Whether you want to be a journalist, a marine biologist, a business owner, a banker – or you have no idea yet, there’s something valuable in hearing about the multitude of winding paths. That’s why we launched a series “The Resume Project” — it’s a Q&A covering how they got here, why they picked it and what you need on your resume to follow suit. Our promise is that there is a tangible lesson in every article… no “follow your dreams and it will all work out” BS allowed.
Sam: How does someone end up in accounting?
If I’m being completely honest, I never planned to be an accountant. Growing up, I thought it’d be a boring job. The job isn’t boring; I was just too young to understand and appreciate it. I just loosely knew that my calling was in business-something.
I enrolled in my business degree suer that’d I’d concentrate in finance, but after doing summer internship in a finance firm I started to understand where accounting added value to the business industry. I was asked to evaluate and analyse financial statements, but I didn’t even really know how to read them. I came back that semester and changed my major.
Sam: The Resume Project time, do you need to have an accounting major to get a job in the Big 4?
Generally, yes. Accounting knowledge is a prerequisite for understanding how to analyse a business. I spend the majority of my time performing financial due diligence on target companies and in order for me to really be able to pick apart a company’s financial statements and business, it is important to understand how the pieces all fit together.
Although, that said, I think it is possible to succeed in a consulting avenue, and I have seen it, with a non-accounting background. But, if you want to do the public accounting CPA route, in my experience, the firms (small and big) only recruit accountants.
Sam: What skills are essential to working as an accountant?
I work in a client service-based industry, so understanding and building client relationships is more essential than any niche masters degree skill that I put on my resume, in my opinion.
Being able to communicate with and understand our clients allows us to better serve them. I’m often working with teams from across the country and sometimes even internationally, it’s important that we’re able to communicate effectively. It’s also important to be able to play nice with others; we work in teams.
Whereas, based on my experience, an industry niche is important, but it’s not essential. Different industries have different issues, and being industry proficient definitely helps. However, I spent the first five years of my career primarily focused on financial services clients, but over the last seven months I have served technology, healthcare and e-commerce clients.
Sam: In an interview what skills would you recommend someone promote about themselves?
I’d sell my communication skills; my problem solving skills and time management.
Something to remember for graduate accounting interviews is that they are assessing on those core skills I just listed. So if they ask you to solve a problem, that probably will be completely unrelated to the financial industry, they are not assessing your answer – but how you solve problems.
Sam: I have heard similar advice from a lot of accounting and finance majors; why are personal skills so important in the interview?
Your resume speaks for yourself. Having that degree and qualification and work experience has opened the door for you; but there is a lot more to landing the job.
There is no doubt my work tasks include numbers and logic, which falls into the left side of the brain category. However, I equally engage in right side of the brain activities like reading emotions, images, intuition and creativity. I think that engaging both sides of the brain will get you ahead in this industry.
A frequent example is the process of mining raw data for useful information and then creatively articulating that information to key business stakeholders so innovative business decisions can be made. A tip I’ve got is talk about data visualization in your interview. Maybe reference how you used it in an assignment or presentation; or how you learn the value of it in an internship. It shows that you are someone interested in communicating hard concepts in a creative way.
Sam: If I was applying for a tax accounting job, but didn’t do that major; what advice do you have?
While an industry niche helps, I think that there are ways to overcome that by demonstrating a willingness and desire to learn, and the ability to pick up things quickly and ask questions when you just don’t know.
Sam: How do you find your ‘place’ in the accounting industry, as in, a firm you like?
My piece of advice would be to find an internship in the field that you are—or you think you are—interested in. It doesn’t have to be the exact job, but I think that there’s a big benefit in being exposed to office life and that industry’s culture prior to full-time employment.
Sam: Everyone says that ‘accounting is boring’, and while I know that stereotype isn’t true… what is something you’d consider to be monotonous?
The administrative items are not the most exciting! But, they have to be done, so I do them. I would say this is similar to most industries. I’m a doer, which means I try to be positive, power through and always look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Being a doer gets you ahead in this industry really quickly.