Accounting honors students give views on job market

Accounting students preparing for the 2007/2008 job market are keenly aware of the value of their skill sets in the market. They have prepared by combining excellent grades and internship experiences with high expectations of reward. Nearly all of them planning to complete their 150 hour requirement to sit for the CPA exam, with most of them planning to attend graduate school. The majority expect to find their future employers through the on-campus interview process. They have realistic expectations of the demands that will be placed on them in the profession they are entering. They expect to work more than 40 hours per week, they are willing to move, and they fully expect to change employers several times during their careers. Perhaps most importantly, they are fully aware of what the market will bear with regards to salary.

ACCOUNTING HONOR STUDENTS PROVIDE VIEWS ON 2007 JOB MARKET

By

Dr. Richard Rand, Associate Professor of Accounting, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, Tennessee

Dr. Dan Fesler, Professor of Accounting, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville, Tennessee

September 11, 2007

INTRODUCTION

A recent national survey of accounting honor students reveals that most believe that the on-campus interview process provides them with the best chance of finding a job in accounting. Nearly 38% of those surveyed have completed an accounting internship and most have rather pronounced sentiments and expectations about their prospective careers. They appear ready to confront issues such as the 150-hour requirement, travel, overtime, and relocation.

Survey findings related to perceptions of the importance of campus recruiting are interesting in light of the recent growth in regional job fairs and internet-aided job searches. Students believe in the importance of on-campus interviews. Many post their resumes online, but still use the University Placement Office as the primary distribution outlet for their resumes. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2007 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey, the average totally cost of each new hire (including campus visit costs) is over $6,000. Cost notwithstanding, talented students are expecting potential employers to meet them on campus.

THE SAMPLE

All participants in the survey are accounting majors affiliated with Beta Alpha Psi (BAP), the National Honor Society for Financial Information Professionals. Beta Alpha Psi requires a minimum overall GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale for membership. In addition, since Beta Alpha Psi only has chapters on AACSB accredited campuses, all respondents are also students in AACSB accredited programs. The high quality of the participants makes them a good representation of the pool of accounting students nationwide seeking careers in professional accounting.

To obtain the sample, emails were sent to chapter presidents and faculty advisors of 111 randomly selected chapters requesting that their students participate in the study. The contacts were asked to forward the questionnaire web address to their Beta Alpha Psi email distribution lists. The questionnaire was administered online via SurveyMonkey.com, providing anonymity for participants, as well as 24/7 availability from mid-April until mid-May of 2007. A total of 333 useable responses were received from accounting honor students nationwide.

Table 1

Selected Profile Data

Accounting Students


Item Total Sample Males Females
Participants 333 121 212
Overall Grade Point Average (GPA) on a 4.0 scale 3.589 3.561 3.605
Participants with a 3.90 GPA or above 21.32% 16.53% 24.06%
Completed an accounting internship 36.94% 41.32% 34.43%
Beta Alpha Psi member or pledge 78.68% 90.08% 72.17%
Single 86.49% 90.08% 84.43%
No Children 83.48% 84.30% 83.02%

Table 1 provides selected profile data that highlights the quality of the 333 students participating in the survey. In addition to their high GPAs, Table 1 discloses that a significant number of survey participants have completed an accounting internship, and a significant percentage (21.32%) has earned a GPA of 3.90 or above.

ANALYSIS OF RESULTS

Of the 333 total usable responses reported in Table 1, 314 students responded to the Statements listed in Table 2. Generally, both groups view the campus interview process as an important path to securing a job. They also view the University Placement Office as an important resource in their job search efforts. Rounding out the analysis, we see that accounting students generally view their accounting professors as very involved in helping them to find employment. Not only does this support the continuance of campus visits by recruiters, at least for initial interviews, but it also suggests that students are using their professors to identify job opportunities, as well as for making contacts with potential employers. Concerning the importance of campus visits, Clare Tucker, MBA, CPA, CGFM, and CFE, State of Tennessee Legislative Audit Manager says, “Through on-campus Career Fairs and class presentations I can meet students in an informal situation a year or so before they interview. That gives me more than one opportunity to evaluate their credentials and decide who I want to hire”.

Participants believe an abundance of job opportunities will continue to be the norm. Additional data indicate that students believe this trend will continue, regardless of whether Congress further modifies the requirements imposed by Sarbanes-Oxley. Interestingly, while students appear willing to change employers during their careers to take advantage of new opportunities, they are less willing to move for the same reason.

Table 2

Attitude and Expectations

Responses are on a 5-Point Scale ranging from 1 = Strongly Disagree to 5 = Strong Agree


Statements Total Sample Males Females
Number of Participants 314 119 195
1. I believe the on-campus interview process is my best chance for finding a job in accounting. 3.970 3.882 4.026
2. I believe demand for accountants will increase over the next 5 years. 4.100 4.059 4.123
3. I am willing to move several times to advance my career. 3.340 3.445 3.277
4. I am willing to change employers several times in my career. 4.070 4.050 4.082
5. My career goal is to become a partner in a CPA firm. 3.390 3.580 3.272
6. I am concerned that demands of the workplace will interfere with my family responsibilities. 3.370 3.218 3.218
7. The Accounting Faculty at my school are actively involved in helping students find jobs after graduation. 4.070 4.080 4.060
8. The Career Services Office at my school does a good job of bringing potential employers to our school who are looking for accountants. 4.300 4.330 4.290

One disappointing indication is that it appears students lack a strong desire to become partners in CPA firms. Casey Stuart, managing partner with Hazelett, Lewis, & Bieter CPA in Chattanooga has stated that he is “interested in recruiting future partners, not staff accountants.” If recruiters are indeed looking to “hire future partners,” they should consider placing strong emphasis on the benefits of partnership when making presentations to student groups.

In-class speakers and recruiters often present the profession as pro-family and as very concerned bout the work/family balance of their employees. Given the emphasis placed on these issues in recruiting, it is not surprising that accounting students do not appear to have strong concerns that an accounting career will interfere with family responsibilities.

SALARY, OVERTIME, and TRAVEL EXPECTATIONS

Public accounting is the primary job choice of approximately 72.1 percent of survey participants. The indications are that students are well aware that professional accounting can be a lucrative profession. The average expected starting salary expected by the 305 participants that provided an expected salary number, was $49,036. This expectation differs by region as indicated in Table 3. Students in the northeast and the southwest, exhibited higher salary expectations that students in other areas of the country, which are likely tied to higher costs of living in those regions.

Table 3

Salary Expectations by Region


Region Total Sample Males
Northeast 23 $57,826
Southeast 122 $46,720
Midwest 47 $47,755
Southwest 41 $50,683
Western 72 $47,583

Of survey participants providing information concerning the amount of overtime expected, 34% indicated that they plan to work more than 20% overtime, while only 1.5% indicated that they expected to work no overtime at all. How the respondents expect to be compensated for their overtime also differs. Of the participants explicitly indicating just what they expect, 43% expect extra pay for their overtime work and 26% expect comp time. Interestingly, 31% expect to receive no additional compensation for their overtime work. This information suggests that recruiters should clarify what is expected of new hires and inform them of policies with regards to overtime.

Most of the respondents expect that their first job will require some travel. Only 3.5% of the respondents expect no travel. Per the survey, 23.2% expect to travel no more than 10% of the time, 58.5% expect between 10% and 30% travel, with only 14.8% expecting to travel more than 30% of the time.

THE 150-HOUR REQUIREMENT

Accounting firms still compete to hire talented undergraduate students, and recruiters are interested in how students plan to meet the 150-hour requirement. Of the 301 students providing details on how they plan to meet this requirement, Table 4 shows that approximately 60% plan to enroll in a graduate program immediately upon finishing their undergraduate degrees. This strategy not only helps them reach the 150-hour requirement, but can also lead to an advanced degree. Table 4 also shows that 26.85% of these participants plan to meet the 150-hour requirement by taking additional undergraduate hours.

Table 4

How Do You Plan to Complete the 150 Required to Sit
for the Uniform CPA Exam?

298 Students Responding


Specific Plan Percent of Respondents
I plan to take additional undergraduate hours. 26.85%
I plan to enroll in a graduate program immediately upon completion of undergraduate degree. 60.07%
I plan to work while completing my 150-hour requirement. 7.05%
I have already met the 150-hour requirement. 3.69%
Other 2.35%

As shown in Table 5, when asked to state a preference for which graduate degree they would prefer to pursue, most respondents preferred a Master of Accountancy degree. An MBA or an MBA with a concentration in Accounting was the choice of approximately 26% respondents, and only 7% chose the Master of Taxation degree. Recruiters historically have committed significant resources at the undergraduate level. However, with over 60% of accounting students planning on some form of graduate education, adequate resources should be allocated for the recruitment of accounting graduate students.

Table 5

Graduate Degree Preference


Specific Plan Percent of Respondents
Masters of Accountancy 60.42%
Masters of Taxation 7.29%
MBA with a concentration in Accounting 11.46%
MBA 14.93%
Law School 1.39%
Undecided 4.51%

PENETRATING THE JOB MARKET

As indicated earlier in Table 2, the students surveyed indicated that they expect the on-campus interview process to be their best opportunity for finding employment. Nearly 73% of them indicated that they have already put their resumes on file with the Placement Office on their respective campus. As indicated earlier, nearly 37% already have had accounting internships. In addition, nearly 69% have attended the most recent event on campus showcasing accounting firms and companies.

At the time of the study, all of the students were still in school. Nearly 30% of the students surveyed had received job offers. Nearly 70% of those who had already received offers had an internship. In addition, over 80% of those receiving offers have already accepted those job offers, with salaries averaging $47,338. Big Four accounting firms accounted for 43% of the early job offers proffered. However, it is important to note that over 57% of the early job offers came from employers other than the Big Four accounting firms, indicating that competition for students is not limited just to the top accounting firms. Even small accounting firms, regional accounting firms, internal audit departments, and corporations will make job offers to students who appear to be a good fit, even before the student has graduated.

CONCLUSION

Clearly, accounting students are aware of the competitive nature of the current job market. They are savvy as to the appropriate salary levels to expect. And they are actively engaged in seeking out employers. In addition, students who accept internships are very likely to receive job offers prior to graduation. And if they receive an offer prior to graduation, they are highly likely to accept it.

For recruiters, understanding student expectations and attitudes is crucial to successfully recruiting talented candidates from among the ranks of today’s accounting honor students.

For students, it is important to understand how to make the hunt for that first job a success. Your competition has high grades, are actively seeking employment opportunities by getting their resumes circulated, are working internships, and are attending on-campus recruiting activities. The opportunities are great . . . reach out and grab the brass ring!

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