Tips for an Accounting Graduate

College Students walking across campus

Are you headed off to school to your last year of college or seeking an internship for the upcoming year? Feeling like you’re not prepared or unsure of what your professional future may hold?

After reading this, hopefully, you will leave with ideas to consider and perhaps a different perspective on your own professional future. The advice is based solely on personal experience as well as the experience of friends and colleagues, take this advice but remember you have to make the best decision for you.

For the Graduating Seniors:

If you have already lined up a job- congrats! I am guessing you are still a bit nervous and  aren’t sure what to expect? Don’t be nervous about starting and knowing everything right away! We expect recent graduates to need lots of help and we will teach you as you go! It’s really true, while you have concepts, applying them in the real world is totally different so just get to your desk, take notes, and check your work before submitting it to your boss for review! Do not panic if you don’t know something, ask questions until you understand. Dress professionally, play it on the safe side! Even if you are in a casual work environment don’t wear jeans for the first few weeks!

If you are job seeking, consider the following as you navigate finding your first position:

1) If you have a passion or know what you want to do long-term- get started now. Getting in your sector at entry level can be key to finding future opportunities at a higher level. For instance, if you know you want to work in international development then start your career in that sector as employers are often looking for those with experience in the sector. If you know you want to be in non-profit start your career with a public firm specializing in non-profit audits/tax. Or construction – look for a real estate accounting firm.

2) Seriously consider starting your career in Public Accounting- By far experience in public accounting is the most sought after work experience for any employer because of the foundation that audit/tax experience at public firm provides. Beginning your career in accounting at a public accounting firm for the audit or tax department is a great way to build solid technical skills, gain exposure to various sectors, and to enhance your own professional development. As an auditor, as opposed to a staff accountant at a private company, you will learn to be comfortable with auditing procedures and GAAP, but in addition, you will be comfortable combing through a general ledger. Employers and recruiters look frequently for those with public accounting experience because of that foundation making the transition from public accounting to the private sector fairly easy when the time comes for your your next career move. Also, public accounting firms often encourage and help offset the cost of studying to pass the CPA exam and obtaining your CPA license as well as provide ample continuing education opportunities. Continuing education is required once you obtain your CPA license. The cost to maintain your license including licensing renewal fees is at a minimum a few hundred dollars a year.

3) If you’re positive you don’t want to be in public accounting then this is all about personal choice and fit. What sort of working environment do you prefer? If you don’t know, think back to your classes for some insight. Did you prefer your small classes of 30-40 or the super large lectures of over 200? Are you interested in working for a publicly traded company, a small business or a non-profit organization? Where do you envision yourself fitting in?

  • Apply to everything that sparks an interest!
  • Get the interview!
  • When interviewing ask tons of questionsfind out how keen they are on mentoring and training. Find out if there are opportunities for training and development. Determine if there is room for growth. Meet as many team members/bosses as possible and figure out how much folks communicate with one another.
  • Decide if you can see yourself at the company/organization based on questions you asked and what they told you about the culture, etc. Being happy at work honestly is 90% about the work and the people. So if you click with the people then great! The only way you will know about the work as an upcoming graduate is by doing it!

For the Juniors and Sophomores- Everything above applies but in addition:

4) Get an internship if possible. It’s a great way to get a little experience and exposure before you decide where to go full-time. Plus its spending money!!

5) Go abroad, seriously! Unless you are extremely travel adverse, if at all possible go abroad for a semester or even a year! It is an amazing experience and one that will help you grow immensely and possibly even help you figure out what your first career move will be!

6) Consider staying in school for 150 credits and obtaining either a Masters Degree or Double Degree (# credits needed in most states for a CPA license) Take accounting or other business courses that can help you determine a path and/or give you more exposure to various types of accounting/sectors. I haven’t found a masters degree to be as desirable as a CPA however depending upon the industry, Government/International Development, a master degree is favorable for higher level positions.

7) Take a resume building/interviewing course if offered or visit your career center for assistance.

8) If you have student loans, start paying now if possible!

For the Freshman- Stop reading this and go enjoy being a young adult while you can! In all seriousness, if you are a freshman my best advice is start planning your semester studying abroad and experience as much of the world as you can!


Written by Allison Como