October 5, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
University of Arkansas
The University of Scranton
Case Western Reserve University
California State University San Marcos
Loyola University Maryland
University of Maine at Augusta
Rhode Island College
University of Pittsburgh - Johnstown
University of Wisconsin
Red Rocks Community College
Baruch College, City University New York
The University of Texas Permian Basin
University of Arkansas
Kris Allee Ph.D.: Generally, prior experience working with US GAAP for financial reporting purposes, knowledge of regulatory standards, and the ability to reconcile accounts are necessary. Most successful candidates would likely be CPAs and have several years of work experience, sufficient general business knowledge, and have some degree of software proficiency. Abilities such as data analysis and critical thinking would be key as well. Some employers prefer accounting manager candidates who hold a master's degree to signify the level of skills and knowledge they have acquired.
Kris Allee Ph.D.: Given an accounting manager assumes a leadership position at the firm, the ability to lead effectively, communicate well, and organize and manage projects would be the most important soft skills necessary.
Kris Allee Ph.D.: Knowledge of US GAAP and applicable regulatory standards. Proficiency in word processing and spreadsheet applications as well as specialized accounting software as needed.
Kris Allee Ph.D.: Certainly, passing the CPA exam is a must, as it is considered a necessary condition for advancement. Passing the exam also helps certify the minimum level of skills the person may possess. Financial analysis skills are also highly valued and hard to find in the average staff accountant. These skills traditionally would include computing, quantitative analysis, and understanding forecasting techniques and limitations. Finally, communication skills and the ability to effectively manage expectations and projects are what make an accountant indispensable and valuable to a firm.
The University of Scranton
Dr. Douglas Boyle: Accounting is a very technical profession, so any credential that shows you have an advanced level of knowledge makes a candidate stand out. Accountants have many opportunities to pursue credentials. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is the only accounting credential that is a license from the state. If you hold a CPA, the AICPA offers six specialty credentials to consider pursuing, including Certified Information Technology Professional (CITP), Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV), Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF), Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), and Certified in Entity and Intangible Valuations (CEIV). Three other organizations to consider that do not require a CPA to pursue are the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE). The IMA offers two credentials, the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) and Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis (CSCA). The IIA offers six credentialling opportunities, the Certified Internal Auditor (CIA), Certification in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA), Qualification in Internal Audit Leadership (QIAL), Certified Process Safety Auditor (CPSA), and Certified Professional Environmental Auditor (CPEA). Last, the ACFE offers the Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). These opportunities enable accountants to specialize in several areas and provide opportunities to stand out. Our research shows that in addition to technical skills, soft skills are very important as you move to higher levels of a firm or organization.
Dr. Douglas Boyle: Our research shows that achieving a high level of emotional intelligence is viewed as most important by senior accounting professionals. Emotional intelligence is made up of self-awareness that includes emotional awareness and self-confidence. Self-management includes self-control, trustworthiness, conscientiousness, adaptability, and innovation. Social awareness includes empathy and organizational awareness. Relationship management includes influence, conflict management, teamwork, leadership, and communication. While it is important to work on all these skills, the three that are deemed most critical for accounting professionals are trustworthiness, conscientiousness, teamwork, and communication.
Dr. Douglas Boyle: While it is important to be technically competent in all areas of accounting, you add the most value by being an expert in a few areas. That is why you may consider pursuing additional credentials (as shown above) in areas of interest to you. This enables you to master the technical skills and demonstrate such skills on your resume.
Thomas King: Evidence that someone is smart is a fast learner and works well with others.
Thomas King: The ability to develop working relationships with a wide range of colleagues who have diverse skills.
Thomas King: The ability to extract information from unfamiliar data sets and then explain conclusions reached in a clear, persuasive manner.
Thomas King: The ability to lead others to bring about intended change.
Delvin Grant: Yes. I strongly believe coronavirus will have a lasting impact on new graduates. A increasing paradigm shift is taking place as we speak, as some IT-related jobs can be done remotely. I expect the shift to continue until a steady state condition is achieved, when companies feel they have the right mix of remote and face-to-face employment. Some companies may resist the trend, valuing face-to-face over remote working. Face-to-face satisfies a human need to socialize and, in some cultures, much business is done by face-to-face. There is evidence of a paradigm shift as many IT employees work remotely, due to the pandemic. Some companies have realized the shift is here to stay and others take a wait and see attitude. It is hard not to recognize the shift as there are cost saving from office rent, office space, heating, cooling, computing cost, travel costs, etc. The impact will vary by profession. IT and other professions are a natural fit for remote working while others are not. For example, a chemist working in a lab environment cannot work from home as his lab is the only place to mix and experiment with chemicals and chemistry.
Delvin Grant: To answer this question, I am assuming a COVID-19 environment. We know most jobs can be carried out in a face-to-face mode, but if this is not possible in a COVID environment, then it is difficult to consider those jobs as good jobs. Therefore, a good job is one that can be easily carried out in a COVID environment so MIS, IT, Computer Science, and similar professions that fit a remote working mode are excellent jobs.
Delvin Grant: Salaries of MIS and IT professionals have changed. About 10 years ago the average entry level salary of MIS students was in the mid 50's but that has steadily increased to the low to mid 60's. I expect this trend to continue as more business processes are automated and the demand for IT workers increases.
Jolynn Zhou Ph.D.: Under the current climate, many accounting jobs are becoming remote. This trend is particularly noticeable among the larger accounting firms, while smaller firms, due to lack of resources and simpler structures, are more likely to work in a traditional office environment. Going forward, some of these changes will stay. Post pandemic, remote working will not be as prevalent as now, but will become somewhat common and acceptable.
Recruiting is almost 100 percent remote now. This has both pros and cons to the students. With the remote setting, a potential job candidate may get opportunities and face time they would not have gotten in a traditional job fair. But the cons are obvious as well. Students would have to be more proactive and make a more concerted effort to get out of their comfort zone.
Jolynn Zhou Ph.D.: This may be surprising to some business school students, but Excel skill is very important and highly valued by employers. In recent years, data analytics is becoming more and more important. Many business schools and accounting programs are beginning of offer this course.
Jolynn Zhou Ph.D.: The answer to this question really is highly subjective. Different students may give you different answers. Typically younger, fresh-out-of-college students prefer public accounting because they get to learn a lot in a relatively short period of time and it is good for career advancement. Students with families may prefer private accounting because of the work-life balance and the predictable work hours. Government jobs can be attractive too because of the benefits. Ultimately it is up to the student to determine what type of job is best for themselves.
Joseph Hargadon Ph.D.: Clearly one of the biggest trends that I expect to continue is working remotely---it is now in vogue. After almost a year operating in a pandemic environment, employers are recognizing that remote work does not negatively affect the productivity and effectiveness of their employees.
Another major trend I expect to see is more competition for accounting positions as the pool of potential candidates will be larger.
Employers are not as constrained by geographic limitations as they might have been during pre-pandemic times.
They can interview candidates in a cost effective manner from anywhere in the world and candidates need not be physically on site to carry out their work responsibilities.
Joseph Hargadon Ph.D.: A gap year is not an uncommon situation in this pandemic environment given the number of accounting positions is fewer and the competition for those jobs is fiercer.
Graduates taking a gap year need to make judicious use of that time. Acquiring new skills in such areas as data analytics and information technology, earning professional certifications, and volunteering with not-for profits will demonstrate to an employer that they have continued to learn and grow during this time. Since accounting professionals (i.e., CPAs) are required by law to meet continuing education requirements to maintain their license, it is imperative that gap year graduates show employers that they are staying current and advancing their competencies and skills in business.
Also, graduates taking a gap year must learn and prepare for difficult questions when they eventually start their virtual interviewing. Interviewing in a remote world is somewhat different than interviewing in person.
Rehearsing and doing mock virtual interviews is more important than ever today.
Joseph Hargadon Ph.D.: Even during pre-pandemic times, I provide the following recommendations to my accounting graduates as they begin their careers. I expect that they all will work hard, be motivated and follow directions, but I always add the following:
-Be a team player.
Their ability to work well with others, even in a remote culture, will continue to be valuable. In particular, they will need to enhance their ability to collaborate in a digital environment
-Continue to be an effective time manager. Being able to prioritize and multi-task in an efficient manner will lead to a better work-life balance.
-Be adaptable and willing to change as needed. As we know change is the one constant in today's post-digital workplace.
-Have a great attitude 100% of the time.
Volunteer for additional assignments, admit your mistakes, commend your colleagues and don't be a "whiner".
Note: If you number our alphabet from 1 to 16 (A = 1, B = 2, Z= 26, etc.), you will find that the numbers that correspond to the letters in the word "ATTITUDE" add up exactly to 100%.
A T T I T U D E
+ 20 +
20 + 9
+ 20 +
21 + 4
+ 5 = 100%
Dr. JP Krahel Ph.D.: Given that working from home is becoming a more acceptable thing, I think you'll find geographically broader competition for what were previously local jobs. "Oh, you live in Denver? Well, we have a need for your skill set in Tampa. Do you mind working full-time from home?"
The pandemic will also likely accelerate pre-existing pushes toward automation and outsourcing. This may mean fewer jobs, but jobs that require higher-level thinking. Analytical, communication, and interpersonal skills will be more valued.
A less exciting trend that I've observed is higher turnover. One downside to the work-from-home scenario is a much lower affinity for the workplace, and a diminished sense of employer-employee connection You're also losing the soft skills that come with daily interaction, something that can't be properly replicated over a computer screen.
Dr. JP Krahel Ph.D.: First, Excel. It's the most basic, essential tool for the accounting professional. If you can come in on Day 1 knowing essential keyboard shortcuts, proper formula and reference use, and how to format a spreadsheet properly, you'll have an immediate advantage over your peers.
Second, believe it or not, is writing. People think that accounting is all about numbers, but really, it's less about the math (which Excel does for you) and more about being able to explain the deeper meaning behind the results. Can you explain complex depreciation methods to an audit client? Give bad news to a tax client in an understandable way? These are big deals.
Third is data analytics. Given the immense volume of data now available to firms, someone who can extract, clean, and present that data using modern software tools will have an edge. It's really another form of communication, and one that early-career accounting professionals would do well to familiarize themselves with before entering the workforce.
Dr. JP Krahel Ph.D.: Entry-level auditor or tax accountant at a public accounting firm. Pandemic or no pandemic, these are the jobs that give you a cross-sectional, top-to-bottom view of an entire company, coworkers who know the ropes and are willing to teach you on the job, and the kind of experience that future employers value dearly. There's a reason so many of my own students launch their careers at public accounting firms, regardless of where they end up years later.
University of Maine at Augusta
Departament of Accounting
Thomas Giordano: More graduating students are working from home so that will take getting used to.
Thomas Giordano: Newly graduating accounting students or gap year students should work on developing their Data Science and accounting software proficiencies. That's the future, which is happening right now.
School of Business and Technology
D. Pace Porter: I believe the need for accounting and financial expertise will even be greater as a result of the pandemic. First, the increased technical accounting and reporting requirements related to risks disclosures, impairment analysis and so forth, and the tax and compliance requirements as a result of the various Coronavirus relief and stimulus legislation, will prompt an increase in demand whether through in-house personnel or through CPA firms. Trends toward more technologically advanced graduates began before the pandemic but will accelerate as a result of it. More importantly, however, is the need for improving economic and operational efficiencies, and therefore cash flow, for businesses to continue as a going concern throughout this pandemic and position themselves for growth once things return to some sort of normal. Accounting and financial expertise has an increasingly important role to play here.
D. Pace Porter: I am not a big fan of an accounting graduate, or any graduate for that matter, taking a gap year, but I understand if one must due to family or other legitimate reasons. You are entering a profession, not just seeking a job, so enter that profession. The accounting profession, including accounting, audit and tax disciplines, constantly changes. Therefore, it would be critical to stay on top of those technical changes in a gap year. Studies have clearly demonstrated that it is best to take the CPA exam as soon after graduation or completion of sufficient academic hours as possible. You can stay current through readings of professional journals and other resources. Other skills to enhance would include the "soft skills" of communication, critical thinking and analysis, and creativity.
D. Pace Porter: The accounting profession is made up of several disciplines and is inherent in all businesses from small and medium size to large, publicly traded global companies. You should have a solid idea of where you want to begin. Private industry accounting, which industry, general accounting or tax; or public accounting with a CPA firm and audit, tax or advisory services within that type organization? These are some of the questions that you must answer for yourself, as well as for the potential interviewer. You should have the information necessary to help you answer those after completing your degree and taking all of the required accounting courses. I would also advise you to focus on general skills such as written and oral communication, technology (Excel and beyond), attention to detail, time management and above all, professional integrity.
Rhode Island College
Assistant Professor of Accounting
Sean Cote: The biggest trends that we will see because of the pandemic is more remote jobs in the future. I know several professionals that are not going back to an office. They will continue to work from remote locations even once COVID-19 is over.
This trend continues to stress that college graduates be able to be flexible and willing to learn new technology. This trend also stresses that maybe you can have more options when it comes to one of your biggest expenses when you finish your college career... rent. You may now be able to live in lower cost of living areas and still move towards your career goals.
Sean Cote: If a student can't find a job I would recommend continuing the journey toward their long-term goals.
I graduated in the top 10% of my accounting class and couldn't get a job in a CPA firm. My long-term goals were to become a CPA. As my GAP year, I immediately started studying for the CPA exam and took out a loan and registered for a Master's degree program. During my gap year time I was offered a full-time job at a CPA firm but now I was well on my way to becoming a CPA.
Always be aware of what your long-term goals are. When a stumbling block gets in the way, find a way around it so that you are still moving towards that goal.
Don't be afraid to take a lower-paying job if it helps you gain experience towards those long-term professional goals.
Sean Cote: Enjoy every day.
Learn from everything you do in your job. Especially when you make mistakes. I did a triathlon two years ago. It took a ton of training for me to be ready for this race. Was I good at anything that was part of the triathlon? Nope, in fact, I HATE running and biking. But I knew that if I put my mind to it, and worked hard, I could finish this race... and I did! The same thing applies to your career. Work hard and put your mind to it and you can reach your long-term career goals. Good luck, graduates!
Cristina DeDiana: The pandemic has affected all of us, for better and for worse. The negative effects include the lack of social interactions and mentoring. Work is social and working remotely does not encourage socialization; graduates are missing out on developing relationships with work colleagues. Mentoring opportunities are also limited; career advancement may be hindered as a result of the lack of mentoring. There is also the danger of work time bleeding into off time and losing the work-life balance we all so desperately need. On the positive side, though, many individuals have become more productive-getting more work done in less time-in order to care for family members during "off" hours, or achieve that work-life balance. Unfortunately, the negative consequences seem to be more prevalent than the positive ones.
Cristina DeDiana: As we have already seen, technology is taking over our lives. Graduates are already expected to know Excel and to use data analytics. In the future, it is likely they will need to be well-versed in using Artificial Intelligence to support business decisions. Above and beyond the technical skills, though, graduates should be able to communicate with their employers and clients. All that technical knowledge is useless unless it can be effectively communicated to decision makers. Writing and speaking skills are never going to disappear, and with remote working becoming more ubiquitous, the ability to communicate effectively becomes more imperative. Also, as we have seen during the pandemic, we also need to be flexible to adapt to ever-changing conditions. While (I hope) we won't have to deal with a global pandemic again, the world and life will continue to change, and we need to change with it, embracing the technology.
Cristina DeDiana: All experiences are great. Anything that demonstrates a commitment will show employers that a candidate has potential. Obviously, an internship in your field tops the list, but don't neglect to include that first burger-flipping job, the organizations you belong to, the sport you played in high school, and volunteer activities. The most important experience is the one that means the most to you and that you can speak about passionately.
Dr. William Miller: For accounting jobs, the pandemic has primarily impacted internships versus full time positions for graduates. The vast majority of our students do an internship in accounting (>90%). Many of those students (25 - 30%) do more than one. These internships can be in public accounting (audit, tax or blended), in private industry, or even the governmental or nonprofit sectors. The majority are full time (primarily offered during the spring of the year), or part-time multi-year opportunities. We are seeing the number of internships available decrease as a result of the pandemic. Many have moved to remote internships. The firms are doing an excellent job figuring out how to provide valuable internships to our students during this time. However, we have seen what I think is a temporary decrease in internship opportunities as the firms figure out how best to provide them in this format.
The full time job market of accountants has not been impacted in any material way. There is and will continue to be virtually 100% employment for our accounting graduates.
Dr. William Miller: While a student can get an accounting degree with one hundred twenty credits, virtually all employers want their new hires to graduate with the requisite one hundred fifty credits to make them eligible to sit for the CPA exam (whether they intend to sit for it or not). Ninety-nine percent of our students graduate with one hundred fifty credits, most often with a double major. Historically that second major has been finance, however, that has changed. The gold standard of double majors is now accounting and information systems. It is not just me saying that, but the employers as well.
The entire world is data driven, every college of business needs to add course work that teaches students how to analyze and interpret data. Not just accounting, but every college of business degree. A resume highlighting either a second major in information systems or completing course work in data helps to set students above the fray. We have added a data analytics course to our accounting program as well as having incorporated integrated data analytics into several other courses, as well.
Highlighting expertise in the use of Microsoft Excel on a resume (perhaps gained through both course work and internship experience) also will stand out.
The above examples are all required, pandemic or not, but with the pandemic, essential skills, like the ability to work independently, communicate effectively, solve unstructured problems, and think critically, have taken on much more importance. Luckily, these are all attributes that we help our students develop throughout our program.
While I am a full time professor, I do a fair amount of consulting and just completed a two and a half year stint as the Chief Financial Officer of a struggling business. The last two years of that work were done entirely remotely. The technologies we have available today to stay connected, share data, communicate, and collaborate all exist and are phenomenal. Microsoft 365 including Teams (I prefer this over Zoom, Skype, etc.) has been a gamechanger for both industry and academia. I can't imagine how any of us would have gotten through the last eighteen months without these products. Our students are well versed in all these products and have been experiencing their use in most of their classes in some form or another in the last year. So, they will start their careers already experienced in how to use them.
Dr. William Miller: We have an extensive network of employers (local, regional, national, and international) that recruit our students. Our graduates can go wherever they want and get jobs in accounting (within and outside of Wisconsin). Some of our students stay in the Eau Claire area, however, Eau Claire is just 90 minutes from Minneapolis and Saint Paul Minnesota, which means a majority of our graduates take jobs in Minnesota. Eau Claire is about five hours from Chicago, so our graduates take jobs there, too.
Our students are not limited in job opportunities. If they want to work in a rural community, there are job opportunities for them. If they want to work in large cities, they can do that too. I have had students take jobs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Washington D.C., and even London. The reason for this is two-fold: we have a very strong accounting program, and there is a shortage of accountants that is not going to go away any time soon.
Red Rocks Community College
Janet Tarase: Even though over 7 million people are currently unemployed, employers still need individuals to maintain their operations. Human Resource departments are recruiting individuals through social media platforms. My daughter works in HR recruiting and they only use LinkedIn. Companies are using video or phone interviews to select candidates. Which means that potential candidates have to communicate effectively and make a good first impression quickly.
Employers will be looking for individuals that have proven communication, organizational and time management skills that are able to work independently since telecommuting will be continuing in the future. Applicants will also need to have technological and critical thinking skills to manage the challenges presented while working from home. Because of the pandemic and so many of us having to work from home, companies may broaden their recruiting geography to find the best candidates out of state or in different time zones. Finally, employees need to be flexible and resilient - you never know what the next job requirement will demand.
Janet Tarase: Students that need to take a gap year have several opportunities to make that year count. They should consider doing one or more of the following three things:
Work on honing your soft skills, which include: critical thinking/problem solving, oral/written communication, teamwork/collaboration, technology/digital literacy, leadership, professionalism, time management, organizational, and confidence. These talents are desired by employers and also will help you succeed in your educational aspirations
Take free classes offered online through organizations like edX at EDX. Even Harvard is offering free classes, check out:
Also expand your global views or overcome those challenges you may be facing by checking out Ted Talks at Ted
Look for a job (full or part-time) or internship in your chosen career field. Even entry-level positions can allow you to see how this job fits into the larger picture or you could ask to shadow someone for a day. Since I am in the accounting field, I suggest contacting Accountemps; their website is: RobertHalf Occasionally, you can also receive job and skill enhancement training through Accountemps.
Janet Tarase: Create a vision board to set your yearly objectives and a long-term strategic plan that includes your professional and personal goal aspirations; be prepared to modify both of these guides as things change in your life. Join LinkedIn, if you haven't already, update it and make sure it is current. Make connections with a local professionals' group and create a network of like-minded, goal-oriented individuals. Also find a mentor or ask senior employees for their advice and counseling. Clean up your social media accounts or at the very least mark your questionable content as private so you are not sharing it publicly; become the professional you want to be. Continue your professional development, either through your employer, free online programs, or by furthering your education. Keep track of your accomplishments and continue to update your biography and resume. Finally, be appreciative and modest - thank those that help you and make sure to acknowledge those who participated in your successes.
Dr. Lilac Nachum Ph.D.: The impact of the pandemic on graduates' employment opportunities is already notable, apparent in terms of the demand for graduates and the nature of employment. With millions of people out of jobs, the pandemic diminished the employment prospects and made it more difficult to enter into the job market. But whereas this effect is likely to be short-lived, and may disappear as the economy recovers, the more enduring one would be the change in the nature of employment. As the economy goes through structural change, the nature of the demand for jobs would change too. The crisis triggered accelerated transformation to "all things digital", much of it is likely to continue beyond the pandemics. This would boost demand for employment in the digital economy.
Dr. Lilac Nachum Ph.D.: In light of the changes described in #1, the most apparent skills would be those related to digital employment. These will relate to both new opportunities, created digitally, as well as the transformation of brick and mortar jobs online. The former requires skills such as online management of supply chains, digital marketing, online sale, and the likes. These new jobs might require in addition to digital skills also heavy doses of creativity and entrepreneurship as new products and industries are being created and developed. In relation to the latter, the jobs themselves might be well established and familiar for some graduates but their delivery would be transformed in significant ways and require advanced digital skills related to the implementation of these activities.
Dr. Lilac Nachum Ph.D.: Digital experience as well as entrepreneurial background, as it signals to potential employers the ability to capitalize on the new opportunities opening up digitally.
Carol Sullivan: My hope is that the Permian Basin will diversify and strengthen health care, so I actually think students in our Accounting for Healthcare classes will benefit from the trends because of the pandemic. Also, students in supply chain and logistics will be rewarded in terms of trends. Finally, I think that the energy sector that basically defines the area will rebound and the great jobs will stabilize.
Carol Sullivan: Microsoft Office is most important in my professional opinion, but also Accounting software like QuickBooks is important. Computer literacy is really important, especially if employees continue to work remotely.
Carol Sullivan: Texas is still extremely fertile and the best region in the United States in my opinion. West Texas is excellent, but my perception is that Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth, and South Texas may be better. It really depends on the type of lifestyle a person wants to live.