February 26, 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.
Freeman College of ManagementWebsite
Stacy Mastrolia Ph.D.: I expect to see employers continue to screen candidates and conduct interviews remotely. This really emphasizes the need for job candidates to develop an impressive professional online appearance and demeanor. Judging from how students appear in remote class meetings, some students really need to work on this. There are plenty of online sources that talk about lighting, camera position and staged backgrounds to help a job candidate put their best foot forward in an online interview. And, of course, candidates should get rid of any distractions (like their phones) and stay focused on the interview - even though their computer is open, an interview is not the time to multi-task.
During the job interview, I expect hiring managers will try to evaluate a candidate's ability to innovate with technology. Job candidates should inquire what technology an employer uses to accomplish their day-to-day work and then be proactive and familiarize themselves with those programs or apps before their first day at their new job. Also, I think we will see hiring managers evaluating a candidate's ability to work independently and to work in virtual teams. In this case, most current students should be able to point to specific projects, assignments, and activities that they successfully completed during the past year as most students have experienced some level of remote learning. Candidates who can demonstrate effective collaboration in a remote environment will be highly valued by employers.
Stacy Mastrolia Ph.D.: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, accountants should possess analytical skills, critical-thinking skills, and communication skills. They should also be detail-oriented and possess strong math and organizational skills (www.bls.gov). Of course, we can all agree that technology and teamwork skills are also necessary for successful accountants.
While these skills are still in high demand for accountants, post-pandemic, I believe we will see an increased need for job candidates to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability. This year's graduates are entering a work environment that is not "traditional"; at this point it seems unlikely that this year's graduates will start their careers in a traditional office (or at a client) in close proximity to more experienced professionals who are immediately available to provide instruction and assistance. So, this year's graduates need to be prepared - professionally and emotionally - to adapt to the work environment in place at their employer. And they need to be prepared for that environment to change with little warning. This semester I am teaching almost exclusively undergraduate seniors, and at Bucknell we started classes in-person, after one week we went remote for two weeks and now we are back to in-person learning. During these transitions, I have found that some students are struggling to keep up with the material; they are falling behind and missing deadlines in far greater numbers than in previous semesters. The ability to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances while still accomplishing goals will be in great demand by employers.
I also think that graduates should place an emphasis on developing time-management skills and the ability to prioritize effectively. Alternative work environments, like working remotely, remove certain cues that the day is passing. For example, in a "normal" work day, a young professional would find routines including a mid-morning coffee break and lunch with friends or colleagues and these daily routines would help to mark the passing of time. When someone works from home, these cues may not occur naturally so time can "slip away". Also, working from home provides any number of distractions that may seem urgent in the moment but are not important to achieve that day's work goals; effectively prioritizing tasks in a distracting environment is a skill that will also be in great demand by employers.
Stacy Mastrolia Ph.D.: This is an interesting question. In 1989, I entered the workforce as a staff auditor for a Big 6 public accounting firm in NJ. My starting salary was $25,000 per year with paid overtime. According to an online inflation calculator, that would be $52,700 in 2021 dollars. According to the 2021 Robert Half Accounting & Finance Salary Guide, the starting salary for the same position in the same geographic location would be $61,250. So, inflation adjusted salaries for staff auditors have increased at a 16% premium over the past 32 years or a mere 0.05% per year on average. And, in most firms, staff auditors are no longer paid overtime. On the other hand, the public accounting firms, on average, have much better benefits today than 30 years ago.
The Institut of Internal AuditorsWebsite
Richard Chambers: While the COVID-19 pandemic has created numerous challenges across industries and professions, it also has created opportunities for internal auditors at all levels, including those new to the profession, to step up and play a role in helping their organizations navigate through the issues to ensure positive outcomes.
"Based on our research, accounting/finance remains the most recruited academic degree, but the evolving nature of business and risks demands having individuals who bring a broader array of skills into the internal audit workplace. There's also an accelerated movement for what I call "Uber" auditors, those who may not be on staff but whose experience in, for example, cybersecurity or AI, are sorely needed. Graduates may find the first critical step in their career is specialization rather than generalization, so an education - perhaps even a dual degree - in technology, for example, may make you more appealing.
Additionally, internal audit employers are demanding strong soft skills, such as effective verbal and written communications, relationship acumen, critical thinking, and an eye for detail.
Early during the pandemic, we saw some tightening among internal audit departments, as most organizations were making adjustments overall due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Based on additional research, however, we know opportunities still exist in this environment and when we return to 'normal.' In this year's Pulse of Internal Audit survey, of the respondents who filled positions in the preceding 12 months, 47% reported they hired professionals who had not been internal auditors previously. A notable 28% of respondents had hired students or recent graduates, as well.
The IIA has begun a new program, in collaboration with AuditBoard, to provide existing internal auditors and those pursuing a career in the profession, including college students and graduates, access to training and educational courses provided by The IIA for those who have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic pressures. The $500,000 'Elevate Internal Audit Scholarship Program' is providing scholarships that can be used to participate in IIA training and certification programs regardless of their professional level or ability to pay. More information on the scholarship program, including how to apply, can be found on The IIA's website at www.theiia.org.