Careers in Accounting and Financial Services

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When many young professionals seek to break into Finance, they often focus solely on careers in the Banking sector. However, there’s much more to Finance than that. So Doostang spent some time with Sara G. of Ernst & Young LLP in order to learn a bit about the world of accounting and financial services firms.

Read on for refreshing, first-hand insight from a professional who knows this career track inside and out.

What were your reasons for choosing to pursue degrees in Finance and Accounting? What path ultimately led you to Ernst & Young?

I started college about as far away from the business school as possible, as a cell biology/genetics major planning to go into genetic research and counseling. However, once I had taken a class in the Smith School of Business at UMD I was hooked! The access to seminars and other learning opportunities with some of the most successful companies and entrepreneurs around (and potential future employers!) was wonderful, and really made me look forward to a career in business.

After Freshman year, I acquired my real estate license and began working as an agent just to help a family member sell their property, but I ended up sticking with it, and learned a lot about investing and the real estate market. It was the combination of the desire to learn more about investments and how businesses worked from the inside, along with the realization from school that many of the great jobs out there at the time were in the fields of Accounting and Finance, that made me pursue those two majors.

I had seen Ernst & Young giving presentations or at career fairs on several occasions, and also of course as sponsors of different charity and sporting events outside of school. I had an opportunity to intern at the firm over the summer, and I learned so much in just two and a half months!

Although I later applied for and obtained offers from several other accounting and financial services firms, I came back to E&Y after graduation because of the people, and the opportunity to work in many different fields and learn about many different companies–from the Fortune 500 to the smallest start-up–from the inside out.

Tell me a bit about your role at that company. What does any average day look like?

I’m not sure if there ever really is an “average” day here! I work as a Senior Auditor, so I plan and oversee the engagement, delegate the work that needs to get done, and review work from the staff while helping those Managers and Partners above me with whatever tasks they need assistance on, such as writing memos, technical research, or “tying out” the financial statements of the Company. We work on everything from testing internal controls to making sure the Company’s 10-K is accurate, supported and ready for filing on time.

There are also other project opportunities here and there, such as working on a bond deal or IPO for a client going public. I have several clients that I split my time between, depending on what time of the year it is.

The hours fluctuate as well–there’s a good amount of flexibility during the summer months normally, but the main audit busy season of January 15th to March 15th requires minimum 55 hour weeks; fortunately, the time usually flies by pretty quickly under the tight deadlines!

How can candidates without previous experience in finance differentiate themselves when applying for these opportunities? Can you offer any advice for young professionals that are interested in your field during these difficult economic times?

If you are looking to apply for a role in auditing or tax at one of the Big 4 accounting firms, you will need an accounting background–or willingness to work towards acquiring the classes and 150 credits required to sit for the CPA exam. However, there are other opportunities at the firms, such as in IT audit (testing and providing feedback on the systems of the Company), or advisory services that assist clients in finding business solutions to issues they may be facing, that do not necessarily require a background in accounting or finance.

My advice is, make sure your resume reflects how you may have contributed to improving upon a club/activity you were a part of, any leadership roles you have taken at other jobs or volunteer activity, and anything else about you that makes you stand out from the next candidate. If you speak another language, are an award-winning writer (good communication skills) or successfully planned your current company’s holiday event (shows leadership and ability to work well with others to meet a goal), don’t brush it off because it’s not directly correlated, just put a positive spin on it and make sure your resume is tailored towards the job you want! We all know these are tough times, but there are definitely jobs out there, especially with the good educational background you all have already.

How can well-educated, motivated young professionals take advantage of this moment? Where are the opportunities and what types of career paths are showing promise?

Unfortunately there’s been a lot of lay-offs recently, especially in the finance industry over the last few years, but I think motivated young professionals should take this as an opportunity to start again in a field they always wanted to try–take it as a second chance to follow a dream. Find out what you have to do to get there–go back to school, take a lower paying position at a different type of company, etc.–and do it.

There are definitely opportunities in the accounting field, as every business needs someone to keep track of the finances, and I don’t see that career path going away anytime soon.

If you’re looking to move into the field but don’t have any experience, start by applying for bookkeeping type of positions at a smaller company–you will learn a lot more about how the company works than if you take a job doing one specific task at a larger location, and will be much more marketable to other potential employers in the future.

So take it from the expert, if an accounting career interests you, now is a great time to explore everything that field has to offer. And if you never thought about accounting as a career path, give it some consideration now – it just might be a great fit.

Sounds interesting? Then make sure you check out some of the exceptional openings in accounting and finance that Doostang has to offer.

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