Accounting my Way to Success
Meeral Najeeb, BBA 2017
Accounting is a specialization that comes with many myths and apprehensions associated with it. It is also the first specialization that a first year at Schulich usually becomes acquainted with through their courses and the extra-curricular activities that they are exposed to. It was no different for me when I first started off; my first networking event was an accounting mixer, my first case competition was hosted by an accounting firm, and the first office tour I went on, happened to be with an accounting firm.
After two years of exploring the accounting field and dabbling in other specializations, I decided to pursue Accounting as a full-time profession. I am currently a fourth year Schulich student specializing in accounting, pursuing my CPA, and starting at PwC full-time this fall. The learning-curve that accompanied my accounting journey was instrumental in my decision to pursue accounting and obtain my offer of employment.
This article aims to answer some of the questions students have about why they should choose accounting, address the best approach to networking and obtaining employment within the field, and myth-busting some of the common misconceptions surrounding the field.
There are several reasons as to why accounting piqued my interest. When I first started networking, I would go to marketing, finance, operations, and accounting events to get a “feel” for the industry. I found that the people in accounting had the ability to interact and converse the easiest with a number of people. Accountants, believe it or not, are personable people and I wanted to be able to work in an industry which teaches you how to deal with different kinds of people.
Another attractive feature for me was the ability to work with different kinds of industries and to learn their business comprehensively. During my internship, I worked with controllers, CFOs, and general employees to complete the audit. I learned so much about fund management, real estate, and even theatre production. As a notoriously indecisive person, having the ability to work with different industries helped me to plan my career in advance and see where I would fit best in the long-run. Finally, everyone knows that ironically, the starting salary of an accountant versus a consultant or marketer is not fabulous by any means, but the progression it gives to your career in terms of soft skills and technical skills is extremely valuable. Accounting allows you to understand the fundamentals of running a business in terms of finance, taxes, and audit; this combined with the soft skills a CPA learns, provides you with a unique skill set and ability. Plus, once you do get the letters behind your name, you get a salary hike to put you on par with your other friends too!
So What Do You Actually Do?
Working as a summer intern at PwC last year made me realize how different my job reality was compared to what I expected it to be like. I worked specifically in assurance or public audit, which is where most accountants start off, (although accountants can work in various different industries and parts of a company) at PwC within their Downtown Real Estate and Management group. Although I was specifically working within those two industries, I also had the chance to experience pensions and production companies. Audit is defined as the objective examination and evaluation of the financial statements of an organization to ensure that their records are a fair and accurate representation of their business. Every day in audit is different depending on which team you are on. Some days you work from the office, or are required to be at a client site, and on others, you are working with one other person or coordinating with a team. A lot of audit is about talking to the client to understand the client’s business better and then going back to their financial statements. Contrary to popular belief, accountants are not always number crunching away at their desk; audit work requires you to work closely with your team and with the client to complete your work. It develops your attention to detail, your ability to learn quickly, manage your tasks, and critically overcome issues. As you move up in the organization, you also play a critical mentorship and leadership role for the younger associates. Overall, audit requires technical and soft skill competency to get the job done.
So, what do you need to do to get hired? Most accounting firms look at a triad of a candidate’s application (resume and cover letter), networking and extra-curricular activities, and their GPA. No single attribute out of the three mentioned above determines whether a candidate will get hired or not. It is best to try and maintain all of those to be a well-rounded candidate, but if you know you are weak in one of those areas, work really hard on the other two to play to your strengths. For example, if you know your GPA is not very strong, work extremely hard at networking and being involved in school to make up for it. Firms never look for a “cookie-cutter” perfect candidate, they want a genuine individual who will bring their own unique attributes to the job.
What you learn in class is what your job will be like: Absolutely not true! What you learn in your accounting courses is your background knowledge to be a good auditor. It helps you, but a lot of the learning for you will occur on the job. So yes, it is important to do well in your courses, but it is not knowledge you will be using on a daily basis.
You need a 7.5 GPA to get hired: Like I mentioned earlier, your GPA is important, but it is not the be-all-end-all to decide whether you will get the job or not. It is important to keep your GPA within CPA standards, but you need to supplement your GPA with your networking, application, and leadership activities to be a well-rounded candidate.
You can only go into accounting or finance-related fields after your CPA: While interning this summer, I learned that alumni from my firm had gone on to pursue so many different kinds of careers including marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, and consulting. Many of them had found these opportunities while they were working in audit and learning about different business and how they operate. Some left audit to work in different fields and then came back to accounting with newfound knowledge to contribute to their firm and their field. Your options as a CPA are limitless – your career is essentially what you make of it!