are some of the highest-paid employees in a company – and they are accountants!

Also, holding certifications can increase your annual salary and compensation. This year, professionals holding the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) credential reported earning an average of 63% more in total annual compensation than their noncertified peers. Certifications help increase your salary because they demonstrate your mastery of the critical skills needed on the job today.

Basic CMYK

For the Future
Accountants are in high demand, and the benefits are considerable. When starting your career in accounting, consider the various opportunities open to you. One last myth to note about accounting is that it’s boring. It is anything but – believe or not, a career in management accounting can actually be exciting! Our work with budgets and strategy help a business drive value and make the work of nonprofit organizations possible. The accountants of tomorrow have an enormous opportunity for growth and career enrichment. How will you impact your future?

Written by Dennis Whitney, CMA, CFM, CAE
Follow me on twitter: @IMA_DWhitney

Related Articles
Management Accounting Facts & Myths – Competency Crisis
“IMA Campus Advocate Discusses Benefits of Student Chapters” – IMA Online News