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Careers of the Future: Accounting Helps Students Get Beyond the Numbers


Careers of the Future: Accounting Helps Students Get Beyond the Numbers


Millennials: Interested in an accounting career? In this sixth installment of our seven-week Careers of the Future series, Karen Osterheld, senior lecturer of Accountancy, explores the both the challenges and opportunities that await graduates with the critical thinking, analytical and communication skills needed to meet the rapidly growing demand for accounting professionals. 

When you’re talking about the jobs of the future, I believe you have to seriously look at accounting, because it is a wide-open field that represents huge opportunities. From the students’ point of view, it’s a great profession to enter, because it offers lots of room for career growth and advancement.

That said, many employers are finding that the college graduates they’re hiring lack three important things in terms of career preparedness: critical thinking, analytical skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and succinctly.

In the past, entry-level employees spent a good amount of time comparing numbers, to make certain that financial statements were correct. But much of this work is now being outsourced or automated, and, as a result, our accounting graduates are starting their careers at a higher — and more responsible — level, because the mechanical tasks are being done elsewhere.

The other big change, which puts a preparedness premium on us at the university level, is that young accountants are now constantly being asked to work on teams with a host of varied personalities. This requires a whole new set of skills, and we are adapting our teaching methods to accommodate the new requirements.

If I were to boil it all down, though, the most important preparedness skill that future employers want from Accounting majors is a comfort level and facility with out-of-the-box thinking.

Employers expect that our students will have the book knowledge; but now, in addition to the basic number skills, young accounting students need to be trained to make complex decisions — it’s not mundane or straightforward anymore.

Millennial accounting students are shaping the terms and conditions of their employment, too.

Increasingly, they’re demanding that employers find a way to allow and encourage work-life balance. Law firms can continue working associates nearly 24/7, because there is more supply than demand. But that’s not true in the accounting profession, where there is a real need for young talent. Many of the large accounting firms are trying to figure out how to deliver this crucial work-life blend. One area that will be interesting to watch is working from home and flexible hours during non-peak periods throughout the year.

Millennials who are going into accounting are also making their voices heard. They want to put in long, hard hours and become partners, but they also want to be able raise a family. This is another issue to watch in the accounting field, and I believe that the firms will work it through, because the accounting talent coming out of colleges and universities is strong.

Finally, looking to the future, accounting students need to be prepared for the international standards that are on the way. It’s unclear right now what global standards will be adopted; but there will be new international rules, and that means that the education and training of young accountants will have to change and adapt.

I also think that integrity — always central in accounting — will become more and more important in the global marketplace. And, in my view, this is a place where every accounting graduate must stand out. If we do just one thing to prepare our students for the accounting profession of the 21st century, it has to be in the area of ethics. That’s job one, without any question or hesitation.

Careers of the Future Series

Read other installments in our Careers of the Future Series:

Our 21st Century Mission: Preparing Students for the Careers of the Future
Blending Theory and Practice with Big Data
Human-Centered Design Is Putting Innovative Insights Into Action
Sustainability, the Merging of Science and Business
Economics Has Many Career Options, From Rock Singer to President of the United States
Will You Be Able to Recognize the Next Big Thing? 

Learn more about Bentley’s PreparedU Project, which examines challenges facing millennial workers, the companies that employ them and the colleges and universities that prepare them.


i would have love to been able to do accounting however due to math disablity it was not to be.anything to do with math i'am left out(medicine dentistry ,mba.chemist the list goes on.

Look back no further than the past few years and find the disgraceful failure of financial reporting to provide adequate warnings of questionable asset values...integrity (including loss of independence due to financial incentives from clients) is one of the root causes that our financial reporting is suspect. Future accountants need better grounding this area in order to assert independent thinking on superiors and clients. We need creativity and innovation in financial reporting to address new types of revenues and asset valuations. And, our clients in this new industrial age can help us with these challenges, but we need to remain suspicious, skeptical and firm in applying independent judgment. No better time than now to choose a career in accounting.

Accounting is a good tool to have in your business administration toolkit, but don't make it an end to itself. I'm a bus admin/accounting major, and have found work in accounting, information systems and economics. Keep your mind thinking while studying, with accounting being one of your options. Some problems with accounting: 1) the profession self-limits, by setting entry rules that act as hurdles for future competitors (you). The number of units required for CPA exam candidates and the audit experience hours can turn you into an indentured servant. 2) The big firms, now the "final four," historically have caused the "game changer" problems, like the Enron fiasco; and the profession just further limits the big firms' competition (you) by forcing everybody to take more specific continuing professional education (like fraud detection), whether or not it helps you service your clients. 3) The AICPA is an accountant club, and is not regulated by government, but sets the standards for ethics, workingpapers, etc., by default, for the respective states governing bodies. This is not a good thing, as we have the biggest firms representing the profession, and killing off small to mid-sized accounting businesses through administrative mandates. 4) Study English; mediation; project management and micro economics carefully, as you really want to help people figure out how money is made and maximize their value proposition. If the area of study effects the answer to the "who gets and gives how much money, when, and for what?," pay attention. Otherwise, let your curiosity guide you. 5) If you can't suck up to the bosses and pretend you are working less than you really are, try technology instead.

The reality is that you should have a CPA certificate or at least a Masters in Accounting/Taxation to earn the real money. Having some expertise in low end programs like Quickbooks will not generate a lot of money for you.

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August 4, 2015

Bentley University is named one of the country’s best institutions for undergraduate education in the just-published 2016 edition of The Princeton Review Annual college guide, “The Best 380 Colleges,” (Random House/Princeton Review).