The Next Generation Accountant: Skills and Opportunities

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Wayne MelloNext Generation Accountant: Skills and Opportunities
Presented by Wayne Mello
Executive Director, Robert Half

March 22, 2001

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Workshop Summary

This is a summary of the topics that were covered in the workshop. You can read the full transcript below.

1. The Impact of Technology

   a. Accountants will be more involved in systems and software implementation and use.
   b. IT training will become a top priority.
   c. Accountants will need to converse with IT departments, as well as relay IT information to the other departments.
   d. Accountants will need to know applications and business software.

2. People Skills in Demand

   a. A positive attitude and team player skills are the most valued interpersonal skills for job candidates.
   b. Verbal, written and presentation skills will become necessary as accountants fill a more prominent role within organizations.
   c. Corporations are looking for people with financial expertise and management abilities.
   d. Accountants must understand marketing and operation.
   e. Speaking second and third languages will be more important as business becomes global.

3. Where the Jobs Will Be
   a. Accounting opportunities will be available in wide range of areas.
   b. Competition will be intense, so accountants who can specialize will be in demand.

March 22, 2001 Session Sponsored by Robert Half

Robert Half

Workshop Transcript

Session Moderator: Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us today!

I am happy to introduce Wayne Mello, executive director for Robert Half. Robert Half is the world's first and largest placement service for accounting and finance professionals. Robert Half is a division of Robert Half International Inc. (RHI), which has more than 275 locations throughout North America, Europe and Australia.

Wayne has more than 27 years of experience in the staffing industry. He began his career with Robert Half in 1983 as area manager for the company's locations in Florida. Before accepting his current role as executive director, Wayne was District Director for RHI operations in the Eastern United States.

Welcome Wayne, and thanks for joining us in the workshop today!

Wayne Mello: Thank you for having me. I'm glad to be here.

Christine Pardue: What skills in particular are most important for accounting professionals to possess?

Wayne Mello: There are a number of different skills that are key for accounting professionals. First of all, a positive attitude and team-playing skills are really the most valued interpersonal skills for job candidates.

In fact, 38 percent of executives say that a positive attitude is the most valued interpersonal skill in accounting candidates today. Thirty percent say team player skills are most valuable.

Christine Pardue: I'd like to develop my interpersonal skills but don't know how. Can you recommend ways I can do this?

Wayne Mello: Number one, certainly practice makes perfect, however there are a number of courses, such as Dale Carnegie, as well as practicing with colleagues, family and friends on a regular basis that will help improve your speaking abilities. Also, seeking a mentor within either your company or a related company to have a line of communication is very beneficial.

Session Moderator: Why is it that these interpersonal skills are more highly valued than education, work ethic, and technical skills?

Wayne Mello: There are not more highly valued; they go hand in hand. Even in a technical field like accounting and finance, you need to have interpersonal skills in order to interview effectively. After you accept a position, you will need to be able to communicate effectively with your managers and peers in order to function successfully on project teams. One without the other -- technical without interpersonal -- would be less effective.

Christine Pardue: I'm interested in working my way up to a management position. I have the technical skills, but how can I ensure I have the right stuff to become a manager?

Wayne Mello: I assume you're up-to-date on the related systems piece. You need to continually get feedback on your performance. I would always ask for reviews. A lot of times, the reason for leaving jobs is because the employee does not have regular evaluations. Take the initiative to get a stream of continuing feedback from the person you report to. Ask to be somewhat critical. Ask what can be improved, not only what is going right. Use these points to improve yourself in these areas. You will be better than when you first start with this exercise. With a list of things you can do better today and in the future, you will improve.

Kimberly Winter: I'm a non-traditional student with a varied work background, mostly in mortgage banking. I'll graduate with a BS in Acct. this December. Many fellow students have more accounting experience from past jobs or internships. Will I be at a disadvantage when interviewing?

Wayne Mello: Kimberly, only if you make yourself at a disadvantage psychologically. You are never competing with someone in an interview room. I would look at the glass half full, not half empty. Sell what you have, and sell the fact that you might have a broader business knowledge, and you've seen the same problem, but at a different angle.

Harry D. Howe: How do you rank the importance of being able to communicate well with non-financial professionals?

Wayne Mello: Harry, it is very important that if accounting is the language of business, who is this language being directed to? It is very important to be able to translate complicated accounting problems to an unsophisticated non-accountant, i.e., a marketing manger, line manager, etc.

One key to keeping your communication skills sharp is through continued learning. In fact, 85 percent of CFOs believe that a professional certification, such as CPA or CMA, helps in career advancement.

Kimberly Winter: Speaking of CPA and CMA certifications, would you recommend sitting for both exams?

Wayne Mello: CMA, historically, has been an industrial certification. It wouldn't hurt to take the two, but I'd define whether you'd like to do public or private accounting. It's a function of where you are in your career and where your interests lie. If you want to go from public accounting to private accounting, CMA would be of benefit. If you want to start in a public firm, a CPA would be best.

Christine Pardue: Besides certifications, are courses in areas such as e-commerce important?

Wayne Mello: Yes. In any career you need to continually splice into your ongoing education courses that resonate in your day-to-day job. It's hard to make a general comment as to whether e-commerce is the one to take -- it might be direct marketing if you're in a marketing firm. It might be a good idea to take courses to supplement what you have. See where you are going in your career. You should never stop enriching and adding to your background. Life is a journey, not a destination, and you should treat your career the same way.

As part of the research conducted by our company as part of the Next Generation Accountant campaign, we looked at the areas of specialization that are emerging in the accounting profession. Make sure your accounting knowledge is intertwined with your technology expertise. You should be bilingual in both "languages" -- accounting and IT.

Christine Pardue: I'm curious, what are some of the hot areas?

Wayne Mello: Some of the areas we found are SEC and FASB, anything to do with mutual funds/financial services, e-commerce, international accounting, computer security issues...

Kimberly Winter: What is the best way to get IT experience - from a college curriculum, or privately?

Wayne Mello: The ideal will be both ways through an internship program while at a university. You need to get some educational platforming and get experience after that. Some people have taken the opposite approach and been successful as well. My primary recommendation would be an internship, though. There is not one better than the other -- school/internship; school/work experience or work experience and supplement through schooling. Again, there are three different roads to the same destination.

John Fitz: What are the chances of an individual with an accounting/CPA background who pursues a career in consulting will be able to 'come back' in the face of economic downturns/lack of opportunities for advancement?

Wayne Mello: It depends on how far you've been gone. If it's been ten years, you might want to see how out of date your knowledge is. If it's only been a few years, you might be more valuable, since you've gained a broader base of experience.

Paul Malen: Wayne, the latest issue of Management Accounting Quarterly (IMA) has an article on what skills are needed for corporate life in the future. It essentially highlights what you have been saying.

Wayne Mello: That's great!

Paul Malen: It would be a great thing for students to read.

Wayne Mello: Actually, Paul, next month we'll be launching our Next Generation Accountant campaign, which gives a glimpse into the future of the accounting profession, including what skills will be most important, what areas of specialization will be the hottest, and educational trends. This information will be very valuable to students and current accounting professionals.

Session Moderator: Paul, is there an Internet link to the article you mentioned?

Paul Malen: I am not sure. I will check right now and then rejoin....

John Fitz: How might an individual who has earned a CPA in a state allowing education in lieu of experience be viewed compared with the one who has earned a CPA the traditional way?

Wayne Mello: They are going to look at you as a bright individual who has a certain amount of knowledge base from an accounting standpoint -- that's what having a CPA means. However, the thing you need to do now, through your interview skills and interpersonal abilities, you will need to show you can combine theory with practice. You may also consider supplementing your experience with an internship. It is important for students to consider joining a professional association, such as the IMA or AICPA. Membership offers valuable networking opportunities and information on the latest trends in the profession.

The good news for people in the accounting profession is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in the profession will increase 10 to 20 percent by 2008, ensuring that accountants will continue to play a vital role in business.

Session Moderator: Welcome back, Paul - any luck?

Paul Malen: The article is not available on-line yet, but it will be available at The past issues are there also. This is a great magazine that comes with an IMA membership.

Session Moderator: Thanks!

Paul Malen: Shameless plug for the IMA...since I am a CMA.

Wayne Mello: Are there any more questions?

John Fitz: Are consulting/IT positions considered to be part of those projections?

Wayne Mello: The BLS projection relates specifically to the accounting profession. However, the growth of consulting will continue to provide opportunities for accounting, finance and IT professionals.

John Fitz: Thanks for your time.

Session Moderator: We have only a couple of minutes left - are there any more questions for Wayne?

Wayne, thank you so much for a great workshop! We really appreciate your taking the time from your busy schedule. And thank you to all of us who were able to join us today1

Wayne Mello: Thank you for participating with us. This has been a great dialogue and I hope you've found this information helpful. Remember, never stop updating your knowledge…you can always improve and get better!


Wayne Mello is the Executive Director of Robert Half, the world's first and largest placement service for accounting and finance professionals. Robert Half is a division of Robert Half International Inc. (RHI), which has more than 275 locations throughout North America, Europe and Australia.

Mello has more than 27 years of experience in the staffing industry. He began his career with Robert Half in 1983 as area manager for the company's locations in Florida. Before accepting his current role as executive director, Mello was District Director for RHI operations in the Eastern United States.

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