fter nearly three decades in higher education, I had an epiphany—ivory-tower academics and real-world CPAs can benefit from a clearer understanding of the possibilities and limitations of on-campus classroom visits. Accordingly, here are tips with a twofold purpose: to encourage accounting students to become CPAs and to suggest to overworked practitioners from understaffed firms and companies how best to approach instructors about classroom visits.
Professors understand that practitioners urgently need staff and want to reach out to students about the virtues of becoming a CPA. Your urgency to bring your presentation into the classroom, however, should not cause you to take us for granted or overlook our goals. Help instructors help you get the message across by enlisting us as allies. All relationships, personal or professional, require time and effort to nurture. These suggestions are not a comprehensive solution to stressed communications, but for a productive meeting of minds they’re a good place to start.
1 | Be aware that accounting professors can’t always accommodate every firm. Besides CPA firms that want “face time” with our students, every organization that hires accounting majors wants an opportunity to interact with our best and brightest. Even though we love bringing professionals into the classroom, if we allowed everyone in, we’d never have time to teach. To be included, nurture a relationship with a professor and let him or her know you’d be happy to participate in a rotation with representatives from other firms. Explore venues for making faculty and student contacts; professional organizations, student clubs and internship interviews are excellent opportunities for networking with the future employee pool.
2 | When you come to our campus, be businesslike. Even if it’s casual Friday in the office, wearing khakis and polo shirts sends a mixed message to students. Some will think that’s how all CPAs dress, while others will assume your attire signals your unimportance to your organization and discount your message. If you’re good at telling jokes, by all means tell one. But students aren’t impressed with so-so jokes or rambling tales, so consider the impression you wish to leave of your firm and the profession. Be prepared for every type of question—even inappropriate ones. If asked, be candid about the negatives of our profession; students will trust you for that. But be sure to tell them about the rewards and pleasures of your career. Great topics include how you decided to become an accountant, what your education/career path was like, what you wish you had known about accounting as a student and war stories about your work experiences.
3 | Be open-minded in discussions with the faculty about the curriculum. Instructors need your input and will seek it out in designing the best curriculum for accounting majors. But we operate under academic constraints, have limited resources—in terms of both professors and courses—and try to make the wisest choices. As much as we may agree with your suggestions, sometimes we simply can’t implement them. We’re building a curriculum to fit a wide variety of accounting career paths—not just the path to a career in your organization.
4 | Don’t neglect superior students at average institutions. Understand that students choose a college for a wide variety of reasons. At age 18 (or even 25) some students do not know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. They may enroll in a college because the price is right, a scholarship was offered, the basketball team is good or a high-school sweetheart attends that school. While we’d like to think 18-year-olds understand that accounting is an excellent career choice and that ABC University has a good accounting program, the reality is much different. Thus, you will find excellent accounting majors at all schools.
One good idea is to stake out the small schools and target the top students. Smart recruiters often find it is easier and less expensive to hire the top student at a small institution rather than one of the best at a large school (and the success rate is high).
5 | Consider whether a student might fit a client’s workplace. A student who doesn’t seem interested in pursuing public accounting and a partner track often makes a great accounting employee in business. Ask yourself whether any of your clients are in the market for an in-house accountant. Networking among all types of accounting majors may allow you to develop relationships with students who can ably assist current clients—and ultimately develop into future clients.
6 | Accept that not every talented student will get the CPA designation. Not all top-tier accounting students want to be CPAs (or CMAs or CIAs). We work hard to convince them that accreditation is in their best interests, but many students are not motivated by the money or prestige that becoming a CPA promises. They want to be great accountants, but they don’t aspire to management or ownership positions. Students in this category often make loyal, hard-working, valuable employees. With the right employer, they can be better hires than some more ambitious students.
7 | Know that we play some cards close to our chests. We all have excellent students, average students and those we wish would change majors. But we can’t force a student who seems unlikely to do well in an accounting career to pursue another course of study. If a student has the grades, but not the work ethic or the personal mien of an accountant, there is little we can do other than advise him or her to think about the wisdom of this career choice. Just as you must serve clients that don’t always follow your suggestions, so must we serve students who will probably not be successful in their chosen major. We tend to refrain from sharing this perception with you for possible legal reasons. For more on this see the next point.
8 | Get information that is sufficient to avoid a mistake in hiring. Trust—but verify. Obtain official transcripts; don’t accept information printed from the Internet or rely exclusively on a faculty member’s reference. Faculty can’t provide privileged information, and the transcript will give you a better picture of the student’s abilities in all areas. (Do you really want to hire a student with an A in tax and Cs and Ds in financial accounting?) A trusted faculty contact can provide a good recommendation, but that may give only a limited picture of the student’s performance.
9 | Help us to help you. Despite our ivory-tower personas, we professors are under the same pressures as you are to do more with less—that is, produce more graduates without any increase in costs. We want to help you and our students. Thus, we take pride in working with you to provide the best introduction to our profession. Your help—in the classroom and in paid internship opportunities—is invaluable to meeting this goal.
Linda M. Marquis, CPA, CMA, DBA, is professor of accountancy at Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .