By Brad Culbreth, CPA
Public accounting is an extremely rewarding career path but can be competitive and intimidating to enter. However, there are actions students can take while in school to set themselves apart from the crowd. Here are five pieces of advice to help get the job and ultimately, succeed in your career.
1. Lay the Foundation
When entering the public accounting profession, there will be plenty of new information to absorb. There will be new software, firm procedures and policies, tax laws and auditing standards. This is exciting but can be overwhelming. Don’t compound this by having to relearn basic accounting principles. Put in the time to study and solidify your basic knowledge of the debits and credits while in school. Focus on strengthening your ability to think through accounting problems and find a solution. Laying the proper foundation now will set you up for building a successful career.
2. Spread Your Wings
Networking is a crucial aspect for success in public accounting. Having a core group of peers in various professions is a vital part of public accounting. This network will become your source of referrals, advice in areas outside of your expertise and assistance with client needs outside of typical accounting services, just to name a few areas in which they can assist you. In short, they will help you retain current clients and refer new clients. For many people, this skill requires getting out of your comfort zone to meet new people and try new things. Attend social events, join service groups on or off campus and make an effort to meet people in your classes each day. There are plenty of opportunities available to students who seek them out.
3. Take Opportunities
You don’t have to be a senior close to graduating to begin making contact with professionals in public accounting. Schools typically hold several events each year that allow students the opportunity to meet current professionals from area firms. Don’t miss out on that opportunity. Obtain business cards and follow up with those you meet. You may be surprised how open many professionals will be to getting lunch or coffee to answer questions you may have. By creating these contacts early, you set yourself apart from your peers. This demonstrates initiative and makes you more memorable when the time comes for interviews.
4. Get Involved or Get a Job
Many firms in public accounting like to see that a student participates in activities outside of classes. Get involved in clubs, student organizations, community organizations or get a part-time job. Being able to maintain your GPA while also being active elsewhere demonstrates strong time management skills and work ethic (as well as helps with point #2 above). These types of extracurricular activities look great on resumes and could be the difference between you and your peers. In addition to building a strong resume, there are a broad range of soft skills that can be developed.
5. Be Adaptable
As evidenced by the overhaul to the tax laws last year, rules and regulations are always changing. Professionals in public accounting must be able to take in change and adapt to new sets of rules almost constantly. Being able to digest these changes quickly and develop appropriate strategies creates the value our profession demands. Always be learning and growing so that when change comes, you’ll be equipped to handle it.
Public accounting is definitely a fast-paced work environment but can be an extremely rewarding career.