Position of Strength: How to Begin a Career in Public Accounting
By Steven J. Budryk, CPA, MS, Traphagen CPAs & Wealth Advisors –
September 30, 2021
Accounting majors work through their collegiate years to determine whether public accounting is best for them or if they want to work in the private sector. Public accounting as a profession provides tremendous personal and professional growth opportunities. In just a few years, college teaches what accounting is, and in just a few months public accounting teaches so much more that cannot be published in a textbook.
Recent graduates who wish to pursue a career in public accounting need to know what can put them in a position of strength to be successful. Here are some factors to consider: Resumes and LinkedIn profiles showcase skills, the CPA credential expands one’s knowledge, and one’s career path could be dependent upon obtaining the CPA license. Communication skills are more important than someone may realize, and applying what was learned in college is just the beginning for a career.
Resumes should be updated after advancing in a career or learning new skills. The importance of an up-to-date resume cannot be understated. A resume must tell one’s professional story, all condensed into one page; it starts the conversation during interviews. Employers and recruiters look through hundreds or thousands of resumes; it is challenging to stand out, so be creative! Per Indeed.com, “They (recruiters) have a limited amount of time to spend reviewing each resume, so they may move on and assume you do not possess the qualification if it takes too long to find the right information.” Adding skills that do not directly relate to the position one is applying for reflects more comprehensive skill sets.
A LinkedIn profile is a digital expansion of a resume. This is where additional details and experience should be included. It would be helpful to elicit recommendations from connections to make profiles distinct. It is a good idea to follow accounting-specific publications, firms or other leaders to keep up to date with business segments and changes. By connecting with other professionals, one can grow their network and can lean on them for advice or be the first to know about future opportunities. Everyone in the accounting field should be active on LinkedIn; it is too costly not to be. Especially when starting out in this extremely competitive environment, all information is not created equal. One’s network is a vital asset, so learn as much as you can and improve on those skills!
CPA Exam Preparation and Guidance
The CPA credential is the most important credential in this profession. The CPA Exam, as we know, is difficult to pass. According to the AICPA, the calendar year 2021 cumulative pass rates for each section are as follows:
- Auditing & Attestation — 49.70%
- Business Environment & Concepts — 62.84%
- Financial Accounting & Reporting — 44.70%
- Regulation — 59.03%
The overall average is roughly 54 percent. This credential is extremely important to advance in many firms. While the Exam is changing, the ultimate objective is the same — you need to know a little about a large amount of content. It comes down to discipline, perseverance and understanding that a small sacrifice now will lead to perpetual dividends in the future. While nothing is guaranteed, you must feel confident about the time spent studying to translate that during exam day. There are no shortcuts to passing this exam.
Career Path Planning
The CPA credential will open more industry doors. Without it, you will be extremely limited in your career path. Externally, clients look to CPAs for guidance; CPAs are professionals who have achieved expertise through advanced education, training, experience and hard work. This credential is a mark of commitment to the profession. Anyone can be an accountant, but not everyone can be a CPA. This is something to think about when studying.
Many students are under the impression that accounting is all number crunching and staring at a computer screen all day. Communication skills are actually one of the most sought-after skills for accountants to master. Whether speaking publicly or effectively communicating with colleagues, accounting professionals must know how to communicate! In the beginning of one’s career, there will be ways of doing tasks that are firm-specific — where one firm does something differently than another. It is important for early career professionals to effectively communicate their understanding and ask questions, not just memorize steps. Communication will be the number-one skill required to move up the professional ladder. Accounting professionals must learn to articulate complex accounting standards, IRS codes and other analyses for clients and other stakeholders. Those who can communicate well are given those client-facing opportunities.
From Classroom to Practice
College cannot teach everything about accounting — there is not enough time in a semester to focus in on one aspect or a few years to master the subject matter. College ensures students have the intermediate knowledge of accounting, so when they start working they can pick up where they left off after some firm-specific training. Do not be intimidated by others that have more experience — learn from them! Those who use it, apply it at work and for the CPA Exam you will be successful. Do not be complacent! Accounting professionals must continue to learn and expand their knowledge base to become the best version of their professional selves.
Thus, if accounting professionals keep improving their craft, they will look back at their early days in this prestigious profession, ultimately building up to their very own position of strength.