If you’re wondering, “How can I get accounting experience?” you’re not alone. Many people find that it is challenging to get that first accounting job with no experience. It’s one of the fiercest job markets around, so competition is high and tough. Every organization needs an accountant, and the pay is good.
Many graduates find they are not prepared at all for the task of getting their first job. It’s not always as simple as graduating and sliding right into a position unless you already have connections that can help you with your first job.
Plus, if you’re considering becoming a CPA, most state boards of accountancy require you to have 1-2 years of accounting experience before you can be licensed. And if you are working in industry as a Certified Management Accountant or Certified Internal Auditor, you’ll still need to show your experience before you can add CMA or CIA behind your name. So, regardless of the accounting certification you choose to earn, you’ll need 1-2 years of accounting experience.
Get Accounting Experience – Build Your Professional Network
First and foremost, you need to build your professional network. Many companies prefer to hire candidates they have some knowledge about, and personal connections you make within the industry are essential to helping you get that first job without experience. For anyone to gain accounting experience, they first need someone to take a chance on them, right? It just makes sense that the person who does this would be someone who already knows you in some capacity.
You need to start building your professional network long before you expect to start looking for a job. Networking means putting in the time and effort to develop your brand both online and off. When the time comes that you are looking for a job, you will already have established relationships with people who are willing to introduce you to decision-makers and connect you to potential job offers.
It’s essential you show off your personality in addition to your skills. Again, this is a saturated market, and you need something that sets you apart from the many other entry-level accountants who are searching for work at the same time. Did you know that you could get a PWC internship through networking?
My number one networking advice is to join your university’s accounting club and participate at the highest level possible. So, if you can, volunteer as president, treasurer, or any other position at the top. You’ll be able to use your experience as a member of your accounting club on your resume, but you may also be in closer contact with accounting firms due to the nature of your position. For instance, in some accounting club positions, you may have to reach out to partners at accounting firms and schedule them as guest speakers for your monthly accounting club meetings.
Furthermore, attend all the meetings and always bring your resume. Make it a point to talk to all the associates, seniors, partners, and more from the accounting firm (or organization) that is attending.
Accounting Overview and Job Skills
Just what is needed to be an accountant? Public accountants are expected to pass the CPA Exam and become CPAs. What do accountants do? In general, accountants collect, organize, and track financial information for organizations. Personal accountants do the same thing for individuals, rather than corporations.
Skills that are important for accountants to hold:
- analytical thinking
- experience with and knowledge of information technology
- communication and interpersonal
- organizational and business
How much money can you make?
Accountants can earn anywhere from $42,410 to $120,910 or more, with the median average at $68,150.
Get Educated on Software and Accounting Principles
When you take time to get educated and remain updated on the latest in accounting principles, practices, and accounting software programs on the market, it makes you a more viable candidate for a job. It’s not enough just to know the basics of accounting you learned in school. Instead, you need to show how you can go above and beyond. When you have additional skillsets to bring to the table, you become a more enticing candidate.
Master Your Resume
It sounds like an obvious point, but an excellent resume is a key to getting your foot in the door at a new accounting job. Unless you’re an expert at resumes, you’re going to want to have help with yours. You can have it written by a professional, or create it yourself and have it reviewed by a professional. You could also have career advisors review it for you. They know what hiring managers in accounting fields will be looking for and can help you get your resume up to par. Using more than one career advisor to review it gives you the best advice that each has to offer.
In addition to the best resume around, you should also consider creating professional profiles on Indeed and LinkedIn. Many people report finding accounting jobs and entry-level accounting positions through these and similar job search sites. Treat your professional profile here with the same seriousness and dedication as you do your printed resume.
Skills to Include on Your Accounting Resume & Cover Letter
When updating your resume for a specific job position, it is essential to include your skills that align with those that most fit the particular job description. This means no cookie-cutter resumes that you send off to everyone. If you want to gain an advantage in this highly-sought-after field, you need to put more effort. Change and update the skills and other details of your resume to highlight the things about you that most pertain to that exact job request.
Further, stand out by including a highly-personalized cover letter that states why you’re a good fit for the job in question. Also, include details about the company and how they are aligned with some of your own goals. Plus, if appropriate, explain that while you do not meet the minimum requirements, you are ready and willing to learn. Many businesses are happy to take a chance with an up-and-coming accountant who is willing to reach out in this way. They all had to start someplace, too.
Finally, it’s also essential to work on your interview skills. If that perfect resume actually gets you a call-back, you must nail the interview if you want to have a chance at the job. Not everyone is a natural at in-person interviews, especially if you are a new graduate. Working with a career advisor will help. Many people benefit from practicing with mock interviews. Mock interviews will help you get comfortable with the interview process and the question and answer dynamic to it.
Mention Your Soft Skills
It can also be helpful to list your soft skills in a resume, a cover letter, or in your interview. There are other skills that an accountant will use in the day-to-day operations, so this information is relevant. Are you really savvy with computers? Did you score very highly in math in high school and college? Great! But are you also good with people? Do you excel at working with a team, or are you very skilled in written communications? The soft skills you list could be the reason you get hired.
Where to Get Accounting Experience
For many CPA candidates, one of the last steps to becoming certified is gaining their required accounting experience. It starts to feel like a chicken-and-egg situation sometimes because some firms will turn you down for not having experience. Getting hands-on experience and logged, proven hours can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. You just need to know how and where to go to find these opportunities.
One way to get early accounting experience is to volunteer your services. While it’s true that no one wants to work for free, sometimes you need to “pay your dues” a bit in the industry by first showing what you can do in a volunteer capacity. An excellent place to begin to look for accounting volunteer opportunities is with non-profit organizations. It will look good on a resume, and they are often in need of help. You can check churches, charities, VITA, and other organizations to see if they need bookkeeping, tax preparation, or additional financial accounting assistance. Be genuine and do it for a mutually beneficial experience.
Apply for Internships
You can also apply for internships as a way to gain the experience that you need in accounting. There’s a reason you probably heard about internships a lot in high school and college – because they work. Internships can be extremely valuable in getting the accounting experience you need in terms of time, but many accounting students also land full-time positions as a result of an internship. When you work as an intern, you will be responsible for day-to-day accounting tasks, and this builds real-world experience that you can’t get just from studying books and practicing scenarios.
Additionally, if you are thinking of getting your CPA and/or working for a Big 4 one day, an internship allows you to see the different paths a CPA can take.
Build On Experience You Already Have
If you are asking, “How can I get accounting experience?” when you have not landed your first job, it’s crucial to leverage any skills or experience you already have. You can gain successful entry into the accounting field using all of the steps above and leveraging the power of personal and professional experience you already have. Take some time to pore over past jobs and volunteer experiences. Do any of them have skillsets that overlap with accounting?
Your education is only one part of what you need to succeed in the accounting field, and many people have untapped potential they are not even marketing for themselves. Did you take additional courses or classes besides accounting that could be useful to the position you’re applying to? Did you graduate with a high GPA at a difficult school? Do you have business training or qualifications? Are there any other niche-specific classes or courses you’ve taken that will help you appeal to a human resources director?
If you are taking accounting as a second career, or if you are an older grad, you likely have prior job experience that fresh grads won’t have. You can and should use this to your advantage to help you break into the accounting industry.
Apply for Jobs in Related Fields
Another trick for getting hired as an entry-level accountant is to apply for jobs in related fields. You can look for positions as a bookkeeper, an accounting assistant, or accounts receivable clerk, to name a few. These jobs are still in the field of accounting and will count as accounting experience. You will also learn valuable job skills while working at these entry-level positions.
It’s also important to apply to jobs even when you think you won’t qualify or get them. You never know how it will help build your network to get your name out there. So, although you may be entry-level and the job description is asking for someone with more years of experience, apply anyway. You can send letters of interest out to companies that you want to work for now, even if they are not actively hiring or if you don’t feel you meet the minimum requirements. This is a great way to show initiative and get a foot in the door, and you could end up pleasantly surprised.
Get Accounting Experience By Obtaining Your Accounting Certifications
As you probably already know, getting an accounting certification is going to help you get a job in the field. It’s also a challenge for many candidates to decide which certification they need and want. If you’re trying to decide between the CPA vs. CMA, for example, then you need to know the benefits that each one brings. There are many different accounting job types and titles, and varying skills are needed for each.
Before obtaining your accounting certification, it helps to know what career path you are on. What kind of job do you want? Do you plan to apply with a Big 4? Consider all of this when going for your accounting experience and your first accounting job.