Archives for posts with tag: Business Degrees

That was, more or less, the headline from a Wall Street Journal article. The article explained that the role of most CFOs was becoming more big picture and strategic and less number oriented. Thus CFOs sought out these non-traditional type of people for their finance organizations. The fact that colleges teach you basic accounting but not leadership or decision making was really starting to hamper some accountants from getting hired. The other single skill noted as often missing was the ability to communicate and present findings to your peers or bosses.

As I have written before, business and even accounting is really Not About the Numbers. Being able to generate the raw data is only a very small part of the job. The key is being able to summarize and clearly present this information to your audience. This means that business and life is about People and figuring out how to communicate with them. Often we can learn this with experience but there are other ways.

As an old Accountant myself, I have some suggestions on how young people can learn some of these more advanced CFO type skills while they are just starting out or at least early in their work career.

The best places to learn more strategy, decision making and presentation skills early are the following:

One is to go into public accounting. It can be a local, regional or one of the national firms. Here you learn to sell yourself as you travel to meet different clients. You can also move into a management role quickly by being in charge of a client engagement. You do not have to stay forever although obtaining your CPA certificate, which requires a couple years practice in most states, is a good idea. So two to four years is great. And you can leave for a Manager or Director job in a private or public firm.

Second is to join a smaller, private firm or, harder yet, to setup your own private business. In my first job outside of public accounting with Donn Corporation, within a few years I had done the entire financial gauntlet of duties-treasury, accounting, tax-and I was working on acquisitions and part of the firm’s overall strategy group. This may be a bit fast and unusual but in smaller, private firms you have a much better chance of getting involved in a very wide range of activities. And you can make yourself more valuable there or to the next firm you join.

The last place you will learn this diverse skill set is to join a large, public company. You will start out as a very detail, number crunching analyst and usually move up or around slowly. Often those who start in the Corporate Accounting group stay there, with some moves up over time. Those who start in Treasury the same thing. It is often unusual or even difficult in some large companies to move between the various financial groups. The exception are firms like General Electric that have a two year rotating financial management for some high potential people. Then you can learn a lot and get great exposure within the large firm.

So remember that Accounting and Business are really not about the numbers so learn the other people-oriented skills that can help you move up rapidly in your career!

Note: my book The Business Zoo is finally about to be launched this month on Amazon and Kindle. I will let you know!

A most unlikely source, the AARP Bulletin, gave me the inspiration for this blog. I say unlikely because it is not thought of as a traditional source of business wisdom. Retirement and aging wisdom, yes.

This article was titled “It’s never too late to learn” and dealt with a newer corporate trend of assigning younger people to help their older colleagues learn things. This is often called reverse mentoring and can range from explaining social media, such as how to use Twitter, to building better relationships with the incoming millennials and Gen Xers. As I read and thought about it, I realized that I have been informally involved in this process over the years with many of my younger mentees.

An overall concept, in which I strongly believe, is that Mentoring works best when both parities are, at least, benefiting from the process and, at best, when both parities are learning from each other. The benefit can be as simple as the the satisfaction or pride a mentor gets when the mentee gets a desired promotion. But the better benefit is when the mentor actually learns something themselves. It is not usually some technical thing, but rather some softer issue. Here are a few real life examples (without full names) that come to mind.

Y, a young, female, Hispanic manager in a large distribution firm from whom I learned what it’s like to be a double minority in a traditional old-line firm and how to deal with it.

M, a young, male business owner, who shares with me both the joys and frustrations of running his own small business. He has no college degree, yet over these last few years he has earned the equivalent of an MBA at the school of hard knocks.

J. a young, female founder of a service business, has such passion for her trade and personal drive to succeed that she could qualify to teach a graduate courses in Leadership or Entrepreneurship.

So if you have not tried mentoring, try it. And if you do mentor but feel your efforts have been mostly one sided, then try harder and learn to listen and learn from your mentee. It is not too late to learn something valuable and wonderful!

Chicago’s weekly newspaper, Crains, just had a headline story called, “The Hottest Job Sector”. It was about my original profession, Accountants. The article explains that local accounting graduates at downtown Depaul University are averaging $55,000 starting salaries with an 88% hire rate. The nearby University of Illinois accounting class had 98% get jobs!

Does this surprise me? Not really. As any of my blog readers know, I spent considerable time advising, for free, young people on their job searches and careers. Some are accountants or finance people but others are from more general business backgrounds or even other non-business fields.

The easiest “clients” I deal with are accounting graduates. This is true both if they are right out of school or, even easier, if they have been working for a while. Why is this? Because accounting graduates have a very marketable skill that organizations want. Big public firms, smaller private firms and even not for profits, all need accountants. Accountants are useful to analyze, and make sense of, the ever increasing mounds of data, or as we say now, Big Data, that all organizations seem to generate.

The hardest “clients” to work with are from very general business programs like Marketing or, even worse, Communications (which was my wife, Tricia’s, background). Why is that? Because, other than the fact they have a college degree, they have No immediate marketable skills! I get emotional sometimes when I meet with these young people and try to explain to them that cold-calling for an investment firm or an advertising firm may be the best and only option they have for a first job. After they do that for six months to a year in a major city like Chicago they can move into something better, but will still not make what the Accounting graduates make.

What about Finance majors? Isn’t that the same as Accounting? NO, or I would have titled this blog differently. Finance sounds like Accounting but it is more theoretical and less useful directly out of school. Accounting.

Sometimes young people tell me they can not major in Accounting because they struggle with math. When I received my undergraduate degree, I only took one math class in college, which is now being taught to my grandkids in the sixth grade! Accounting is about solving a puzzle and understanding some concepts, like debits equal credits and assets equal liabilities plus capital. For many bright young people, Accounting can be learned.

So for those entering college, think about it. Do you want to be in the group of graduates where 90% plus get jobs with pay above the average graduate? And parents please tell your children or for some of us our grandkids that Accountants Rule!

As a retired business guy, I get a lot of enjoyment of working with and advising young people on their careers. Friends or work associates of my own age group I avoid advising. They should be retired or about to be because it is almost impossible to get a new paying  job after a certain age. But the younger “kids”, as I call them are fun to work with. The most challenging group are those just leaving college and about to enter the workforce.

Getting that first real job is always hard. This is not just because of the economy today, which is slowing improving from a few years ago. It is also that companies are not hiring like they did a decade or so ago. Companies use new technology to get their increasing workload done, not new staff.  On campus recruiting is way down and has given way to online employment boards at many firms. I tell young people that it is a full-time job to get a full-time job. And some of the young people are easier to help than others.

The easiest ones to advise are those with a specific degree that has some technical aspect to it. With business degrees this would include accounting, finance or some computer degrees. In nonbusiness fields this would include engineers. These majors are easy because the world still keeps hiring these folks since they come with some skill that can be used right away. My old field of accounting, even more than finance, is a great example of this. Small firms, startups, large public companies and even not for profits all need people who can do basic accounting work. If you combine one of these degree areas with a MBA that is great too, especially if you have worked for even a couple years before getting your MBA. One of our friends’ son had worked as an engineer for a few years before receiving his MBA and got a great starting job with a subsidiary of GE Capital by applying online!

This brings me to the hardest young business degree people to help. You may have guessed, its marketing which is only slightly better than communications. These areas sound good when you are in school but when you are looking for a job, not so good. I tell young people with these degrees their best hope is to get a job with a well known firm doing cold calls to try to sell something. It might be a financial service firm where you are doing screening calls to be passed onto someone with only slightly more experience. Or, as one of my young clients did, advertising cold calls for a radio station in Chicago. Cold calling is brutal, humiliating and prone to early burn out. But if you are either with a well known firm or selling some well known product or service, your time of suffering can lead to a much better job elsewhere. Because now you have something on your resume! Our radio ad calling young person is now, a couple moves later, the Director of Alumni Events for a major university.

So, as I am allowed to preach as a blogger, hear this young people! Choose your major in college wisely and with an eye to one that could actually help you get a good job afterwords. This will make both your life and the work of any advisor you meet go much easier. Thanks.