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Getting a Jump on the Competition

Workshop Teaches Accounting Majors to Get Early Start on Job Search

UMass Lowell Professor Stefanie Tate
Asst. Prof. Stefanie Tate recently led a workshop to help accounting majors launch their searches for jobs and internships.

By Christine Gillette

If you’re an accounting major graduating this spring and you haven’t already started your job search, look out.

“The accounting job cycle is very different than most other majors in that accounting firms tend to hire in the fall rather than the spring,” says Stefanie Tate, an assistant professor of accounting in UMass Lowell’s College of Management.

The pressure is on ahead of time, she adds, because by the time the spring semester starts, accounting firms are focused on crossing the April 15 tax-season finish line.

“Generally, spring is just too busy for them,” Tate says.

Understanding the Accounting Nuances

Tate and others from the college’s accounting faculty wanted to make sure that UMass Lowell accounting majors understand the importance of honing their résumés, interview techniques and networking skills before it’s too late. From there, the idea of holding the Career Readiness Workshop grew.

“Today’s job market is very competitive and it is important for all accounting students to get an early start on their job campaign,” says Prof. J. Stephen Collins, chairman of the Accounting Department. “We want our students to be armed with all the information we can provide to them about this process.”

Because Tate’s intermediate accounting course includes most juniors in the major, it presented an opportunity to reach the most students in the workshop’s target group. Other faculty members also recommended their students attend the program, which drew about 90 participants and discussed not only full-time jobs after graduation, but also internships.

“What we’ve found in the last year or so, mainly because of the downturn in the economy, is that internships are extremely important,” Tate says. “Firms want experience with the [job candidate] before they will hire them.”

In the accounting field, most internships are offered over the summer to students in between their junior and senior years of college. Some firms even offer internships during the spring semester to bolster their ranks during tax season.

“If they’re not preparing for those internships right now, they’re going to graduate with no work experience,” Tate says.

Not only do internships give students the potential for a valuable post-graduation connection or job, they can also help them determine whether they are on the right career path. Tate says some students find through their internships that they would love a particular accounting career or decide their future should be in another part of the field.

“Internships provide our students with the opportunity to see what the real world is like,” she says. “There is a huge array of options for accounting degrees, so they can look at whether they want a job based on what they did as an intern or not.”

Speakers From Career Services, Faculty, Industry

Speakers at the workshop included Dana Norton of UMass Lowell Career Services, who discussed all of the assistance the office provides to students seeking jobs and internships, as well as organizing career fairs and offering tips on networking through professional associations.

“I was amazed at how much they provide. They have an incredible amount of resources for resumes and interviewing,” says Tate, adding that Norton also offered students tips about how to make sure their social networking, such as Facebook pages, don’t hamper their career search.

Stephen Phillips from accounting placement firm Robert Half International’s Nashua, N.H., office, spoke to the accounting students about what firms look for in applicants and how he evaluates résumés for clients, including which skill sets and work experience job candidates should have.

Other speakers were Collins; Asst. Prof. Janie Cassello-Bogues, who discussed the timeline of the fall semester, such as which career-related tasks should be completed by when; and Mary Ellen Morris, a visiting instructor with extensive professional experience, who talked about going on interviews and the importance of showing up early, knowing in advance where one is going and where to park, giving a good handshake and business etiquette. Tate says that second interviews for accounting job candidates usually include a half-day spent on-site at a firm and then lunch, so proper table manners are a critical part of the skill set. 

Tate, in addition to leading the event, offered her take on “what not to wear for interviewing” to students.

“Accountants are extremely conservative and students generally are not,” she says, explaining that outside of internships and career events, students may not see a lot of accountants in their daily lives before faced with an interview. Wearing clean, pressed clothes that don’t distract from the message is key. “The main point is that they are paying attention to you, not your outfit.”