Maximizing Your Early Employment Experiences
by Dr. James Deitrick and Doug Bogart
The accounting profession and accounting education experienced dramatic
changes during the 1980s. This profession was especially impacted by rapid
globalization of the economy, explosive advancements in technology, and
an increasingly competitive marketplace. Higher education was correspondingly
challenged to integrate technology and international business issues into
its curriculum; improve the commmunications skills of its students; and
address changing professional standards, enacted by the AICPA and some
individual states, that essentially require (or will soon require) new
CPAs to have a minimum of 150 hours of higher education.
Amid this dynamic backdrop, the American Accounting Association created
the Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC) in 1989. The primary
purpose of the AECC was, and still is, to improve "the academic preparation
of accountants so that entrants to the accounting profession possess the
skills, knowledge, and attitude required for success in accounting career
paths." Since its inception, the AECC has funded several experimental
curriculum projects at selected universities across the nation, and has
prepared many written reports on a broad range of topics. Subjects addressed
by the AECC include: objectives of education for accountants, evaluation
and rewarding of effective teaching, and importance of two-year colleges
for accounting education. Clearly, these acivities are of paramount importance
to today's accounting students and faculty, as well as to the future of
the accounting profession.
While most AECC projects have been conducted by teams of faculty members
and professional accountants, one of its projects sought direct student
involvement. The result was Issues Statement No.4, "Improving the
Early Employment of Accountants," which was published in 1993. The
motivation for this statement was provided by the AECC's realization that
(a) acounting graduates are now being better prepared academically for
professional careers, and (b) there is a need for improved integration
between accountants' formal education and their first two or three years
of employment. In other words, the changing demands and expectations facing
today's professional accountants require a re-engineered linkage between
campus education and on-the-job experiences. Unless changes are made to
enhance the quality of early employment experiences, it is reasonable
to anticipate that some of the best and brightest people initially attracted
to accounting will soon accept more attractive and rewarding opportunities
elsewhere. It is no secret that employee turnover is costly for all parties,
especially if it could be significantly reduced or avoided.
Because the messages conveyed in Issues Statement No.4 have not reached
many of its target audiences, especially those on college campuses, the
purpose of this article is to report and discuss recommendations offered
by the AECC that are specifically intended to enrich the employment experiences
of new accounting professionals. These recommendations, which are aimed
at four broad groups (faculty, students, career-planning and placement
professionals, and employers) are as follows.
Faculty members should:
- Acquire and maintain a high level of knowledge about
both practice issues and the non-academic accountant's workplace.
- Seek out opportunities to interact with practicing accountants.
- Communicate knowledge about the conditions of professional
practice to students.
- Seek opportunities to obtain firsthand knowledge of the
business world and practice environment.
- Obtain information about career opportunities and the
- Career-planning and placement professionals should:
- Organize career-education programs.
- Counsel students on career issues.
- Acquire and maintain high levels of knowledge about educational
and early employment issues.
- Communicate accurately and fully about the early employment
Supervisors of early work experience should:
- Provide strong leadership and mentoring for staff members.
- Build working conditions that are conducive to success.
- Provide challenging and stimulating work assignments.
- Workplace educators of first-year through third-year
- Select and design educational experiences based on knowledge
of employees' needs.
- Reinforce important skills.
Employer management should:
- Acquire and maintain knowledge of the early employment
- Promote working conditions that junior employees find
attractive, nurturing, and stimulating.
- Help fulfill the other recommendations in this Statement.
As the above recommendations indicate, the early employment experience
of new professional accountants is an extremely important issue for several
parties, especially the individual student/employee, the employer, college
and university personnel, and the accounting profession. Each component
must accept its share of the overall responsibility for ensuring that
every new hire receives the proper academic preparation, advice, counseling,
training, supervision, and other employment experiences essential for
the development of successful careers. If the improvements are properly
implemented, (a) new employees should be well-prepared to perform as professionals
and continue learning throughout their careers; (b) there should be reduced
distance between pre-employment expectations and the realities of professional
employment; and (c) overall employee/employer satisfaction and morale
should be elevated. These outcomes are significant because there is little
doubt that satisfied individuals are more productive, cheerful, and efficient
than dissatisfied ones.
Specifically, what can each component group do to help accomplish these
results. Some detailed courses of action for each group are presented
Faculty members generally play a vital role in shaping the early employment
experiences of accounting graduates. They are often regarded by their
students as successful role models, trusted mentors, and wise advisors.
Their dedication to accounting, enthusiasm for learning, and curiosity
about business often combine to produce a profound positive effect on
their students' attitudes and perceptions. On the other hand, professors
who lack these attributes can just as easily affect the professional aspirations
of students in a negative way. Because most accounting courses are closely
associated with professional practice, it is important for faculty members
to acquire and maintain an acute awareness of today's practice issues,
while developing a deep understanding of the work environment that awaits
their students. Equally important, faculty members should be encouraged
to share their professional knowledge and opinions with students in a
variety of forums, ranging from official class presentations, informal
discussions with students, or participation in other organized functions.
Although often separated from professional practice, faculty members,
nevertheless, can remain up-to-date and informed about accounting practice
with a modest investment of time and energy. In particular, faculty could
be encouraged to read and contribute to professional literature, accept
internships and consulting opportunities, develop a network of professional
friends and associates, and regularly discuss current employment and practice
issues with campus recruiters. Faculty could also become active in pofessional
organizations, such as the Institute of Management Accountants, state
and local CPA societies, the Financial Executives Institute, the Institute
of Internal Auditors, and the Federal Government Accountants' Association.
In addition, faculty and practitioners could collaborate on research projects;
faculty members could also participate in continuing professional education
programs, invite practicing accountants to speak to their classes, and
visit the offices of professional accountants. In turn, faculty could
then communicate their knowledge of professional practice by developing
realistic case materials for classroom use; enriching lecture notes, examples,
and illustrations with relevant information from professional practice;
inviting practicing accountants to help teach or present appropriate subject
matter; encouraging and helping students seek internships or work/study
programs; and being open to opportunities to discuss recruiting, career,
and professional topics with students.
During their academic careers, students should take advantage of as many
opportunities as possible to obtain a first-rate education. A sound education
is the cornerstone or any worthwhile profession. Practicing accountants
need an education that is both broad and deep. An accountant's education
should be based on a curriculum that promotes critical thinking, sound
reasoning and effective oral and written communications. However, it must
be recognized that a great deal of learning and growing takes place outside
of the classroom. Accordingly, students should aggressively seek internships
or work/study opportunities. It is not essential or even necessary for
these opportunities to involve the accounting functions. Students can
benefit tremendously from general business experiences or other endeavors
that simply help them better understand people and the world around them.
Moreover, students are encouraged to participate in activities that could
help them improve their communications, business and leadership skills.
This would include active involvement in such things as student government,
social and professional groups, and volunteer organizations.
Student are also responsible for obtaining valid information about career
opportunities, the business environment and the entire job-search process.
This would include the frequent reading of business and accounting publications;dutifully
attending seminars or workshops presented by the career planning and placement
office and company recruiters; attentively listening to discussions by
faculty and practitioners; and serving in internships, work/study or coop
programs. It is also recommended that students conduct an honest assessment
of their individual aptitudes, interests, skills, knowledge and motivation
and compare the results of this assessment with the requirements of various
career opportunities. This should lead to improved matches between student
characteristics and career selection.
Career Planning and Placement Office
Students' and recruiters' first introdution to the reruiting procss on
any campus often takes place in the Career Planning and Placement Office
(CPPO). The CPPO typically plays s significant role in preparing students
for their job searches by helping with resume writing; offering assistance
in identifying compatible companies for possible employment; and providing
interviewing tips covering such things as proper dress, behavior and background
preparation for each company and intrview. Similarly, the CPPO is responsible
for making companies aware of the special features and requirements of
a schools' various academic programs and the overall qualifications and
characteristics of the student-body. Because the CPPO staff members have
regular interaction with students and recruiters, they are able to influence
the recruiting expectations and experiences of all participants. This
responsibility needs to be handled in a
professional manner at all times. Thus, it is important for the CPPO to
schedule regular workshops and seminars to help students better understand
their career options, to facilitate internship arrangements and seminar
opportunities, to help students realistically evaluate themselves and
the features of different career paths, and to provide students with adequate
information about the current working environment for accountants and
its demands, compenation and benefits.
With a broad focus on employer organizations, this section speifically
pertains to recruiting personnel, the personal supervisors of new hires,
and the workplace educators of first-through third-year employees. Every
person who participates in the recruiting process at a particular instiution
needs to be properly informed about the institution's current academic
programs, curriculum, student-body characteristics, culture, and historical
relationship with the recruiting company. Recruiting personnel can not
get away with "winging it" or relying on charm or the reputation
of their company for providing a basis for a good interview. Recruiters
at all levels need to do their homework and prepare for each interview
as they would a potential new client. Students can easily discern the
lack of preparation, disinterest, negative attitudes, dishonesty, and
other unfavorable traits among recruiters. And it usually does not take
long for information about a "poor" interview is all-to-often
associated with a companuy or firm rather than the individual interviewer.
As a result, recruiters should always be well prepared and fully understand
that they are helping others formulate opinions about their organization
and the people who work there,
Recruiters need to know their organization's official position on education
and recruiting issues in order to avoid sending inconsistent or confusing
messages. For example, recruiters need to be aware of their firm's stance
on graduate level education for accountants (and the AICPA's 150-hour
requirement) and its actual recruiting preferences for undergraduate or
graduate students. Similarly, recruiters should be able to describe the
career paths, training, education, job requirements, compensation, and
evaluation procedures for graduates of different programs. Finally, when
communicating with potential new hires, faculty, and CPPO employees, recruiting
personnel must provide truthful, complete and relevant information about
job opportunities, the importance of the job, the work environment, and
the employer's preferences and expectations. It is often wise for recruiters
to speak with recent hires in their own organization about the employment
concerns which were on their minds when making their job selection choices.
Supervisors of new or recent hires should provide strong leadership and
mentoring services throughout the early employment experience. They need
to provide frequent, honest and open information to employees about their
strengths and weaknesses and carefully listen to feedback provided by
them. Supervisors need to be professional role models who have pride in
their progession and their work and who understand its importance to customers,
clients, and society. Moreover, supervisors should help build working
conditions conducive for successful employee performances. They need to
explain work assignments thoroughly, allocate enough time and resources
for quality work to be done, explain significant job constraints (perhaps
the budget), discuss how individual assignments are a part of the "big
picture" and thoroughly supervise work to its ultimate completion.
Supervisors need to treat new or recent hires as they would have liked
to have been treated at the same stae of their careers. They should maintain
a level playing field for all subordinates and diligently try to minimize
or control job-related stress. Finally, supervisors are encouraged to
introduce subordinates to new tasks, assignments, and responsibilities
as soon as they are ready for them and give them opportunities to think
critically, be creative, and use their communications skills in a variety
of settings. These skills which are rigorously emphasized in college,
need to be continuously reinforced in the workplace.
Given today's dynmic economic and tecnical environment, it is particularly
important for employees. Workplace educators are encouraged to perform
regular needs assessments of its employees and to design educational programs
and expeiences accordingly. It is desirable for workplace educators to
understand the major characteristics of its employees, including their
prior educational levels, employment experiences, strengths, deficiencies.
They should try to identify the gaps between new hires' expectations and
the employment experiences and requirements actually needed on-the-job.
Appropriate programs and assignments should be designed and provided which
will not only close these gaps, but will make each employee more productive
and satisfied. In addition, workplace educators should work closely with
the managers and supervisors of new or recent hires so that employees
have the appropriate knowledge and skills to perform their assigned tasks
successfully and professionally. Improved integration between an employee's
education, training, employment experiences, and assignments is encouraged.
For many of these recommendations to succeed, key employer managers need
to acept responsibility for seeing to it that the appropriate recommendations
are implemented properly and in good faith. Managers should provide working
conditions and job assignments that new or recent hires find attractive,
nurturing, and stimulating. They should recognize and reward outstanding
performances and provide programs or assistance for employees who need
help. It may be beneficial for managers to assess the erarly employment
experiences of its current employees as well as those who are no longer
employed. Significant information could be learned from surveys, focus
groupd, committees, and other means intended to evaluate and improve the
early employment experiences of all employees.