Straight from the Students’ Mouths

Accountants-in-training share perceptions about their education, the business world, their career prospects, and their mixed feelings about landing a job at a Big Four firm.

But Hakob Stepanyan, who is exploring several possible career entry points, says he doesn’t expect to find it much different anywhere else. “I definitely expect the hours to be long — that’s pretty much across the board for any entry-level finance positions you’re looking at,” he says, adding, “That’s one of the last things I’m worried about.”

Stepanyan is one of two students who raises his hand when the group is asked, “Anyone want to be a CFO?” His view of business starts with accounting, but it doesn’t end there. “The thing that stood out about accounting for me was that, when you’re done learning the technicals, it’s about telling the story of the company,” he says. “You get a sound understanding of how to play out the company’s history and its business plan, and you have to communicate that effectively.”

The other aspiring finance chief, Leuchter, says he likes that a CFO has ownership for the success of the business. That path may be open to him if he puts his accounting education to work for his family’s call-center business, which already employs many family members. “I feel that while public accounting would be good for the technical aspects, you’re not making a business, and that’s what I would like to be doing,” he says.

Meanwhile, the students are acutely aware that there is a chronic shortage of accounting talent and of what that means for their job security, not to mention pay.

“You have a good future in accounting, because there will always be a need for accountants,” says Shah. “It’s secure. When thinking about a career path you have to think about your financial stability, and accounting does provide for that.”

Jeffries says the fact that accounting is “a profitable career path” accounted for probably 75 percent of his decision to take it — “especially in this economy, when everybody is talking about how difficult it’s going to be to get jobs, and especially high-paying jobs.” He relates watching his sister graduate from college and struggle to make a career in journalism. “I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if I could graduate and have a job already? Accounting seems to be one place where you can do that,” he says.

But Jeffries views accounting as far more than a means to an end — at least, he does now. He says his initial impression of accounting was “rather negative,” and he was pleasantly surprised when he got into the William & Mary program, which he says presented “a clear picture of how it is useful.”

Old perceptions of the profession as boring and monotonous are anachronistic, according to Jeffries. More apt terms today, he says, are “interesting and full of opportunity.” He especially likes the ability to travel — “to move to the big city or move overseas.”

Stepanyan agrees that historical perceptions are outdated. “Even though accounting will always remain practical, we’re not introverted nerds,” he says. “I’m in the grad program, and you’d be surprised how exciting everybody is. We’re all very social.”

They’re even excited by the financial crisis. “It certainly makes things more interesting for us; definitely more of a challenge,” says Krug. “That’s appealing, because if you can survive that, you can survive anything.”

While Leuchter allows that the crisis “is not a good thing for the world,” he says “it’s good for learning — you learn that business isn’t all just profit, making money. There’s definitely loss and bad times, and it makes you more skeptical. When you’re young you’re aggressive, and I think this [crisis] has restrained some of that.”

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