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Getting Your Foot in the Door of the Accounting Industry

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In the classroom, you learn the technical side of accounting, but little is ever revealed about what it's actually like to work for a public accounting firm. As the leader of the on-campus recruiting efforts for J.H. Cohn, LLP, I find that students on campus and newcomers to public accounting ask similar questions.

Common questions include:
  • How should I prepare for a career in accounting?
  • Are the stereotypes about accountants true?
If you are considering a career in accounting and asking these questions, you are already following some of the best career advice available. Choosing a career path is a major task, and thorough research will help you make the right decisions.

Here are some frequently asked questions:

How do I prepare for a job in accounting?

As a campus recruiter, I always look for students who not only do well academically but also have well-rounded backgrounds. While you should definitely get involved in the student accounting society, other extracurricular activities can also demonstrate your diverse background and leadership skills.

In addition, make sure you attend information sessions held by accounting firms. Not only are these sessions enlightening, but they also offer great opportunities to meet people. In fact, this is how I develop many of my relationships with students for future positions. Our open house this past spring allowed students and staff members to exchange questions and discuss experiences through a panel discussion, which was very well received by the students in attendance.

Many people are surprised to hear that good people skills are important. You are constantly meeting new people at client companies, or you're working with different team members at a firm. You'll find, as you move up, that your networking and marketing skills become increasingly valuable as you try to make connections and expand business opportunities.

Look for internships. More and more newcomers to the field are being recruited through firms' internship programs. Plus, you gain hands-on experience and can discover if accounting is truly right for you.

Is accounting boring, and will I work long hours all the time?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that accounting work is dull. In actuality, the work is exciting just by the nature of the industry. There are many opportunities to work with clients in a variety of industries, and there's a multitude of specializations to choose from as well. In addition, with regulatory changes and the creation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act a few years ago, the profession is dynamic and growing.

Another stereotype is the constant long hours. Yes, hours are longer during the busy season from mid-January to April, but all organizations have their own busy seasons. At J.H. Cohn, these hours are not expected year-round, and we do take into consideration the needs of those who may need more flexible working arrangements. In the off-season, you'll find many of our employees enjoying standard hours and more time off.

I got my first job; now what do I do?

As you begin your career, continue to ask questions. The biggest mistake newcomers make is trying to figure things out on their own. You are new to the industry, and staff members expect that you will have questions. Public accounting is very focused on efficiency, so asking questions not only accelerates your learning but also ensures you are getting the work done in a timely manner.

A firm that offers a mentoring program is ideal for those new to the industry. At J.H. Cohn, we have a mentoring program for all professional staff below senior-manager level. In addition, there is the J.H. Cohn Professional Women initiative, a multifaceted program that addresses women's unique personal and career objectives with diverse training and development opportunities. Make the most of these programs so that you can grow as a professional.

It is also important to continue to fine-tune your technical and non-technical skills. Through our learning and development department, there are long-term learning paths and resource materials for both technical knowledge, such as audit work process, and "enabling skills," including communication and networking.

The best career advice I have received is "Know what you want." Don't only ask yourself what you want; ask, "Why do I want it?" It's amazing once you ask yourself this specific question what you come up with as an answer. Whatever road you take, make it your own. Take ownership of the process, be proactive, and make the best educated decision you can.

About the Author

Damiana Albanese, PHR, is senior coordinator of human resources for J.H. Cohn, LLP, the largest independent accounting and consulting firm in the Northeast. Damiana manages the on-campus recruiting efforts for the firm.
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Popular tags:

 business opportunities  leadership  Sarbanes-Oxley Act  classrooms  accounting  flexible working  industry  internships  accountants

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