You have always thought that a career in accountancy would be great fit for your natural abilities. You're good with numbers, have a strong aptitude for detail and accuracy, and enjoy problem-solving.

So you're working on either an on-campus or an online accounting degree or a business administration degree with a specialization in accounting. You're mastering challenging concepts, such as advanced auditing, financial statement analysis, cost accounting and forecasting. You're becoming proficient with the analytical tools and technology necessary to solve complex problems.

You're going to be totally prepared to meet all the qualifications companies are looking for in their next CPA.

Are you sure?

What companies expect of accounting majors

Thanks to recent financial crises, corporate scandals, and the overall reshaping of today's business environment accountancy, which was once considered a back-office function, has moved to the forefront adding new dimensions to the role of accountants.

According to Saint Leo professor of accounting, Dr. Passard Dean, accountants no longer quietly crunch numbers behind the scenes. They work alongside senior management making best-practice recommendations, reporting on compliance issues, and suggesting ways to reduce costs and improve profits. They interact with clients, and they work in teams with colleagues to make decisions.

This more prominent role means that employers are looking for accounting graduates with strong interpersonal skills.

Firms also expect new hires to not only examine and prepare financial documentation but to be able to articulate their findings in reports and presentations.

This means that new hires must also have well-developed written and oral communication skills.

The surprising facts: what Fortune 500 companies are saying

Dr. Dean bases his conclusions on research he has conducted into the qualifications Fortune 500 companies are looking for in new hires.

For a recent study, Dr. Dean surveyed all Fortune 500 companies to determine those that had entry-level positions requiring two years or less of work experience. He then compiled all of the requirements for these positions for the 461 companies he believed best represented those students will be working for upon graduation. After analyzing the data, he came to some surprising conclusions.

"The results of the survey overwhelmingly revealed that Fortune 500 companies expect entry-level accounting graduates to have much more than an accounting bachelor's degree and excellent analytical and spreadsheet skills," he said. "We clearly saw that other than having a bachelor's degree (100 %), the most important requirements of these companies were oral communications (83.5%) and written communications (79.8%).

Ranking qualifications

1. Bachelor's Degree 100%
2. Oral Communications 83.5%
3. Written Communications 79.8%
4. Experience 78.1%
5. Microsoft Excell 68.8%
6. Analytical Skills 64.6%
7. Microsoft Word 57.9%
8. Team 48.8%
9. Organizational Skills 48.2%
10. Problem-Solving 41.4%
11. Leadership Ability 41.2%
12. Interpersonal Skills 36.0%
13. Detail-Oriented 35.4%
14. Decision-Making 32.3%
15. Initiative 31.9%
16. CPA 28.4%
17. Master's Degree 21.5%
18. Multitasking Ability 12.4%
19. Microsoft Access 10.4%
20. CMA 8.9%
21. Microsoft PowerPoint 8.9%

How to prepare for a Fortune 500 accounting position

According to Dr. Passard, "Many accounting graduates find themselves in the uncomfortable position of not knowing whether or not they have the qualifications companies are looking for. Therefore, they are unsure of themselves when they interview with prospective employers."

So how can you be sure you are acquiring the necessary skills to reach your career goals?

Here are a few ideas of things you can be doing now as a student to prepare.

  • Earn an online accounting degree or traditional on-ground degree from an accredited institution.
  • Make landing an internship a priority. Work with the career planning office and your accounting professors early in your college career to ensure you're developing an academic resume that will make you attractive to companies that offer internship opportunities.
  • Get involved! Assume positions in clubs – or on committees and teams at work – that give you the opportunity to develop leadership skills. Participate in community, service or professional organizations where you can work with a team and grow your interpersonal skills. Attend networking events and practice meeting new people.
  • Hone your written communication skills by taking writing classes as electives and use your institution's writing or tutoring services. View every discussion post you develop, paper you write, or email you send as an opportunity to be concise and clear.
  • Practice presentation skills both in and out of the classroom and at work. Whether you attend class on campus or online, ask questions and actively participate in discussions. When you make formal presentations, ask for feedback. Attend presentations by guest speakers and make note of what works well and what doesn't. Be cognizant of your own speech in everyday conversation, especially filler words such as "um," "like," or "you know." And if you know public speaking is a challenge for you, consider joining your local Toastmasters.

Accounting curriculum in transition

There are many things students can do to help themselves develop the broader range of interpersonal and communication skills companies are now demanding of their accounting hires; however, Dr. Dean believes that it is ultimately incumbent upon accounting faculty to bridge the gap between the demand and supply of accountants with today's critical skills.

"The role of an accountant is continuing to evolve in today's business world and accounting faculty need to stay on top of the qualifications companies are looking for in entry-level employees so they can help students acquire these necessary skills.

"Students need to ask questions before enrolling. Find out what alumni are doing. Investigate what professionals in the field think about the reputation of the program. Not all accounting programs are made equal."

How are you preparing for a career as an accountant?

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Earning A CPA License: Is It Worth It?

Should I Study Accounting? 10 Questions To Help You Find Out

CPA To CMA: Which Accounting Certification Is For You?

Gain Tax Experience While Pursuing An Online Accounting Degree

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