Your accounting career: Where to go & how to get there

Accounting is not only one of the most recession-proof careers out there, it’s also one of the most flexible. While some career paths are more direct than others, the great thing about accounting is that there are numerous ways to get where you want to be within the profession. This activity allows students to dig deeper into specific positions while also exploring the many avenues they can take to land their dream jobs.

The end product will be displayed on a poster board for each group. So before you dig in, make sure each group has access to their own poster board as well as the materials to decorate it (markers, rulers, stickers, stencils, etc.).

Begin by having students partner off (into small teams of two or three) and work together to build a FutureMe. It should only take them a few minutes to pull up the site feature and answer 10 questions about their likes and preferences. Once each group gets their results, in the form of 10 possible job titles and short descriptions of each, they can choose the one job they want to pursue. With results including 37 positions across 63 organizations, they’re sure to find something that piques their interest. 

Working together, each group will conduct online research to learn more about the position. This can be done by pulling up job descriptions for several different positions with the same title and combining that with research about the specific company. For example, if one group’s dream job is Director of Accounting for Harley Davidson, they would review and amalgamate several job descriptions for Director of Accounting positions, and weave in whatever company-specific information they could find about Harley Davidson that would apply to this job. 

Once each team has completed their research, they will write a new job description pulling from the positions and company they’ve read about. This will be the first element to go on their team’s poster board. We recommend each team work on their poster board vertically and place their title, company and job description at the top of their posters. What fills up the remainder of the poster is where things really get creative!

Next, students will discuss and analyze the various ways they could plot their career to end up in that position—starting with their education, then moving into the working world and gaining their CPA licensure, followed by the numerous positions that could prepare them for their selected dream job. While they might explore one path that is very direct and traditional, encourage them to really stretch their thinking for the other two paths. After all, when asked about how they got where they are today, many CPAs say that their path was certainly not the one they expected—and that once they got into the profession they realized just how many directions they could go and different areas of accounting they could explore. 

As another example, if your dream job is that of the CFO of Build-A-Bear, you could start out in auditing at a Big 4 accounting firm straight out of college. Then pass the CPA Exam and get your license three years after you start working there, once you’ve made senior. Next, you might decide to move from public to corporate accounting and take a job as an internal auditor at the high-end toy store, FAO Schwarz. After spending two years in an auditor role there, you might decide you love the toy business but want to move into financial analysis, so you make a lateral move into that for another three years before pursuing a job as the Financial Analyst Manager at stuffed animal maker, Gund. From there, you set your sites on CFO and decide to pursue your CGMA designation, and after two more years are promoted to Financial Analyst Director. Then after five years mastering that role you get promoted to Director of Finance at Gund. After another four years an opportunity presents itself at Build-A-Bear as the VP of Finance and you get the job. Over the next six years you learn the business like the back of your hand and finally get promoted into the highly coveted role of CFO! 

While this is not a completely unexpected path, it’s also not the most direct. Before having them dig into the project, discuss the breadth of skills and knowledge an accountant could learn from working in a number of different industries and capacities within accounting. Remember, not every step on a career ladder is vertical and not every position is an obvious stepping stone for what could come next—but every bit of experience can help develop an accountant into a more well-rounded and desirable candidate for the next big job. In addition to job posting sites, the Start Here, Go Places. website (including the Pathway to CPA feature) and the 2019 Robert Half Salary guide (which can be downloaded from the web and includes the names and hierarchy of various roles) are good resources to get students’ wheels turning for this step.

Students should display each career step on their poster using a vertical path, starting at the bottom of the poster and leading up to the top, flowing directly into the dream job title and description. If time permits, have each group present their poster to the class. Otherwise, they can simply be used to decorate your room. Regardless of whether or not you add a presentation component, this activity will help students hone their ability to work within a team, get them to think outside the box using creative problem solving, consider options they might not have thought about and uncover multiple ways of finding a solution—all of which are skills accountants need in order to succeed.