5 things accounting students should know before they graduate

When I went to university (in Germany, and many years ago) I thought getting a job would be a given. I would leave job fairs with goodie bags filled with branded pens, stress balls and all types of candy. It shouldn’t be so hard to get a job, right?!

Now almost 20 years later, I am in the business of supporting programs at the University of Sydney Business School in developing what many call transferable or employability skills. Turns out getting a job is… complicated.

Looking into the crystal ball

I recently conducted an extensive research study of job ads with a colleague from Macquarie Business School to find out what skills are required to do a PhD (yes, in Europe PhD positions are often published like regular jobs). We found that job ads are the crystal balls of future skills. As my collaborator Dr Mauricio Marrone was recently invited to present to a cohort of Accounting undergraduate students nearing graduation, we applied this methodology to analyse a random sample of 200 Accounting job ads to provide practical advice for these students.

In my line of research, we are all too familiar with reports projecting the “Top Skills” for “Future-Readiness”, such as the recent World Economic Forum report. According to accounting.com these include:

  • Analytical skills
  • Organisation skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Adaptability
  • Time management
  • Industry knowledge
  • Spreadsheet proficiency
  • Team collaboration
  • Writing

It’s worth pointing out that while different reports sometimes list different future skills, often those skills are just grouped differently or use different taxonomies. Most of them, including the Accounting skills listed above, reflect the University of Sydney Graduate Qualities.

What did the job ads reveal?

We wanted to draw the skills from what students will be looking at when they look for jobs – the job ad. More importantly, we wanted to stick to the language of skills that the employers of Accounting graduates used. This is what we found:

  1. Communication skills are important but “fluency” less so. Fluency only appeared in one ad. Many job ads actually request knowledge of a second language. This is good news for many international students who worry about their level of fluency.
  2. Degree is less important. CPA (Certified Public Accountant) certification was mentioned in 19 out of 200 ads, and CA (Chartered Accountant) only 6 times. The requirement of having a “degree” only featured in 6 ads.
  3. Learn the tools of the trade. And specifically in this order of preference: MYOB, Excel, Xero, and other tools including Word, SAP, Outlook and PowerPoint combined.
  4. Report writing is a big deal. Common performance tasks in accounting include creating reports (150 out of 200 ads), followed by coordinating reconciliation (145), ensuring compliance (89), preparing tax (81), managing budget (57), auditing (56), payroll (54), dealing with accounts payable (54), administration (52), and managing cash (51).
  5. Interpersonal skills are key. Being flexible, collaborative, responsible and committed will get you ahead.

Interestingly, only one job requested the successful candidate be a citizen or permanent resident (again, good news for international students).

Person submitting an application online. Image: Unsplash.com

Final tips for students

We invite Accounting educators to pass the five insights on to their students to help them see the value in report writing and team/group work (to practise interpersonal skills) as well as building their technical skill repertoire. The final piece of advice is that students should look beyond typical ‘accounting’ roles and apply their expertise flexibly by tailoring their resumes. Roles like office administrator (salaries are the same as entry-level accounting roles), project manager, executive assistant, business process coordinator, and client managers all benefit from (if not require) accounting expertise.

A paper describing the methodology applied here is currently under review and will be shared here when published.

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I joined the Business School in August 2018 as Academic Lead for Course Enhancement and Lecturer. I look after learning assurance, curriculum development and assessment design. I research higher and doctoral education, ECR careers, and researcher development.

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