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Career Prep 101

How to take advantage of your time in school

Whether you’re crystal-clear on your accounting dream job or are still figuring out which promising path you want to pursue, the time to prepare is now. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to focus on long-term, there are plenty of opportunities available to you during your college years to start building valuable skills and expertise.

We asked some of our highly accomplished AICPA Legacy Scholars to share their advice for getting ahead while still in school. Here’s what they had to say:

Make the most of your electives

It may be tempting to take Pilates and introduction to beekeeping instead of business writing and advanced accounting, but those won’t get you ahead in your future accounting career. Make the most of your time and money by taking classes that will sharpen your transferable technical and soft skills. Public speaking, negotiation and computer classes may not be on your suggested course of study but will come in handy in the real business world.

Stay informed on global news

Knowing what’s going on in the world can assist you with small talk, inspire your next big idea and keep you up-to-date with emerging trends. Michele, a University of Montana graduate student, said, “Accounting is constantly changing and adapting: students who keep abreast of these changes will excel not only in the classroom but in the workforce.” It doesn’t have to be all serious, though—keeping up with local sports teams can be perfect for making small talk during virtual networking events or coffee chats.

Grow and leverage your network

Put another way, networking is simply building and leveraging relationships – something you’ve been doing since you were a kid – and it’s by far the most common suggestion for college career prep. The more introductions you make, questions you ask and groups you join in relation to your field (such as your state accounting society, campus clubs, or even interest groups), the stronger your network will become and the more support you’ll have throughout your career. Ever heard of the Six Degrees of Separation? Chances are you’re a lot closer thank you think to someone who can can offer you exactly what you’re looking for.

Practice working

An internship can be a test run for a job, so seek one out ASAP to apply your learning, gain experience and make sure you’re a good fit for the gig. As added motivation, proving yourself to a specific employer through interning also gives you the best chance at landing a job offer—potentially before you even graduate. If you already have a job, look for ways to get hands-on accounting experience there such as offering to assist with accounting functions or asking to shadow the company’s accountant or CPA. Lastly, volunteering in your community is a fantastic way to gain experience and professional contacts while giving back to those in need.

Define your brand

Many students recommend developing and managing your personal brand (in other words, your public image) to showcase what you’re good at and capture recruiters’ attention. Though a strong personal brand can enhance personal and professional success, an unprofessional one can hurt it. As Matthew, a graduate student at Vanderbilt cautioned, “Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can be valuable tools when launching your career. But, if you aren’t careful, they could also be the reason you don’t get an interview or job offer.”

Join the big leagues

An easy way to distinguish yourself and gain access to exclusive resources is to join professional networks like the AICPA and your state society as a student member. It looks good on your resume, helps you develop the leadership skills employers want and connects you with CPAs who can offer you valuable information and mentorship. Plus, the AICPA and state societies offer a plethora of resources such as virtual events, scholarships, access to job postings, updates on the latest accounting news, and information on changes in regulations or state-specific licensure requirements. Joining state society now is especially important if you plan on staying local after you graduate and want to get your foot in the door of your local accounting community.

Becoming a CPA is a marathon worth running. Start prepping now and you’ll gain a healthy head start.

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