Ask a CPA

Direct interaction with professionals in the field is one of the best ways for students to figure out if they’re interested in a specific profession. For this in-class activity, groups of students will research a CPA they would like to reach out to and ask them questions about what it’s like to be a professional in the accounting world. Teams will then create individual CPA profiles, as well as a collective industry profile to share with the class. We recommend doing this project in the Fall, so as not to interfere with accounting’s traditional busy season.

Start by breaking your class into teams. Depending on the number of students you have, groups can include as little as three or as many as five. Have each team start by researching the nine major industries CPAs work in. Preferably, each team will have their own industry. Once they decide which industry interests them the most, teams should research CPAs working in that industry in your area. If there are no local CPAs in their particular industry, students can expand their search area.

Each team will then reach out to their chosen CPA for an interview. This can be done via email or a phone call during class, depending on your school’s cell phone policy. Share the Ask a CPA worksheet with your students as a jumping off point for discussions with their CPAs and as a guide for their profile. When reaching out, be sure students explain who they are, why they’re contacting them and how they will be using the information shared. Remind them to be polite and professional in their interactions. Encourage students to go above any beyond in these interviews by exploring their own questions as well, to create the most interesting and informative profiles possible. 

In case their chosen CPA doesn’t respond or agree to participate, teams should also have a second and third potential option ready to go. After their interviews, each team will take the information provided by their CPA and turn it into a written profile. This profile should be 3-5 paragraphs and provide an overview of why their subject became a CPA, their current job and what it entails. Set a due date for this portion of the project based on a reasonable amount of time for CPAs to complete their interviews and students to collectively craft their profiles.

Once the individual profiles are complete, have each team regroup to share their profiles with one another. From there, each team will make any necessary changes or edits to their individual profiles and then create an industry overview profile to present to the class. This industry overview should include highlights from each of their individual CPA profiles, show how their CPA’s position fits into the industry, and contain any additional industry information that’s relevant to or unique within the CPA profession. Again, set a reasonable due date for this portion of the assignment that gives teams enough time to refine their individual profiles, create their industry profiles and practice their presentations.

Since this is a multi-step and multi-week project, consider upping the stakes—to encourage deeper engagement—by offering more than a simple grade for the project. Instead of (or in addition to a traditional grade), you could give the team with the best presentation and profiles extra credit toward a test. Feel free to make adjustments to this assignment based on how extensive you want their CPA interactions to be and what level of detail students are able to get out of their interviews. 

Click the “Download” link on the right so you can print these off for your students.