In education, we provide accounting students with all the necessary technical skills — a strong foundation in accounting and general business. These fundamentals are important — skills learned in the classroom translate directly to the workplace. However, the accounting industry demands a broad set of competencies from young professionals today, and accounting students need more than mere technical skills for transformation into the polished professionals the business world expects. As educators and employers, how can we provide students and new hires with the right level of support and guidance? This is the role that mentoring can play.
Schools are perfect outlets for mentoring by offering information sessions and seminars. They also provide specific mentoring opportunities by pairing students with professionals in the field — alumni are a great resource in this area. Others can learn from Rutgers Business School’s example, which offers one-on-one mentoring opportunities as part of a Road to CPA program.
Guidance need not end upon graduation — accounting firms and corporations can also provide one-on-one mentoring. Upon joining an organization, new hires can be paired with more-experienced colleagues.
Here are some potential topics that mentors can discuss with their mentees:
- The value of the CPA license. Above all, we should ensure that new accounting professionals understand the value of the CPA license — that the certification embodies a certain level of well-respected knowledge and professionalism. Do students perceive the license as just another certification? Mentors can provide background on the value of the license and its capacity to propel budding careers.
- Career path options. Students may not be aware of the many career paths available to them. Most hear initially about public accounting, but the CPA license is useful in accounting areas such as private/corporate, governmental, forensic and internal audit. In addition, the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) designation is another certification that pairs well with a CPA license.
- General professional and soft skills. New accounting professionals may be lacking in these areas simply because soft skills have not been discussed with them thoroughly. Topics include the importance of punctuality in the workplace, methods for successfully interacting with clients and colleagues, techniques for strong written and oral communication, the value in good email etiquette and responsiveness, and strategies for achieving a promotion and overall career success.
- CPA Exam and license specifics. Most students know some basics about the CPA Exam, but many are unaware of details such as the varying licensure requirements by state. Students may also feel overwhelmed by the Exam itself and desire advice on the best approach for studying and passing. General advising may be offered at the school level, but counselling may focus more on graduation requirements rather than licensure requirements. A mentor can provide that perspective of “things I wish I had known.”
While we expect young professionals to be fully equipped to work in a challenging field, mentoring can bridge the gap between basic technical skills and the broad skillset required by today’s accounting profession.