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Question 1: What general advice would you give to a graduate beginning their career with an accounting degree?


The Arkansas Society of CPAs held the 17th annual Accounting Educators’ Conference yesterday. In one of the breakout sessions, I asked my colleagues what skills they thought would be important for our current graduates to have given the current work environment. We all agreed adaptability is key. Things aren’t going to look exactly like they are presented in the textbook. They never do, but especially not now. Understanding accounting theory so answers to new problems can be explored within the accounting conceptual framework will be key.

I also think familiarity with online communication and collaboration tools is a must. In their resumes and interviews, students should showcase any experience they have with tools like Zoom, Teams, Google Docs, Slack, etc. Also, their interviews are likely to be online, so when the appointment is scheduled, I think they should practice with whatever tool the potential employer is using. If it’s Skype for Business, practice that. If it’s WebEx, practice that, etc. so that they appear (and are) comfortable with the technology during the interview. If they are proficient (rather than familiar) with particular communication and collaborative software, they should list/discuss the features with which they are proficient. Be specific. There’s a big difference between “I’ve participated in a Zoom meeting” and “I can host a meeting, administer registration, file sharing, in-meeting polls, run post-meeting reports, etc.”


Question 2: If a graduate needs to take a gap year, what skills would you recommend they try to enhance and how should they go about doing it?


I think demonstrating knowledge about federal and state pandemic assistance programs and new employer requirements for things like employee paid sick leave, etc. would be a plus. If an applicant can converse about some of those things, they would demonstrate not only that knowledge, but the fact that they pay attention to business and current events.


Question 3: Will there be an enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on graduates?


Finally, more than ever, graduates will likely be working from home. Therefore, they will need self-discipline and organizational skills to simulate a work schedule and environment at home. They will also need to be able to demonstrate and document productivity, while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

In the past, online classes and degrees have been viewed by many as being somewhat inferior to face-to-face classes. I think that tide has turned. Now, the very skills that make someone successful in an online class will make them successful in the current, remote work environment. Showcasing what they have done in online classes will be a plus when applying and interviewing for jobs during and after the pandemic. I think employers who realize how much time and money is saved by working remotely will be reluctant to change that post-pandemic.

Question 1: What general advice would you give to a graduate beginning their career with an accounting degree?


We are fortunate that the vast majority of accounting firms are honoring their employment offers, so our Masters of Professional Accountancy (MPAc) students will have jobs upon graduation. But the start date for many has been delayed. In the past, MPAc graduates juggled starting their jobs and studying for the CPA exam. With the delayed start date, it makes sense that MPAc graduates will use the time to study and successfully complete the CPA exam so when they do report to work, they will be better prepared to focus on their clients.


Question 2: If a graduate needs to take a gap year, what skills would you recommend they try to enhance and how should they go about doing it?


Be gracious, curious, and keep learning.

Question 1: What general advice would you give to a graduate beginning their career with an accounting degree?


It was a great time to be entering the accounting industry before the pandemic. Our students were serving in internships in huge numbers and our graduates were enjoying 100% placement usually with multiple offers. The entry level professionals were entering a profession marked by emerging and evolving technologies that made even the entry level duties especially interesting. Further, our tech comfortable young professionals were experiencing quick advancement because of their ability to employ the new technologies.

Most of the above remains true so the only open question is job availability. It would be unrealistic to say things are great. However, it seems that job prospects for accounting majors will be better than for those of virtually every other entry level profession during difficult times. I have been speaking with firm leaders across the spectrum of firms and most do intend to be on campus in the fall recruiting season. Of course, they have a lot of time to learn more about the economy over the next few months but we are cautiously optimistic. Again, i am confident that whatever the state of job availability for young cpas-to-be, prospects will be better for accounting graduates than virtually any other profession.

They will be entering the profession at a fascinating moment in time. Of course, the technological advances assure this regardless of economic conditions. However, there are business disruption-related issues that will provide rich opportunities for making a difference. For example, audit staff will be working with clients to see them through these troubling times. Lamentably, i fear that these young professionals will learn more about the going concern determination than they desire to know. Tax staff will help clients to optimally use the tax loss carrybacks and carryforwards that are arising by the day. Entry level professionals in corporate accounting will get a day-to-day front row seat in business management through crisis. While lamentable times, these are times when young professionals can make a difference that saves jobs.


Question 2: If a graduate needs to take a gap year, what skills would you recommend they try to enhance and how should they go about doing it?


In the spirit of continuing education i would recommend the following. First and foremost, successfully complete the cpa exam. This is a huge difference maker in the market place. If the young professional has already accomplished that, i would consider developing expertise consistent with their long-term career goals. Potential areas of expertise include data analytics, information systems controls and security, taxation, sec reporting, or management accounting. There are certificate programs in each of these skills at universities across the country. The internet is also replete with free or relatively inexpensive materials for the self-starters.


Question 3: Will there be an enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on graduates?


I think the most enduring impact of the pandemic will be the tight job market that will likely result. As i said above, the prospects for accounting majors will likely be brighter than for other majors, but for at least a few years – they will not be as bright as they were for the past few decades. Thus, i recommend that young professional distinguish themselves by gaining the cpa credential and demonstrating at least competency with the evolving technologies. One thing will not change though. The most important skills will always be positivity, passion, and perserverence.

Question 1: What general advice would you give to a graduate beginning their career with an accounting degree?


Strong candidates will continue to find career opportunities at CPA firms much like they have in the past. Start date commencing in Fall 2020 will very likely hold but earlier scheduled start dates may be delayed because many firms are not yet prepared for remote training recent graduate hires.


Question 2: If a graduate needs to take a gap year, what skills would you recommend they try to enhance and how should they go about doing it?


If a student is finishing up an undergraduate degree without the prospects for employment, I highly recommend looking at a masters in taxation or masters in accounting. Especially a masters in taxation will pay dividends over one’s career and is a highly sought after degree. If additional education is not an option then I suggest any job opportunities that would provide experience in sales or project management. These skills will always be valued by the accounting industry.


Question 3: Will there be an enduring impact of the coronavirus pandemic on graduates?


Many firms have started furloughs or pay reductions and this may or may not have an impact to existing offer letters for students. It’s problematic as an associate who now has nearly a year of experience and recently received a pay reduction likely makes less than those students with offer letters sent out last fall. These situations will likely be remedied with temporary pay reductions for those starting with offer letters drafted before April 2020.

This summer’s internships are going to be a mixed bag as firms deal with the reality of having to develop a remote internship program or keep their fingers crossed that their shelter-in-place orders are released and a return to offices occurs in May. Without the return to offices, many firms just aren’t up for the logistical challenge of adapting their internship programs to a remote work environment.

The good news is that accounting firms are adapting very quickly to the remote work environment and that overall demand for compliance services (audit and tax) is likely to hold or only see modest declines in demand whereas productivity (work done per day rather than hours charged to clients) per employee is suffering as accountants adapt. I’d anticipate some short term disruptions for recent grads but overall, this is still a phenomenal degree to be graduating with in 2020.

Chris Kolmar
Chris Kolmar
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