The CPA Charm

One of two accountants still land jobs today. Do you have what it takes?

June 14, 2010
by Sukanya Mitra

Accounting and finance jobs rank number five nationwide as the most in-demand job according to the latest Manpower survey. In fact, a new survey just released by the National Association of Colleges and Employers reveals that 48 percent of accounting majors are most likely to land jobs over all other majors.

“In the past few months, we’ve seen a steady uptick for accounting and finance jobs in the financial services sector,” said Constance Melrose, managing director of eFinancialCareers. “Increased activity in the sector, more complex financial operations and increased attention to risk management and compliance naturally lead to a greater need for accounting and finance professionals,” she added.

The Accounting Appeal

Don’t kick yourself for listening to your parents and taking accounting in college. As a matter of fact, you should thank them.

So, why are accounting and finance professionals in such demand by hiring companies? “Accounting and finance are not only appealing, but critical knowledge and skills for hiring companies. Increased regulatory oversight, both in accounting and financial areas is driving job growth,” agreed Jerry Connor, CCH segment manager. “As jurisdictions struggle to balance budgets, they are increasing their compliance oversight, looking to capture additional revenue. Professional firms, as well as their clients, are staffing up to both focus proactive efforts on compliance as well as handle after-the-fact audits,” he added.

Brett Good, a district president with Robert Half International, saw it in a different light. “Having a strong accounting and finance team in place is essential in any economy — whether businesses are planning for growth or tightening their belts. Companies need these individuals to ensure positive cash-flow, minimize financial risk, assess and capitalize on business opportunities, maintain accurate financial records and produce insightful data for decision-making — all key elements to corporate success.”

Just Niche It

With the push towards a solitary accounting reporting system, taking IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) courses or having some experience in it is a no brainer. But what else can give you an edge over other accountants? “Expertise in the area of Business Valuations is a valuable skill in light of heightened regulatory focus on fair valuations and executive compensation,” pointed out Connor.

“The AICPA’s Accredited in Business Valuation (ABV) credential is the premier valuation credential for CPAs. The Forensic and Valuation Section (FVS) — which is included as part of the ABV — gives members the tools needed to enter into this niche and grow their practice,” said Eddy Parker, CPA, technical manager, Forensic and Valuation Services, at the AICPA. “Members have access to education, ranging from basic to advanced, in live, self-study or online formats, conferences, practice aids and practice-management guides and marketing materials to help CPAs distinguish themselves among their peers.”

“Employers seek job candidates with strong functional accounting skills, analytical and communication abilities, and technology expertise — particularly advanced knowledge of Microsoft Excel and company-specific ERP systems,” countered Good. “Expertise in areas such as tax, regulatory compliance and [U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission] SEC-reporting requirements also remain highly valued and can help differentiate a candidate.”

Additionally, Connor also noted that, “forensic accounting and fraud prevention are key growth areas that are in high demand.”

Elaine Leggett, CPA, CFF, technical manager, Forensic and Valuation Services at the AICPA, agreed totally and pointed out, “In response to the increasing market demand for forensic accountants, the AICPA launched the Certified in Financial Forensics (CFF) Credential in June 2008. Interest from CPAs seeking the CFF has been overwhelming.”

To help CPAs interested in offering forensic services, as well as experienced forensic accountants, AICPA’s Forensic and Valuation Services Section (FVS) in partnership with Golden Gate University has created a 17-part Developing a Niche Forensic Practice web series. “The FVS Section has developed 15 online courses that cover the CFF body of knowledge. The FVS Section also offers regular web seminars on hot topics currently affecting Valuation and Forensic practices,” she added.

Not Quite Timbuktu

Where are the jobs? Should you look outside of your comfort zone? Maybe.

Robert Half’s survey finds most accounting and finance job growths in the West South Central states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. In fact according to the survey, 12 percent of CFOs in that region expect to grow accounting staff in the third quarter, with another six percent expecting to hire full-time accounting staff in the next three months. Coming in second place are the Mountain states of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Unfortunately while the two coasts, Pacific as well as the Mid-Atlantic states expect to see a decrease of 11 percent and 13 percent in hires according to the Robert Half survey, Connor thought otherwise. “The Northeast looks to offer the greatest prospects with an overall projection of 25.6 percent growth over 2009, especially for accounting and finance graduates,” predicted Connor.

He also noted that while Midwest states had the lowest unemployment rates last year, he expected them “to be showing modest growth in manufacturing and information technology,” which parallels Robert Half’s survey results that reveal the industry with the highest accounting staff growth is transportation, in which five percent of CFOs are optimistic about their hiring plans and manufacturing coming in at a close second.

“CFOs reported demand for accounting operations professionals who can help them ensure timely payment and collection of bills as business activity gains momentum,” said Good. “Manufacturing, healthcare and energy are driving most of the hiring activity within the region,” he advised.

Additional Resources: Accredited in Business Valuation
  Forensic and Valuation Section

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Sukanya Mitra is managing editor of the AICPA Insider™ e-newsletter group.