How to get an accounting job in the 'off season'
If you're not familiar with CA firms, you may be a little surprised to know that there's such a thing as "recruiting season."
Employers will come around university and college campuses during set times of the year - both in Canada and the US - to interview potential employees en masse.
The phenomenon of ‘campus visits’ is especially pronounced in the US where there’s a plethora of colleges to visit - smaller campuses often miss out on visits from the Big Four and students who want to get noticed with an in-person interview end up having to travel to a campus visit taking place at another larger school.
A reader asks what to do if you had the misfortune to miss out on recruiting season - or were simply unsuccessful in the hunt for a position.
Above: Non-big-four recruiting poster in Buffalo's airport. Photo credit: Krupo (as usual)
I'm grouping both scenarios together because the methods of dealing with either scenario are ultimately the same.
Figure out what you're applying for
You've graduated from university with a shiny Bachelor's Degree in Commerce or Business Administration. Your tuition was two or three times more expensive than that of your friends with English degrees, but it's okay you tell yourself, you'll get a high paying job that'll pay off your debts quickly.
Except where will you work?
A BComm or BBA is a great degree to have, job-wise, but when planning your job search you have to keep in mind that the specializations you studied for will have a major influence your job search. Organizational Behaviour (HR), Finance, and Marketing people will be generally looking for positions that are pretty different from someone with an Accounting specialization.
Ultimately you will hopefully pick third and fourth year courses in areas you enjoy working in. Of course, some people end up finishing a four-year program with the sickening realization that they really didn't enjoy any of the materials they studied. The prospect of a double major to switch directions towards something they enjoy may be daunting, but if they disliked studying the topic, there's a high probability they may not enjoy working in that field either.
But let's put all those hypotheticals aside to simplify things - you studied Accounting because this DR/CR stuff sounds interesting and you're actually intrigued by the prospect of showing up on peoples' doorsteps and demanding, politely, that they show you all their secret files - you want to try your hand at audit!
You want to become a CA.
There's one catch - to become a CA, you need to become a CA student.
To become a CA student, you need to work for an Approved Training Office.
You don't necessarily have to love that a google search for that phrase automatically hits Canadian CA websites, but it helps.
Anyway, you tried your best, but you you didn't get hired.
What to do?
The single most important tactic is to keep yourself busy.
Find something to keep you occupied - and to pay off those mounting debts or at least keep you from mooching off your parents so much if you're so lucky to have their support.
If the job is at least tangentially related to accounting, that's excellent, but you don't have to be too picky.
Don't turn your nose up at a small family business that can't afford to pay you as much as a medium-sized company, but which will let you help them improve all aspects of their business. This can give you an extremely rich resume which will come in handy the second time you come calling on the doors of your favourite CA firms.
I know this is an excellent idea because it's exactly what I did, and more than a few of my colleagues did the same thing - both locally and down in the US. Speaking with one of them we marvelled at the fact that our experiences were similar. For various reasons, we passed up on the 'mainstream' recruiting season and ended up in our niche practice.
Before sneaking during an 'off-season' recruiting drive - yes, they do exist and I'll get back to that - we both worked as severely underpaid "jack of all trades" types, working wonders for our old bosses, helping transform, modernize and improve their businesses - and in the process realizing that, "wow, we really did learn something in school."
Note the precious mix of cynicism and positivity in that last sentiment.
The key, of course, was not to think "how can I do something at this business that'll look good on my resume," but to just do even the most menial tasks if everyone was busy and to then find a way to improve things to make the menial things automated or faster - that's probably the quickest basic summary of what "business process improvement" means and practising that skill will help you in life incredibly.
While working elsewhere, keep looking for that opening
If you're in Ontario, keep checking out Ontario's Approved Training Office list.
As of June 17, 2008, in addition to all the regular CA firms, there are now 9 offices approved to train CA students in "non-traditional career paths" including the Royal Bank of Canada, Manulife, Telus and others.
Every province except Alberta currently has approved this training option; it's very new, though, which is why the list of companies to pick from is so desperately short.
Watch this list grow significantly in coming years - even Alberta is expected to approve this change in the near future according to the ICAO's page. The reasoning behind this shift is relatively straightforward: Canada still has a shortage of CAs.
The traditional method of filling the ranks with new CAs - through hiring in the regular accounting and audit firms - is insufficient now because all the baby boomers are about to start retiring in droves. It would be uneconomical for the CA firms to hire people "just to train them", so the CAs collectively decided that the best way to keep the market well supplied with people that have their valuable designation is to find other companies that can offer the adequate supervision and guidance needed to help young CA students hone their fledgling Professional Judgement and prepare for the UFE.
"Alternately" trained CAs will be trained to the exact same standards as 'mainstream' trained CAs, and will have the same rights and privileges with one minor catch - they will have to gain some experience in 'proper' audit firms to get a license to audit - a "public accounting" license.
The ICAO explains that:
With the implementation of CA Practical Experience Requirements
2007, practical experience requirements for a Licence to Practise
Public Accounting are recognized separately from practical experience
requirements for CA Qualification.
This, of course, is just fine for someone who doesn't care for doing audit - they can stay inside companies where an 'independent audit' isn't something that they have to explicitly worry about or carry out. Considering the number of CAs who jump out of accounting firms quickly and never look back, it's a rather logical solution.
If you ever change your mind, you'll probably have several years of experience under your belt - any mature audit firm will be more than happy to hire you to leverage all that you've learned in the intervening years in private industry and provide you with the training necessary to get your public accounting license. The ICAO FAQ goes into more detail if you need to know about this option. If the small business or alternate industry option isn't appealing, all is not lost.
If you're persistent, though, you may find an office or department that needs to hire people outside the regular recruiting seasons. Keep the following tactics in mind to help find a place that will look at your application:
- Check the Approved Training Offices pages to find small and mid-sized companies that might not follow the regular recruiting season.
- Check the websites of larger companies to see if any positions are being advertised.
- Check the job posting boards for any positions not advertised on the companies' own sites.
- Stay in touch with your old university's career centre - they might get notice of positions that aren't being advertised to the general public.
- Stay in touch with your friends in case they hear of other positions being posted internally, or to get a recommendation for publicly known positions.
- Look for positions outside your home city.
If you've been keeping busy at a small or medium sized non-accounting firm, keep in mind that you will likely still be treated as a 'raw recruit' hired at the entry level, unless your current/previous job is tightly related to audit - say, an internal audit position in a larger firm or a related accounting position. Basically, any job that doesn't involve teaching you the things you'll pick up as a first or second year 'junior' won't count towards your 'experience level' when they hire you - you'll be treated like any raw recruit whether you're 22 or 38. More experience will still help, however, in helping you stand out against some kids fresh out of university, though.
And don't forget those alternative options might be just as attractive if not moreso. Lots of companies lack skilled internal auditors, so keep an eye out for such postings, even at the entry level your academic background might be enough to get your foot in the door even if you don't have fancy experience. And the government has its own audit offices - don't forget to look into those options too.
Keep it up - before you know it, you'll be studying for the UFE and getting swag for writing about it.