By Jason Bramwell
While overall employer expectations for hiring college graduates this fall are likely to remain relatively flat, more than half of companies report they'll be pursuing graduates who majored in accounting, according to a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
Overall, respondents project a 2.1 percent increase in hiring, down from the 13 percent they projected in fall 2012, the Job Outlook 2013 Spring Update reports. Still, of the 187 respondents surveyed, 49.2 percent report plans to increase their hiring, while 35.8 percent plan to decrease hiring over last year.
Of the thirteen academic disciplines listed in the NACE survey, 51 percent of respondents say they'll be hiring graduates who majored in accounting, which is fourth highest behind business (66.3 percent), engineering (63.3 percent), and computer sciences (51.5 percent).
Brian McGuire, PhD, CPA, CMA, associate dean and director of accounting programs at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville and chairman of the Volunteer Leadership Committee for the Institute of Management Accountants Inc. (IMA), told AccountingWEB that he isn't surprised accounting graduates are in high demand.
"Accounting is the language of business, and that's what businesses use to communicate their growth and their progress to their various constituents", he said. "If you look at the CEOs and CFOs of companies, many have accounting backgrounds. With an accounting degree, there are a lot of different paths you can take, like financial reporting, management accounting, tax, budgeting, heath care, or manufacturing. The possibilities are endless because all businesses need accountants."
Standing Out from the Crowd
The average percentage of total new recruits within the accounting industry is 21.5 percent, which ranks fifth highest among the thirteen academic disciplines mentioned in the report. The top four are engineering (56.2 percent), education (32.7 percent), business (31.4 percent), and computer sciences (21.7 percent).
What can accounting majors do to separate themselves from a crowded applicant pool? McGuire recommends students do the following three things.
1. Develop their leadership skills. McGuire said students need to not only be involved in organizations on campus, but be in leadership positions within those organizations.
"The IMA helps out with that by providing student chapters on campuses. In the past couple of years, we've doubled the number of student chapters across the country. Beta Alpha Psi also has chapters on college campuses", he said. "Holding a leadership position, whether it's president, vice president, or treasurer, looks good on a resume."
2. Become involved in an internship. Having practical work experience separates a job candidate from the pack, McGuire believes.
"This is especially true in more technical fields, like accounting and engineering, where employers want to see that you not only accumulated book knowledge, but you've actually been able to apply what you've learned in a work environment", he said.
3. Get certified. The days of having a college degree and finding an unlimited number of jobs is a thing of the past, McGuire said. For accounting students, taking the certified management accountant exam is another way of separating yourself from the pack – and it's something you can take as a student, he added.
"Being certified shows that you've acquired a certain skill set", McGuire stated. "You were able to get a college degree, and you were then able to become specialized beyond what was required for an entry-level position."
Another positive aspect of certification is the expectation of continuing professional education, he added.
"I always tell students that you wouldn't want to go to a physician who graduated thirty years ago and never took another course. Certainly things have changed a lot in health care over the past thirty years", McGuire said. "The same is true for accounting. I wouldn't want to use an accountant who is using twenty- or thirty-year-old knowledge. I want somebody who is continuing to stay abreast of what's going on in the field. When you know an accountant is maintaining his or her continuing education, it gives you a lot more confidence in that person's abilities to do things in the most professional manner."
Well-Rounded Grads Sought by Employers
What makes a recent accounting graduate stand out to employers? Possessing not only general accounting knowledge, but also nonaccounting skills.
"Whether it's written or oral communication skills, critical-thinking skills, problem-solving skills, or ethical-awareness skills, it's extremely important for accounting graduates to be well-rounded", McGuire added.
Accounting students at the University of Southern Indiana are strongly encouraged to join the Speaking Eagles Toastmasters club on campus to practice public speaking.
"It's very important for our students to be able to write and communicate to people effectively", he said.
Critical-thinking, problem-solving, and ethical-awareness skills are also important attributes to have when talking with a potential employer during an interview, McGuire stated.
"Employers want someone who can recognize a situation and understand what the ethical issues are, which paths to take, and know the difference between right and wrong, which is different from legal and illegal a lot of times. Something might be legal, but it may not necessarily be ethical", he said. "Accountants used to just crunch numbers and give reports to people who made decisions. Those days are long gone. Now accountants are the ones who are in the decision-making mode."
About the survey:
The National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2013 Spring Update survey was conducted from February 11 through March 27. The survey was sent to 1,006 employer members, and 196, or 19.5 percent, responded. By region, 27 percent of respondents are from the Northeast, 30.6 are from the Southeast, 31.1 percent are from the Midwest, and 11.2 percent are from the West. Data are calculated on the number of respondents to each specific question. Totals may not equal 100 percent due to rounding.