Categorized | Job Hunting

A Look at Accounting

Posted on 29 July 2009

Take an industry that’s as old as the abacus, and add four years of higher education — plus a fifth for those seeking better prospects and higher pay. Subtract the effects of a jobless recovery, and multiply by the mystery factor of this year’s business scandals.

What’s the bottom line for college students and recent grads considering a career in the accounting industry? A very good shot at a steady job for life. In fact, the accounting and auditing job category is ranked 12 out of 44 categories among recent grads seeking jobs on Monster.

But, like any billion-dollar corporation with a balance sheet that squares everything to the penny, accountants and auditors have plenty to think about, the most tumultuous year in accounting’s institutional memory.

The Andersen Effect

The accounting scandals engulfing Enron Corp., Arthur Andersen LLP and other corporate giants will affect generations of finance professionals, especially those in public accounting.

“Professionals who have made the transition from Andersen are on a very short leash,” says Richard Fisher, partner at Eisner LLP. He believes Andersen refugees have to prove themselves quickly at their new companies or expect to be shown the door. But some insiders say the chronic dearth of experienced accountants is more important to the career prospects of the failed firm’s former employees.

In a September 2002 statement, Barry Melancon, president and CEO of the American Institute of CPAs, portrayed the accounting industry at a turning point. “Our profession was part of the problem, and it came to embody the public’s perception of the problem,” said Melancon. “Now we intend to be a part of the solution.”

Reforms May Boost Employment

Ironically, one of the greatest business scandals in American history may actually benefit the many accountants’ careers. President Bush’s signing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act “will require more accountants, better records and different types of records,” says Fisher. For example, the Act requires various additional disclosures in periodic financial reports.

“Because concerns about fraud are greater, there will be expanded work before audits are signed,” says Len Miller, a senior vice president at Century Business Services Inc., a Cleveland-based supplier of accounting and related services.

Supply and Demand

For those considering careers in accounting, the outlook remains very good, although not as bullish as in the late 1990s. “Hiring activity has slowed from the frenetic pace of the past several years, allowing companies to be more selective when adding staff,” says a report from staffing firm Robert Half International Inc.

But at least one of the Big Four accounting firms still standing says it hasn’t slowed its efforts to staff up. “Our hiring outlook continues to be strong,” says Lisa Young, Americas Director of Recruiting for Ernst & Young in New York City. In the coming year, “we’re looking for at least as many recent grads, if not a slight increase.”

Recent Grads’ Experience

“There has been a shortfall in accounting students,” says Miller. But the recession and slow-motion recovery may have cancelled out any benefit to students who labor to complete their accounting education, which now requires five years of study for a CPA in most states.

“I think college students have a fairly steep challenge finding that first position,” says Eric Archer, president of staffing firm Spherion Corp.’s US recruiting group. The need for accountants in their first year out of college has softened a bit even while demand for more senior staff has continually increased. This is partly due to the widespread use of sophisticated accounting software.

But don’t tell that to James Greenspan, chair of the Department of Accounting and Taxation at Seton Hall University. “Everyone in our five-year program had jobs before they graduated [this year],” says Greenspan. Even among those electing Seton Hall’s four-year program, 85 percent to 90 percent accepted an offer before putting on the cap and gown. Now that’s a good bottom line.

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