Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.

Where Do I Go in Accounting, and How Do I Get There?

Brandon D. Saylor, CPABy Brandon D. Saylor, CPA

Landing your first job after college can be daunting, regardless of the profession you've chosen. If you're planning to grow your career within the accounting sector, you may be having trouble thinking of ways to ensure that you stand out in a sea of well-qualified professionals. Obtaining the certified public accountant (CPA) designation is one of the best ways to float to the top.

To become a CPA, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree plus a little extra coursework and experience to be able to sit for the certification exams and ultimately obtain the CPA license. The benefits to becoming a CPA are numerous: expanded job opportunities, higher demand from employers, job security, and high potential earnings. It’s not an easy path, though.

Luckily, there are a few steps you can take during school and at the beginning of your career to boost your chances of success. If you're willing to put in the work early on, consider the public accounting sector, and dedicate yourself in your interviews, you may be surprised by what you can accomplish.

Get Experience Early

Student gaining work experienceGetting a head start on some accounting experience while still in school can go a long way toward helping you land your first position out of college. Be on the lookout for internships, externships, and co-ops during your time at college.

When you do land a position while in college, take it seriously. You may need to improve your time management skills or miss out on a trip with friends here and there once your responsibilities increase, but this is critical job experience. You want to ensure you put your best foot forward. A lot of public accounting firms will hire their more successful interns, so showing up and producing good work is paramount.

Consider Going Public

Beginning your career in public accounting provides excellent long-term growth opportunity within the industry. If you have a background in public accounting, your employment options will blossom and you'll have the freedom to take your career in countless directions. Whether you want to climb the public accounting ladder, make the switch to corporate work, or start your own business outside of the field, public accounting offers a solid foundation to build a career on.

Nail Your Interviews

Standing out from your competition during your interview for an accounting position may be more important than it is in other fields. When you plan for an accounting interview, think of ways to show that you possess the following qualities:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Capable of understanding niche financial and business concepts
  • Have interest in the company

Asking pointed, specific questions of the interviewer can help demonstrate these qualities.

As with any interview, go into the room with the feeling that it's your choice, not the company's. You should feel empowered that you're going after a job that you know you're the best fit for. You can show the interviewer that you are confident in what you bring to the table in a few easy steps:

  • Stay focused during the interview
  • Sell yourself
  • Show passion and excitement for the opportunity

An interview is no time to be shy! It's your time to shine. Don't be afraid to speak about your accomplishments or to show your enthusiasm.

Final Thoughts

Accounting offers a variety of options for those entering the field, but by becoming a CPA in the public accounting sector you will have many more open doors to explore as you grow your career. Students and young professionals should work in the profession to gain experience early while considering or studying for their CPA credential.

For more insight on the public and corporate accounting worlds, as well as job interviewing tips, check out Episode 3 of the Pennsylvania CPA Foundation’s “Work Your Way to CPA” podcast series. All episodes of the series, as well as additional resources to help you successfully reach CPA status, can be found on www.picpa.org/workyourway.

Brandon D. Saylor, CPA, is a partner in the Philadelphia office of Atlantic Group. He can be reached at bsaylor@atlantic-grp.com.

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