The accounting profession offers a wide range of career options, with flexibility to move between its various fields, from public accounting, industry, government, internal audit and more.
That was a key message presented to the 50-plus college students attending the second annual Summer Leadership Conference, co-sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants (NCACPA) and North Carolina State University’s Poole College of Management, held May 22-23 on NC State’s campus.
The conference provided diverse students currently attending community and four-year colleges across North Carolina a chance to hear about the accounting profession and network with some of its members, including Eric Shander, Red Hat’s chief financial officer. The students met with him while touring the company’s headquarters in downtown Raleigh as part of their conference, an experience that provided insight into the role of the accounting and finance functions in the business environment.
Sharon Bryson, chief executive officer with the NCACPA, introduced the students to the association, noting particularly the NC CPA Foundation Scholarship programs and ongoing professional development programs.
Bryson, who has been with the association for 35 years, told the students that she “knew a little about what a CPA was, but not much about the accounting profession” when she began with the association.
“I also needed to learn,” she said. And the reason she has stayed with the association so long and “cares about the accounting profession” is because she cares about the people in the association and those it serves, including the students attending the conference.
Many Career Options, and It’s Not All about Math
In an engaged “Pathways to the CPA Profession” discussion with a panel of five accounting professionals on the first morning of the conference, the students heard about the panelists’ various career paths, and the mobility they found as they gained experience and their career interests shifted.
The students were not shy about asking questions, including the level of math required.
The panelists dispelled the notion that accounting is all about math. Rather, “it’s about telling a story about the money, and the accountant is closest to knowing how to tell that story,” said Abi Raja, who had worked internationally with PwC and now is accounting manager at Ply Gem. “You have to be good about talking with people and solving problems. A calculator and computer – they pretty much take care of the math I have to do,” she said.
The path to an accounting education and career is not always a straight one, said Amy Hilliard, director at Dixon Hughes Goodman, LLP.
“I came to NC State as a math major, but changed to psychology and engineering in the first semester, and then to physical therapy at East Carolina University.” After the first semester there, she said she realized she didn’t want that so she tried accounting. “In the first class, the whole universe made sense,” she said. She went on to receive her bachelor’s and master’s in accounting, and has been with her firm for 18 years.
“Auditing is a passion of mine. Judgment, critical thinking is so exciting to me. It’s not the math; it’s everything else – something different every day,” she said.
Alice Mariano, CPA, CIA, CPCU, director of internal audit at the NC Farm Bureau Insurance Group, said she had worked with a firm in public accounting, then transitioned to accounting roles in industry. She has been with NC Farm Bureau Insurance since 2008.
“I do love auditing, tracing things through,” she said. “It’s a great way to understand how the business is running,” and how it is controlling risks. She noted that auditors do travel a lot, and attends conferences for continuing education.
Jared Korver, CPA, advisor with Beacon Wealthcare, comes from a family of CPAs and said he went into accounting “knowing that he would have employment opportunities after graduating.” He said he received his bachelor’s from Appalachian State University – “I loved (accounting) from the first day” – and received an internship with EY after graduating. He later came to NC State Poole College for his MAC degree and then returned to EY, working with multinational companies in the firm’s tax division.
“But I wanted to get to the personal side, working with individuals and families,” he said, helping with investment planning. In his current role with Beacon Wealthcare, Korver said he does “a lot of tax planning.” He added, “That’s why I love the (accounting) profession – I ended up in a place that I love, that looks nothing like where I started. You’ll find this is what it’s like.”
David Erwin, NC Department of State Treasurer, said that when he had his first accounting class, “It really clicked.” That course subsequently led him to an audit position that had him traveling across the state, working with different kinds of businesses. He then got a job in internal auditing with the City of Raleigh, where he developed processes as its first accounting manager.
In his statewide role, he now works with 550 towns and several counties and other government authorities, helping them meet accounting requirements. “I really enjoyed that part, interpreting what the data and reports say and what scenarios project for the future.”
In response to a student question about what his work with the government units entailed, Erwin elaborated, saying it includes helping community officers “look at the big picture” and plan ahead for future fiscal needs.
Advice from the Panelists
- Take advantage of opportunities to meet firms and understand the opportunities they offer.
- Start (setting) your professional goals as early you can
- Talk with other adults in your life, and if you get an internship, watch the people around you (as models) and put your best foot forward.
- Don’t be afraid to try stuff; you’re still just realizing there’s a whole world out there.
- Realize that your first two years of undergraduate school are general education. Take advantage of courses that combine disciplines, like agribusiness. See what fits.
- Even if you want to be a rock star, you still need to manage your accounts. An accounting degree helps with that.
- It’s not just data. It’s your brain that interprets it and communicates it to those who don’t have data and analytics backgrounds.
- Apply for scholarships. View options at the NCACPA.