SOME PROFESSORS ARE BRINGING
practitioners into the college classroom to
talk to their students about the profession and its
opportunities. Here are some tips about how such
exposure can double as tailor-made recruiting. |
CPA GUEST SPEAKERS CAN
demonstrate professional diversity and
encourage students to stay with an accounting
major or to choose one. Some students were
surprised to learn that different fields are
available in accounting.
IF THE PROFESSOR IS trying
to cover a range of accounting subjects, the guest
speaker may be asked for input designed to fit
with other presentations or with class material.
Students are more likely to remember vivid work
experiences that show how technical rules are
GUEST SPEAKERS SHOULD GEAR
discussion topics to the students’ level
of knowledge. The speaker should try to remember
what he or she didn’t know at their age. Students
respond positively to the truth.
WHAT A CPA DOES on any
given day is one of the most difficult areas for
guests to cover but one of the most interesting to
students. Besides a typical workday, students need
to hear about experiences in private companies,
government entities or small firms.
SPEAKER EVENTS CAN WORK at
large and small universities as well as at
community colleges. Practitioners can take the
initiative and contact professors directly to ask
about arranging a guest-speaker event.
|CHERYL T. METREJEAN,
CPA, PhD, is an assistant professor at the E.H.
Patterson School of Accountancy, University of
Mississippi, Oxford. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
. MARILYN T. ZARZESKI, CPA, PhD, is an associate
professor at the E.H. Patterson School of
Accountancy, University of Mississippi, Oxford. Her
e-mail address is email@example.com
PAs are the unsung heroes of finance. As
advisers to enterprises that range from mom-and-pop shops to
worldwide financial markets, they function as “referees” in
the big-league game of business and—in so doing—help make
the free world work. This is power with implications that
are far from dull or stodgy despite a persistent CPA image
problem. Is anyone paying attention, however? Nationwide,
enrollment in accounting programs is down and the number of
graduates is shrinking. The profession is headed toward a
crisis if it doesn’t attract enough people to renew itself.
158 accounting majors
in intermediate and cost accounting classes
whether CPA guest speakers had improved their
understanding of the profession. More than
of them said yes—and that accountants have
interesting jobs and a variety of available career
To help get the word out to students that an accounting
career won’t consign them to a life bereft of challenges or
glamour, we invited CPA guest speakers to talk to our
college accounting classes about the profession. We found
that for a modest investment of time and energy
practitioners and academics can get together to update the
CPA image and let students know what’s happening in the
evolving world of accounting. Such events benefit students,
practitioners and professors alike and are effective in any
community with a college or university. This article
describes how we organized our program.
WORK-WORLD STORIES CONNECT
have been tweaking university curricula for two decades to
make the profession more attractive to students. Although
technical training has remained relatively unchanged, there
has been a stylistic shift away from lecture-based teaching
and toward team projects and education that enhances
communication skills. We homed in on practitioners as the
most effective people to tell students about what being a
CPA is like and what it has to offer.
speaker events at the University of Central Florida,
Orlando, and at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, we
invite accountants from diverse fields to discuss career
paths and the skills, knowledge and attitudes that make
accountants successful in our global economy. For the
benefit of our college audience, guest practitioners
describe their educational, professional and CPA exam
experiences as well as some of the techniques that lead to a
successful career. The speakers encourage students to stay
with an accounting major or to choose one.
first speaker event—a sole CPA guest who spoke about his
work and the profession—we acted on student feedback and, to
broaden the range of information, enlarged the groups to
include two to four practitioners per session. On different
occasions, our panels have had an owner of a small CPA firm,
a financial analyst with county government, a payroll
manager for a company in the top 100 for earnings, a public
accountant, a small-business accountant, a fraud auditor, an
internal auditor and a tax manager in a midsize company. A
benefit of having a cross-section in the classroom is that
it brings branches of the accounting profession together
where students can explore their similarities and
differences and see how they relate to the business culture
Two weeks before a scheduled event we distribute
biographical information about the speakers and ask students
to form questions for them. Then—at least a week before the
talk—we gather the students’ questions, group them by
category and give them to the CPAs to help them focus on
issues important to the audience. The topics range from CPA
exam experiences to daily work and responsibilities, courses
taken in college, job opportunities and interview tips (see
|Exhibit 1: Questions to Consider When
Planning Your Event |
|These are some of the questions students asked
practitioners, by topic. |
What are the advantages and
disadvantages of operating your own accounting
office vs. working for a large organization?
How difficult was the transition from
public to private accounting?
Can you discuss the advantages of
being a CPA and a CMA and explain some available
What class do you feel benefited you
most? For what job?
How does having a master’s degree in
accounting make a difference?
Would you share your CPA exam
experience with us?
What words of wisdom do you have for
future CPA-exam takers?
What do you think made your first
employer think you were the most qualified for the
What specific abilities or qualities
do you require from prospective applicants?
What’s the funniest/worst experience
Has being a CPA been different from
what you envisioned when you were a student? How?
What is the greatest adjustment that
you have had to make to adapt to the fast pace of
What was it like to set up your own
What is your typical workday like?
Guests handle their
presentation in a number of ways. At first, guest speakers
stood at the front of the room and spoke for 15 to 20
minutes about their academic and professional backgrounds,
after which they took questions from the students in an
informal exchange. Session lengths depended on class
From the outset we asked students for
feedback after each event. When they indicated they wanted
breakout sessions, we added them. The breakouts work this
way: We ask each speaker to briefly introduce him- or
herself, then we assign the speaker a seating area in the
classroom. The class is divided into as many groups as there
are speakers. A group, usually of four to six students,
moves from speaker to speaker for a set period of time.
An instructor may need to get administrative permission
for an outside-speaker program. We recommend planning the
program before the semester begins so a description can be
incorporated into the syllabus. Exhibit 2, below, shows some
basic steps that help ensure the success of our sessions.
|Exhibit 2: Steps for Setting Up a
Guest Speaker Event |
|These are geared to the instructor, but a
practitioner can use this outline to initiate a
college speaking engagement. |
What to do before the event
Schedule speakers before semester
start date. Avoid a conflict with financial and
tax accounting deadlines.
Include a description in the
syllabus, and discuss the program with students on
the first day of class.
Ask each speaker for a short
biographical sketch about two weeks before the
Draft a written agenda of the event
format and share it with the speakers and
students. Tell each speaker how much time he or
she is allotted.
Provide students with speaker bios to
use for drafting two or three questions. Note
whether a question is for a specific speaker.
When the questions are turned in,
transcribe them, sort them and send them to the
speakers (one week before).
Provide directions to the campus, to
the building and to the classroom. Explain where
to park and make the arrangements, if needed.
Make reminder calls on the day before
What to do on the day of the event
For general sessions
Station student greeters at the
Provide name tags for everyone.
Prearrange the room layout, if
Introduce guest speakers; ask them to
describe their academic and professional
backgrounds; allow about 30 minutes time at end of
talks for general questions.
For breakout sessions
Rearrange the seating, if needed, to
give each guest an area where groups of students
may visit. Establish a sequence for the groups.
Try to allot enough time to let
students talk with each speaker.
When the event time expires, say a
general thank you to everyone who helped.
What to do after the event
Send thank you letters.
Have students complete the feedback
Summarize the feedback and send to
speakers for their review.
Maintain a file of speakers, with
student reactions noted.
On an ongoing basis, gather business
cards from accountants willing to speak in the
Make a file with suggestions to
implement at future events.
Some students exposed
to the life-on-the-job stories of CPAs have been surprised
to learn that different fields are available in accounting,
and all classes—accounting and business—have reacted
positively to the sessions. They appreciate being able to
meet potential employers and inquire directly about job
specifications and the qualities recruiters and employers
seek. The speaker events answer many students’ questions and
resolve some anxieties. For example, one said that what
she’d heard reassured her and helped her “to know what to
expect after graduation.”
Ultimately, we extended
the guest speaker event to introductory-level accounting
classes as a recruiting strategy. Introductory classes are
composed mostly of nonaccounting majors, who often are in an
early stage of their academic curriculum and can change
their majors without delaying graduation. We hoped that
exposure to what the CPA profession is all about would
encourage them to choose accounting as a career.
BRAVE NEW WORLD
Speaker events can work
at large and small universities as well as at community
colleges. Because a significant number of students take
introductory accounting courses at the community college
level, we recommend that community college professors and
accounting practitioners collaborate on recruiting events.
Get students to pitch in, too. Although the professor-host
will handle many of the arrangements for a successful guest
speaker event, students can participate in the logistics by
volunteering for the welcome, refreshment or clean-up
The world of accounting is changing. For
example, an October 2000 Dallas Morning News
headline declared, “Accountants leaving ‘nerd’ image
behind—ad campaign seeks to do away with stereotypes.”
Students considering entering the profession may not have an
issue with the contemporary epithet for “brainy,” but they
do require a comfortable living and a range of interesting
opportunities. New CPA services have the potential to
increase earnings and expand the range of challenging jobs a
CPA does. Guest practitioners are in the best position to
discuss the many options—recent and traditional—that are
available. Spread the word.
|If You’re the Guest Speaker…
T he following suggestions for practitioners
visiting an accounting class are the result of
several years of experience and student feedback.
Know your topic and what you’re expected
to do. Discuss the goals for the
visit with the professor. Find out if he or she
has a specific topic in mind. Your event may be
one of several during the semester. If the
professor is trying to organize a program with a
range of accounting subjects, you may be asked to
cover content designed to fit with other
presentations or with class material. If you need
more guidance, ask what course material coincides
with your visit. Students respond very positively
when a speaker provides insight and guidance about
a class project they are working on.
Describe the skills needed to succeed in the
business world, including interpersonal, oral and
written communication skills. If you are asked to
speak about a technical topic, provide details
about how it relates to your work experiences, if
possible. Real-life day-to-day tasks are usually
much more interesting to students than technical
rules. They are more likely to remember vivid work
experiences that show how technical rules are
applied. If the professor doesn’t invite you to
recruit for the profession during your
presentation, ask if you can spend a few minutes
discussing the profession and its rewards.
Know your audience. This
seems simple, but practitioners often have a hard
time remembering how little they knew in their
introductory accounting courses. Find out from the
course professor what college level you’ll be
speaking to and what majors are represented.
After one event, for example, a student said
the presentation would have been a lot better if
the speaker had defined several of the accounting
terms he’d used. Always assume less knowledge
rather than more. Gear discussion topics to the
students’ level of knowledge and to their college
majors. Don’t forget the business and other majors
who are in the class. You are there to help
recruit all of them into the CPA profession. Make
your presentation both interesting and relevant.
Be prepared. Students know
whether a speaker is prepared or not. Begin your
presentation with an overview of what you plan to
discuss to help them follow along. We don’t
recommend handouts, which encourage students to
read rather than listen.
preparation, always try to consider some offbeat
aspects of accounting or business that may connect
with students. In one presentation, for example,
the speaker gave the class a list of 10 well-known
businesses that appeared to be American companies
and made familiar products the students knew and
used. They were intrigued to learn that these
companies were actually foreign owned. Another
guest talked about the importance of customers
such as the students, to e-commerce businesses. An
unusual slant can pique interest and promote
Be careful to avoid being too
rigid about your list of topics. If the audience
appears interested in something worthwhile that
isn’t on your list, sacrifice some of your items
to give the class the information it wants and can
Be enthusiastic about the profession.
Students often say that a speaker’s
enthusiasm held their interest and was a major
factor in causing them to think differently about
the profession. Guest speakers can’t sell others
on the profession if they aren’t enthusiastic
about the “product” they’re selling.
Relax. Be yourself. Our
profession is exactly that—a profession .
However, because students are more comfortable in
a less formal environment, when possible relax and
let them see a little more of your personable
side. Your expertise in a serious field doesn’t
mean that you aren’t funny, concerned,
compassionate or in touch with any number of human
qualities. Several students said they appreciated
one event because the speaker was “a real person.”
Her candor about what she didn’t like made her
much more credible when she talked about what she
enjoyed about her work, they said.
be afraid to mention bad experiences or
difficulties. Students relate when a successful
professional admits having done poorly in a class
or having taken the CPA exam many times before
passing it. One mentioned that he particularly
enjoyed a speaker who “was completely honest about
the accounting profession and didn’t try to
glorify it.” Students need to hear what parts of
your job you don’t enjoy as well as those that you
love. As long as they understand that the positive
aspects of the profession outweigh the bad ones,
this information won’t harm your effort. When a
speaker becomes more “real” to students, they
realize that they, too, can achieve what you have
if they try.
Allow time for student questions.
Students raved about a speaker who
invited questions very soon after beginning his
presentation. The students felt more comfortable
asking questions as they came up, rather than
waiting until the end. The queries helped guide
that particular presentation and make it a
Allow time for topics of universal
interest. Several topics come up
repeatedly in students’ preparatory questions and
post-talk evaluations. Some relate more to the
adult work world in general than to the accounting
profession. It’s always useful to touch on these
in a presentation.
Interviewing and job-hunting tips:
Students always appreciate information on what
employers are seeking. They will all be concerned
with finding a job soon and are endlessly nervous
about that process.
Your typical day: Students are very
interested in exactly what you do on any given
day. Even though every day is different, try to
describe one or two. This is one of the most
difficult areas for guests to cover to the
satisfaction of the class. Practitioners and
professors tend to discuss big projects or events,
but students know that most of the job isn’t that
exciting. Don’t be afraid to talk about the
mundane parts of your typical workday—every career
Opportunities and experiences in
firms and companies of all sizes: Accounting
majors get more information about public
accounting than about other areas. In addition,
the majority of graduates from some schools take
jobs with Big Five firms. Students feel inundated
with public accounting information and don’t hear
enough about the many other options available.
Some accounting majors may even believe that
public accounting is the only available choice. If
you have experience in a private company,
government entity or small firm, students are very
eager to hear about it.
Become involved. The
shortage of accounting graduates is a problem that
can’t be solved by academics alone. Although the
ball is usually in the professors’ court when it
comes to organizing a college-level guest-CPA
event, practitioners can take the initiative, too.
Talk to instructors you meet at luncheons or
community meetings. Contact professors directly to
ask if you can arrange to meet with them to
introduce yourself and discuss a guest-speaker
event. Meeting the professor will allow you to get
to know each other, and collaboration on the
objectives and logistics may persuade the
professor to offer class time.