For many CPA licensing candidates, the next large hurdle they have to jump after meeting educational requirements and taking the CPA Exam is work experience. In a majority of states, the requirement is a minimum of 1 year of related work experience verified under the supervision of a CPA.
For those who have already been working in the field and are looking to pursue their license to further their career, the work experience is not a problem. But for candidates such as college students or those looking to change their career completely, this can be a bit of a challenge—especially when they have little to no experience in the industry.
The good news is that where there’s a will, there’s always certainly a way. And it’s far from impossible to find an accounting job if you fall under the “little-to-no-experience” category. Many CPA licensing candidates choose to knock this requirement out in tandem with studying for the CPA Exam so that by the time they’re done passing all sections of the Exam, they will have already begun or completed their 1 year of relevant work experience and can apply for licensing soon after. Here are some great ways to make sure you get your foot in the accounting door.
1. Apply for internships
You heard this in high school and college and the reason why it bears repeating is because internships are extremely valuable. They give you a taste of what the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of a job are, what the culture of your fellow peers could be like, and places you in the environment you will be spending the rest of your career in. Internships will provide you with mentors who can guide you through the murky waters of career uncertainties and great insight into how the industry is run. You’ll also be able to get a taste of the varying paths a CPA can take.
If you’re discovering that finding an internship is proving more difficult than you originally thought, the next best thing you can do is volunteer. You can look anywhere and everywhere for volunteering opportunities, but we recommend starting with nonprofit organizations. See if any of your local charities, churches, or organizations need a bookkeeper or someone to assist in any facet of their finances. Offer your availability generously and you will receive generous recommendations, references, and guidance in return.
3. Shadow and Network
Use your network to contact people in the industry. Whether you’re an avid LinkedIn user or prefer to reach out to people as a cold call (or through email), see if you or any of your connections can get you in touch with an accountant you can shadow or have an informational interview with, or ideally, both! Making this effort could land you an internship or volunteer opportunity that wasn’t available to you before. Use your networking skills to make yourself as visible as possible and you’ll find that more doors will open to get you where you want to go.
4. Make your transferrable skills known
Lastly, for anything you apply for or for any opportunity you’d like to get your foot into, make your transferrable skills known. Comb through your entire history of work experience and look for qualities, skills, and traits that employers are looking for in an accountant. Talk about being a cashier at the Froyo place by your house during your sophomore year in high school. Describe the financial advising you did as a bookstore salesperson during college. Talk about your ability to prioritize tasks and thrive in a high demand, fast-paced environment as an IT person for a software company. The more you make yourself relatable to accounting and show that you can adapt your skills, the more likely an employer will give you a chance.
Some bonus advice: Don’t let your age, degree, work background, or university you went to affect your outlook or effort on obtaining accounting experience, especially if you’re a non-traditional CPA candidate. The only thing that matters in the industry is your motivation and determination. Good luck and happy hunting!
Have another suggestion to get accounting experience or your own story to share? Comment below!