The kids are alright

16 accounting students share thoughts about the profession

Eric Grube, CPA, DBA | December 2019/January 2020 Footnote

Editor's note: Updated November 26, 2019

Throughout my teaching career, I’ve always felt my responsibilities extend beyond the classroom to include guiding my accounting students to purposeful careers within the accounting profession. In the August 2018 Footnote, I asked several local CPA firms how they were connecting with accounting students. For this article, I flip the conversation by chatting with students who attended the October 2019 Accounting and Auditing Student Conference (AASC). My questions were intended to elicit responses related to students’ perceptions of the accounting profession.

I talked with 16 students who attended the AASC. The students I interviewed were from Bemidji State University, Concordia University — Saint Paul, Hamline University, Metropolitan State University, Saint Catherine University (St. Kate’s) and University of Northwestern — St. Paul. What follows is a brief summary of students’ perceptions, concerns and expectations of their future career in the accounting profession.

Students have a positive perception of the profession

I began with a simple question: Describe in a few words your perceptions of the accounting profession. Answers included:
  • “Accounting is all around us,” responded a student from Hamline.
  • “Helping people solve business problems,” offered a Northwestern student.
  • “Accounting is challenging and exciting,” answered a Bemidji student.
  • “Accounting provides good career options,” commented numerous students.
Students also had positive perceptions about salary and advancement potential, the rewarding nature of problem-solving and relationship building with clients. As I listened, I was warmed by the positive and thoughtful nature of their responses. Aside from the occasional stereotypes, students associated a positive vibe with the profession and were excited to be attending the AASC talking to potential employers.

Students are excited about the profession

Asking students what excited them about beginning their career in the accounting profession provided many animated responses. The responses read like talking points for the ideal candidate. Here are a handful:
  • “I love doing things that contribute to a bigger purpose,” and, “I can’t see myself doing anything else,” gushed separate students from Northwestern.
  • “The support I received from co-workers,” said a student from Concordia, referring to a recently completed internship.
  • “I like helping people and finding solutions,” said a student from St. Kate’s.
  • “The food,” said a Concordia student. “I heard it’s the best part of busy season.”
  • “The high salary,” and, “Plenty of opportunities,” mentioned all students with whom I chatted.
Good news, employers. Students generally gushed about the profession.

Students have concerns

Asking about concerns students had about beginning their career in the accounting profession provided some interesting responses. Concern relating to the students’ confidence emerged as a main theme. HR professionals who interact with students should gain some enlightenment from these responses. Here is a sampling of concerns students voiced:
  • “Working through busy season and passing the CPA exam,” commented many students.
  • “I won’t be good enough or smart enough,” said a Concordia student.
  • “Not knowing whether I’ll enjoy the work,” and, “Not knowing whether the work will become too repetitive,” noted students from Bemidji and Northwestern.
  • “Having to keep up with the evolving technology,” said several students.
  • “Not having control over what I do,” reflected a Bemidji student.
  • “Getting fired!” lamented many students.
  • “Having to relearn everything I was taught,” mentioned students from Hamline, Metropolitan State and Concordia.
Confidence concerns relating to success in the profession can be moderated through students participating in internships, registering for open house visits or requesting job shadowing prior to accepting a job offer. In other words, getting to know firms, their practice areas and meeting the professionals working in those firms is usually enough to convince students their fears are overblown.

Based on feedback from my Concordia students who have participated in a firm’s open house event or completed a busy season internship, concern relating to the nature of the work, or the support given to newly hired students, are answered to their satisfaction. Uncertainty is replaced by a genuine sense of excitement to begin their career in accounting.

Getting to the heart of the matter

Every student I interviewed had one thing in common: They all were studying to become accountants and were attending the AASC to meet with employers and gain a better understanding of the profession. I wanted to learn why they decided to begin their career in accounting.
  • “I enjoy math,” “I love the challenge of numbers,” “I appreciate the visual nature of accounting,” and “I like problem-solving,” commented most students.
  • “I became interested in accounting after taking a high school accounting class,” and, “I also enjoyed my accounting instructor,” said students from Northwestern, Concordia and Hamline.
  • “I enjoy working with people,” said smiling students from both Concordia and St. Kate’s.
  • “I like the balance of accounting,” commented a student from Hamline.
The common themes were an attraction to the quantitative skills and positive memories of an accounting class and/or an influential accounting instructor. Reflecting on my top students through the years, all were excellent problem-solvers with solid math and analytical skills. Accounting instructors and academic advisers reading this section, please take note.

Looking to the future

When asked what skills students desired to learn, as well as where they expected their careers to be in one to three years after graduation, students answered with enthusiasm:
  • “I want to become a better communicator, particularly improving my speaking skills,” commented students from Hamline and Concordia.
  • “I want to learn about real-world situations and become more confident in my accounting skills,” reflected a student from St. Kate’s.
  • “I’m excited about learning to use different accounting software platforms, as well as gaining a better understanding of how business works in the real world,” mentioned one Metropolitan State student.
  • “I want to learn the audit function well and be the person others come to for answers,” said a Northwestern student.
  • “Becoming more proficient in project completion,” noted a Concordia student.
  • “Pass the CPA exam!” exclaimed almost every student.

Tying it all together

Understanding how employers and students connect with each other is my passion. I learned a lot at this year’s AASC chatting with students. Do I think there are misperceptions or misunderstandings between students and employers? Actually, I think both are in good alignment, which suggests events like the AASC, open house events and campus visits are achieving their intended goal of communicating with the next generation of accounting professionals.

Based on my interviews, two themes stand out: Students are exceedingly positive about the profession, yet students are worried about their probability of success. The challenging and changing nature of the accounting profession and the perceived difficulty of passing the CPA exam have students worried. Based on the thoughtful and insightful responses I received, accounting students have the IQ and EQ to pass the CPA exam and become successful in the profession. Recognizing all students are busy managing the balance between work, school and relationships, I understand students are worried when what stands out about the profession is a dreaded four-part exam and grueling busy season hours between January and April.

Finding a strategy to continually uplift the positive attributes of the profession, while emphasizing the support firms provide to get young professionals through the long hours of busy season, as well as pass the CPA exam, should be examined more. Maybe, as one AASC attendee mentioned to me, the solution may be found in an abundance of “busy season food.” n

Eric Grube, CPA is an assistant professor of accounting at Concordia University — Saint Paul and is an MNCPA member. He earned his Doctor of Business Administration degree from Metropolitan State University. You can reach him at grube@csp.edu or 651-641-8372.

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