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Recently, I was honored to be part of a five person panel for the masters of accountancy and masters in taxation students at Arizona State University (ASU).

Included on the panel were representatives from an international CPA firm, a national CPA firm, a regional CPA firm and a large corporate entity. And me, of course, a tax partner from a local CPA firm.

So while the panelists all had different career paths that they had chosen, the suggestions and comments and advice were the same coming from all five of us. So if it was helpful to these students, it can have a broader application, as well. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Skills – All five panelists agreed – the most important skill is communication – both oral and written. And learning to differentiate between when to use face to face over an email. (Rather shakes the foundation that accountants are good at math, huh? We are good at math – but we are much better at communicating!)
  • Resumes – Have a friend review this to make sure there are no typos. Typos indicate to the reviewer a lack of attention to detail.
  • Objective – if this is listed in your resume, update it if you are applying for a position in corporate accounting – in other words, don’t leave on there that you want to be a staff accountant in a public accounting, if you are not applying for a public accounting position.
  • Cover letters – if you are applying to several places, make sure to update in the cover letter to get the appropriate company name.
  • Thank you notes – Email is preferred. Save the handwritten notes for the birthday present from your grandmother!
  • Meet the Firms – I do not know if this is a specific name for ASU, but all universities have something similar. Some suggestions for these events:
  • Make eye contact with whomever you are talking
  • Bring your resume – no longer than one page and blank on the back. Yes, we use that space to make notes.
  • Don’t be so grateful that you have found someone to talk to, that you don’t know when to leave the conversation. Move on and meet someone new.
  • Review the websites of the firms attending ahead of time, so that you have an idea of who the companies are.
  • Just because your best friend in accounting wants to work for a “Big 4”, does not mean that it is right for you – know yourself and have some idea of what you are looking for, so that you are not wasting your time and energy.
  • We don’t care that you have read up on the latest tax court case, or have read the most recent issue of the Journal of Accountancy – we are hiring the personality and can teach the technical.

Overwhelmingly, all of the panelists agreed on one thing – there are pockets of the year, whether it is public accounting or in the corporate sector, where you spend more time with your co-workers than with your friends and family. So we want to hire people that we want to spend this time with – it makes those crunch times much more enjoyable.

By Donna H. Laubscher, CPA