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Bullets For Accounting Majors: A Modus Operandi For Achievement

Robert S. Matitia

An accounting education goes beyond textbooks and going to class. It even surpasses doing all of the homework and getting good grades on tests. An accounting education must prepare the student for the real world. It is up to the individual student to maximize the indirect resources that their college or university provides to them.

Bottom Line: The students must ensure that they are prepared for the job market. Unfortunately, many students, including students from other disciplines, are under the assumption that they should begin to prepare for the real world and look for a job after they graduate. A natural assumption! Many people you meet and talk to probably believe the same thing. A successful candidate will have prepared themselves long before graduation to meet the job market. These are the students that usually have a job lined up six months to one year BEFORE graduation. This paper will outline the steps an accounting student should take outside the classroom from the time he or she decides to major in accounting, until he or she has their first day on the job.

Bullet #1:
Action Plan- A student should decide the focus of their major long before they are even eligible to begin to take that particular coursework. Freshman year is a good time to start. This allows a student to discern the content and direction of their individual program most solely on the basis of academics, but also on the basis of potential scholarships, internships, and job prospects. It is imperative that the student formulate a personal action plan stating where he or she is today, and where they would like to be in the future. Careful and meticulous planning at the onset of a student's program will keep the student focused throughout his or her education. The fact, that a student is focused and is working from an acute plan, is an asset and will be very apparent to a potential employer. The following questions should spark further investigation by the accounting major to prepare for the future, and thus utilize that opportunity as a Modis Operandi for Achievement in their career plans.

*What specific field in accounting is interesting to you? There are basically three major employers of accounting graduates.

Public Accounting- These firms range from the "Big Six" multinational firms, to large regional firms, and to smaller firms that might only employ one to six accountants. Entry level positions are typically as a staff accountant in audit, tax, or consulting services. The staff accountant will usually be exposed to a variety of industries and diverse clientele.

Industry Accounting- As an entry level staff accountant, there are many positions available working in industry. These can include opportunities as an internal auditor, financial analyst, cost/managerial accountant or general accounting clerk. Employers in industry include financial service providers (banks), retailers, manufacturing companies, energy, real estate and the broad health care industry (hospitals, insurance companies, nursing homes).

Governmental Accounting- There are various opportunities in working for the government. This can range from positions at the federal level such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or the General Accounting Office (GAO) to positions at the state, county, or municipal level. Even the FBI is recruiting accounting students to assist in the investigations of white-collar crime. A career in governmental accounting can be very exciting and rewarding.

  • Does your college emphasize taking and passing a professional certification exam? Such as the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) exam, the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exam, in 1996 the Certified Financial Manager (CFM) exam, in 1997 the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) exam, etc. Passing a professional exam is a mark of achievement, capability and qualification for professional employment. (Bullet #2 details the Modis Operandi for your mastery.)
  • Are there professional student organizations that are active on campus? Such as Beta Alpha Psi (the National Accounting Honor Society), Beta Gamma Sigma (the National Business Honor Society), Accounting Club, Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) Student Chapter,etc. These student organizations can be a key to your success.
    (Bullet #3 details the Modis Operandi for your utilization.)
  • Are there scholarships or sponsorships available through the accounting department from nationally recognized professional organizations? Such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), the Association of Government Accountants (AGA), the American Accounting Association (AAA), etc. (Bullet #4 details the Modis Operandi for your involvement.)
  • Are there scholarships or sponsorships available through the accounting department from companies, firms, or governmental agencies? Existence of such scholarships or sponsorships reveals that a significant relationship has been build between the accounting department and the organization. Usually these organizations will hire students from those accounting programs.
  • Is there an effective Career Services Center? The following points should be considered: What kind of
    resources are available? What is the center's rack
    record for placing accounting students in internships, Cooperative Education Agreements (co-op's), and full-time positions? (Bullet #5 details the Modis Operandi for an early start.)

Bullet #2:
Professional Examinations- There are primarily three professional exams that the accounting student should be familiar with. They are the CPA, CMA, and CIA Examinations. Since these exams are primarily academic exams, if the student postpones sitting for the exam, it will be difficult for the student to recall the broad range of material tested. Therefore, it is crucial that a student sit for the exam as close to graduation as possible.

In today's competitive job market it is crucial that an accounting student take and pass a professional examination that relates to his or her field. Depending on the student's interests, his or her course of study should have reflected where they would like to be employed and which exam will be taken. As the student moves through the required coursework, an emphasis should be placed on relevance to the professional examination. The successful candidate's accounting program should be viewed as an integrated program that will secure them for proficient capabilities when they enter the work force. Employers recognize the accomplishment and proficiently of a candidate who has passed the professional exam. Passing the exam will weigh heavily for hiring and promotional considerations.

The following is a basic outline of the three professional examinations. Further information can be obtained from the agencies that administer each exam.

The CPA Exam is comprised of four parts and is administered by your State Board of Accountancy in conjunction with the AICPA.

1. FARE: Financial Accounting & Reporting -- Business Enterprises.
2. ARE: Accounting & Reporting -- Taxation, Managerial, and Governmental & Not-for-Profit Organizations.
3. AUDIT: Auditing.
4. LPR: Business Law & Professional Responsibilities.

A student sitting for the CPA exam should plan to take as part of their accounting curriculum:

  • Accounting Principles I & II
  • Intermediate Financial Accounting I & II
  • Advanced Financial Accounting
  • Cost/Managerial Accounting
  • Federal Taxation I & II
  • Governmental and Not-for-Profit Accounting
  • Accounting
  • Business Law I & II

The CMA Exam is comprised of the following four parts and is administered by the IMA:

1. Economics, Finance and Management.
2. Financial Accounting and Reporting.
3. Management, Reporting, Analysis, and Behavioral Issues.
4. Decision Analysis and Information Systems.

A student sitting for the CMA Exam should take as part of their curriculum:

  • Macro & Micro Economics
  • Business, Government, & Society (Environment of Business)
  • Business Law I & II
  • Financial Management
  • Management & Organizational Behavior
  • Accounting Principles I & II
  • Intermediate Accounting I, II, III
  • Advanced Financial Accounting
  • Auditing
  • Cost/Managerial Accounting
  • Advanced Cost/Managerial Accounting
  • Federal Taxation
  • Accounting Information Systems
  • Internal Auditing

The CIA Exam is comprised of these four parts and is administered by the IIA:

1. Internal Audit Process.
2. Internal Audit Skills.
3. Management Control and Information Technology.
4. The Audit Environment.

Therefore, a student sitting for the CIA Exam should take as part of their curriculum:

  • Auditing
  • Advanced Auditing
  • Internal Auditing
  • EDP Auditing
  • Accounting Information Systems
  • Cost/Managerial Accounting
  • Accounting Principles I & II
  • Intermediate Accounting I, II, III
  • Advanced Accounting
  • Financial Management
  • Micro & Macro Economics
  • Federal Taxation
  • Business Law I & II
  • Statistics I & II
  • Marketing
  • Organizational Behavior

Many of the courses required for an accounting degree at most colleges and universities include many of the above. This list, however, provides the mindful student a framework for recommended required/elective course selection.

The successful candidate should not take the exam without a comprehensive review of the material tested. Such a review should take four to six months. These exams are unique in content and format. A candidate must be familiar not only with the material tested, but with the exam itself: topical coverage, the type of questions asked, wording, and detailed structure. Therefore, it is highly recommended that the student purchase and study from review materials such as CPA, CMA, & CIA Review books, tapes, and/or software. There are several review courses that provide structure to the review process. By attending classes, listening to lectures, and completing the required homework assignments, the student will be requisite to succeed in the review process and therefore succeed on the exam. It will take an enormous amount of dedication and heartfelt commitment. The committed student will pass the exam.

Bullet #3:
Student Organizations- Professional student organizations or accounting fraternities, such as Beta Alpha Psi, can be a key to a student's success in maximizing the indirect resources that his or her college has to offer. These organizations are comprised of students who already "know the ropes" of scholarships, co-op, internship, and recruiting opportunities. These organizations establish a strong bond with both the accounting faculty at the college and with potential employers. They act as a "virtual bridge" between the student's academic education and the opportunities that are in the job market. Members are given access to firms, companies, and professional organizations through activities such as "Meet the Accountants Night," office tours, technical sessions usually given by recruiting representatives of a firm or company, and social functions sponsored by the organizations that recruit on campus. Members educate each other in the protocol of the recruiting process such as scheduling, resume preparation and interviewing skills. There is virtually no downside to membership in such organizations. Although there may be a GPA requirement for membership into the Honorary Fraternities, most campuses also have brother/sister accounting clubs that do not place a restriction on membership. Therefore, it is highly recommended that the student become involved in such student organizations. Information can usually be obtained from your college's accounting department.

Bullet #4:
Professional Organizations- The successful candidate will become involved with and knowledgeable about professional accounting organizations such as the AICFA, State CPA Societies, IMA, IIA, AGA, AAA, and your local State Board of Accountancy. Virtually all of these organizations offer accounting student memberships that require only a nominal fee. The advantages of membership are extensive. A student member will usually receive most of the benefits of the regular member including accounting magazines and journals, newsletters, notices of invitation to technical sessions, etc. This material is a valuable resource, as it keeps the student up to date and informed on current industry trends and hot topics. The student need not read every article; however, a general knowledge of the circulating literature and "hot topics" of discussion at technical sessions will make a positive impression on people, whom the successful candidate comes in contact with throughout his/her educational career.
Student affiliation to these organizations is a great networking tool as student members have the opportunity to meet several professionals from a multitude of firms, companies, and industries. The successful candidate will learn what skills are currently in demand and will improve on those skills. Students also gain exposure to what these organizations are like when they are professionals.

Bullet #5:
Career Services Center (CSC)- Too many times, a student will "wake up" one or two semesters before graduation, go to the CSC coordinator, and say: "So where's my job?" That student is a dollar short and a couple years too late. Any student who is involved in a student accounting organization, like Beta Alpha Psi, will know that most accounting recruiters are interviewing candidates on campus in the fall for jobs that probably will not start until the following fall.
As was noted in the introduction and BULLET #1, a student should formulate a personal action plan early in his or her college education. This action plan will outline where the student is today in education, work experience, and accomplishments. This will be the makings of the incomplete resume. "Incomplete" because the student probably lacks RELEVANT work experience. However, through internships or co-op opportunities during the student's sophomore and/or junior years, and involvement with the student accounting organizations, the resume will be complete and ready for the recruiting of a successful candidate. Many times, a student who interned or co-oped at a company will be given a full- time offer by that company. Therefore, it is imperative that as soon as possible a student meet with an advisor at the CSC for assistance in shaping and building his/her resume for an internship or co-op opportunity.

Resumes and Interviews:
The successful candidate's resume will be one page in length; with bold headings; bulleted points of accomplishment; and plenty of white space and margins. The goal of the resume is to guide the recruiter's eye to the points that can grasp their attention and win their respect.

Do not use colored paper or unusual fonts. The paper should be white or off-white with a quality bond. A good font to use is TIMES OR CG Times. It is recommended that the student go to the library and research the art of resume writing. A well-done resume may take a year or two to perfect.

The purpose of the resume is to secure an interview. The purpose of the interview is to achieve a second interview or a job offer. It is essential that the successful candidate be extremely well-prepared for the interview. The student should do their homework on companies and firms that recruit on campus. The CSC should contain a wealth of resources about firms, companies, and professional careers. Many times, the CSC will have a library that is open to all students. Many companies supply the CSC with firm literature and brochures that are available to all students who request them. The student accounting organization is usually also supplied with literature for distribution to its members. Today, many companies and firms have web sites on the Internet. If you have access to the Internet, use it! The college's Accounting Department, CSC, or the student accounting organization may have a printed, downloaded copy of Internet information on major firms and companies. The student should prepare a list of questions that he/she would like to ask the interviewer about his/her firm or company.

Aside from knowing about the firm, a successful candidate must know about themselves! The student should prepare a "sixty-second commercial" about themselves, which describes why they chose the field of accounting, some of their recent accomplishments, and why they want to work for that particular company. Most CSCs will provide students with lists of typical interview questions. Some CSCs even offer mock interview sessions with an advisor that can be videotaped for your viewing critique afterwards.

The successful candidate will arrive to the interview slightly early. One half-hour is plenty of time. The student must keep in mind that everyone he or she meets (from the doorman to the secretary; from passers-by in the hallway, to the partner or president of the company) are all somehow interviewing and evaluating this potential candidate. These are the people that the student will eventually be working with or for. Make a good first impression. The candidate should be conservatively dressed, neat and polished. Err on the side of conservatism. During the interview, the most important point to keep in mind is enthusiasm. The student must be completely honest about their experiences and interests. Be prepared, alert and, most of all, be yourself.

Bullet #6:
Think Ahead, 250 Hour Requirement - In some states, CPA candidates are or will be (by the year 2000) required to have 150 semester hours of education in order to sit for the CPA exam. Generally, this necessitates a bachelor's degree plus thirty additional semester hours of education. (Contact the local State Board of Accountancy to determine the specific requirements.) Therefore, the successful candidate should seriously consider graduate school as an option. A Master's in Business Administration or a Maser's of Accountancy is a desirable objective. Specialized skills are in demand. The successful candidate should be proficient in the use of computers, with an in-depth knowledge of systems, spreadsheets and accounting software. The advanced degree will add value to the candidates marketability by being able to respond to multiple business issues. In today's global economy, companies are searching for prospective employees with skills that will be able to improve productivity and profitability. The successful candidate will have those skills.

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