One word accounting

November 7, 2008
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Grand Valley State University has become a hot destination for employers looking for newly minted accountants.

Twenty-six companies from as far away as Texas conducted 495 interviews of about 160 GVSU accounting students for internships and full-time jobs during the September-October recruiting cycle, Interim Director of Career Services Troy Farley said. Both are records in a year when overall hiring of 2009 college graduates is expected to experience little growth rate over 2008, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

What’s driving that interest? Demand has increased for accountants since President George W. Bush signed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002.

“Even though we’ve had an accounting degree for a long time, it’s really taken off in the last 10 years,” said Steve Goldberg, director of the School of Accounting at GVSU’s Seidman College of Business. The school was recently elevated from division status.

“One factor is Sarbanes-Oxley, and the financial disaster that preceded it shook up the profession. Students are going to where there are good careers, good jobs.”

The number of undergraduate accounting students has gone from 185 in 2000 to 431 this year, he said. Master’s degree students who are pursuing certified public accountant status numbered five when the program started in 2002, and now there are 104.

The accounting curriculum is unique in its need to address licensing, certification, professional and accreditation requirements, Goldberg said, and becoming a school under the Seidman College of Business banner bolsters that ability.

“It really recognizes what has happened in accounting. The scope and intensity of accounting has changed and grown,” he said.

The school offers a bachelor’s degree in accounting and two master’s degrees, one for certified public accountants and one for taxation. There are 21 full-time faculty members.

“I think a lot of it has to do with just the prestige of it,” said Dan Carter, a shareholder at Hungerford, Aldrin, Nichols & Carter PC and president of the 15-member School of Accounting Advisory Board.

“With that prestige, you’re going to be able to attract better students. It’s going to be a more desirable place for a lot of people — not just from Michigan but from around the country — to come to because it’s a school of accounting, and also once they graduate, it gives their degree a higher level of prestige, as well, as they go into the workplace,” Carter said.

“From our own point of view, looking as an employer, we like the idea. We know that the school has had to meet these things and, of course, we’ve had very good success with the graduates of Grand Valley.”

Carter said there is competition among employers for top-notch accountants. He credits GVSU and other local colleges for producing bumper crops year after year.

“That is extremely important — getting the best talent,” Carter said. “One of the things a lot of people don’t realize is that, because of primarily Grand Valley and some of the other schools here, we have really great accounting talent that graduates here in West Michigan. You go into other parts of the country, and they have incredible shortages and real problems getting accounting talent.”

Farley kicks off the recruiting season in August with a letter that goes to every accounting major and recent graduates, outlining procedures and due dates for registrations, resumes, transcripts and applications. Students also attend information sessions that cover such topics as how to work a job fair, what to wear and how to interview. Then they select the firms with which they would like to interview. GVSU then sends student information to the recruiting firms, which this year included 21 seeking interns and 15 looking to fill full-time jobs.

That’s followed by a pre-recruiting event, where this year 160 students and 27 firms had a chance to meet each other. After the event, the companies forwarded to GVSU a list of candidates in whom they were interested. Interviews started in September for internships and in October for full-time jobs. They wrapped up about two weeks ago, Farley said, and offers are expected soon.

“The collaboration between the career services office and the accounting faculty is instrumental to the success of the program,” he added. “The faculty will join the firms for lunch during this 10-day period to talk about the students, how prepared are they, accounting trends.”

Students and firms also interact during the year at events sponsored by the GVSU chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an honorary fraternity.

Farley said he expects 35 to 50 students to receive internship offers this fall. Full-time offers are harder to quantify, because it’s not unusual for a student to entertain a job offer after an internship and prior to his or her senior year, which could be as long as two years prior to obtaining a CPA designation.

“That has been a trend that I’ve seen and I expect to continue to increase — that more interns are receiving offers upon completion of an internship,” Farley added.

Carter also said an accounting background is a solid foundation for many routes in the business professions.

“Everybody needs accountants, so there just lots of good job opportunities,” Goldberg added.

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