Every soon-to-be accounting graduate who is preparing to switch mortarboard tassels from the right to the left this spring is likely more relaxed about the job market than graduates of a few years ago.
In today’s market, job seekers in accounting and finance have the advantage, according to Robert Half’s special report, The Demand for Skilled Talent. And employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) are in agreement; they plan to hire 11 percent more fresh college graduates from the class of 2016 than they did from the class of 2015.
We asked Syed Hussain, vice president of Robert Half Finance & Accounting, North America, for his take on the job prospects for this year’s crop of accounting graduates. Here’s his valuable career advice.
Q: Why is now a great time to be a finance or accounting graduate?
A: Supply and demand. If you look at the job market, you’ll see there’s a shortage of accounting and finance candidates. Anyone graduating from college today with an accounting degree will be – almost – guaranteed a job.
We see people graduating and getting a handful of offers in a matter of three to five weeks. Accounting is a great skill set to have, and companies need talented finance and accounting individuals.
Read about the dizzying array of options for entry-level accounting jobs.
Q: Have many of this year's graduates already been recruited?
A: Yes, campus recruiting is part of the strategy of many of the bigger organizations. Many accounting graduates are getting job offers before they even graduate.
Q: Is it safe to say new grads can look forward to job security?
A: Absolutely. Accounting and finance is one of the most secure degrees you can get.
Think about it from this perspective: Every firm needs accurate numbers just to operate. Even if an organization is going through bankruptcy or tough times, it will still need an accounting individual to get everything in shape. The company might let go of sales staff but still will need an accountant to pull all the data together and present it to the bankruptcy authorities.
Q: What about sign-on bonuses?
A: I have not seen sign-on bonuses for new accounting graduates, as of yet. Instead, many of the bigger companies are pitching that they’re going to give them a great experience and will put them in a management trainee program, for example.
Q: What are some of the changes you've seen in the accounting profession?
A: The accounting and finance profession has morphed. Accountants are no longer sitting in a corner, trying to understand the debits and credits of a business.
Instead, it’s become a business-partnering role. So as more and more organizations embark on that, it’s important to have that kind of skill set.
Q: What is it about new accounting grads that appeals most to employers?
A: It’s twofold. While the fundamentals of accounting education have not changed, most colleges and universities now adopt have changed their emphasis to more of a business perspective, producing more attractive graduates.
More importantly, baby boomers are retiring. Some companies will promote from within, which will create a vacuum with entry-level jobs. As retirements grow, there’s more of a need for people with degrees to come in and be part of the organization.
Q: Are there any challenges for today’s accounting grads?
A: The main challenge I see is communication. This is a generation that grew up on text messages and Facebook. You’ve got to be able to communicate well to be where you want to be in years to come.
Q: Are there specific industries you’d recommend to recent graduates?
A: Health care is a booming industry and will continue to grow. The technology or high-tech sector is another fantastic place to be, in Silicon Valley or anywhere else. There are also great manufacturing opportunities, depending on geography.
Q: How about specific positions? What do you advise?
A: When it comes to entry level, you start off, perhaps, as a staff accountant and work your way up. New graduates who get hired by one of the Big 4 accounting and auditing firms will be able to slingshot their career very quickly. These firms are focused on campus recruiting and hiring staff auditors, or auditor level 1, which is a great opportunity for any individual in finance and accounting.
Whenever I see a client or hiring manager looking for a chief financial officer (CFO) or a controller, they’re always seeking someone with at least three or four years of Big 4 experience. It sets you up well for the future if you can get that experience at the start of your career.
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Syed Hussain is vice president of Robert Half Finance & Accounting, North America. He joined Robert Half in 2007 and is an expert on trends affecting the finance and accounting market, including the use of social media in recruitment and managing a multi-generational workforce. He is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.