I’d like to introduce Professor Kelly Richmond Pope. She will be contributing to this blog on an ongoing basis and I am thrilled.
Professor Pope is a Ph.D. and CPA and Assistant Professor in the School of Accountancy and MIS at DePaul University here in Chicago. She received her Ph.D. from Virginia Tech University in 2001. She teaches managerial accounting at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School and the Primo Center for Women and Children. She also served on the Y-Me Illinois Affiliate Board and the Institute of Management Accountants Chicago Chapter Board of Directors.
I agree that the ‘pre 3-5 years of experience dance’ puts you at a distinct disadvantage, however I would like to add one suggestion that I often give my students. If it is experience that you lack, then it is experience that you seek. Take a look at yourself and ask:
“What is important; what are my passions; where can my expertise be utilized to the fullest?”
When my students go through this exercise, I typically have at least one student stare back at me with no clue about what I am trying to get them to think about!
“Well,” I tell them, ”Think about volunteering to be on a nonprofit Board of Directors, for example.”
Often, the board of directors of a nonprofit organization desperately needs the skills that young ‘textbook’ accountants often have. One organization, called Community Accountants based in Philadelphia, teaches small grassroots nonprofit organizations about financial oversight. This organization specifically has a referral program entitled ‘community accountants on boards and committees’ which is designed to assist nonprofits locate CPAs or accountants. Not only will this give you a new item to add to your long list of extracurricular activities, it will definitely give you the opportunity to develop some additional skills and help build your experience level and confidence. It can also help develop your public speaking skills, depending on the type of board you join. You can also check your local CPA chapter website to determine what type of community outreach programs they offer. And check to see if the organization offers a junior board or an associates board if you do not have enough experience to serve on the larger board.
I sit of the Board of the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School and I serve on the finance committee. Prior to this experience, I served on the associates board for the Primo Center for Women and Children. This experience keeps my accounting skills sharp and it forces me to keep an eye on the current issues in accounting. We are routinely reviewing the school’s financial statements and making recommendations to the Director of Finance. Also, we routinely interact with the auditors.
Should you decide to take this route, it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with some of the important pronouncements that impact nonprofits. For example, the article entitled ‘A Tax primer for CPAs volunteering at nonprofit organizations’ is a good piece of literature to review to help prepare for your first meeting. There are some unique characteristics of nonprofit organizations that you should familiarize yourself with. Additionally, the Nonprofit Resource Center is an excellent website for an overview of financial reporting in the nonprofit environment.
Another outlet that you can tap into is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Many students participate in VITA while in college. Again, this helps build your tax preparation expertise and adds to your limited work experience. VITA programs offer free tax help to low- to moderate-income people who cannot prepare their own tax returns. To locate the nearest VITA site, you can call 1-800-829-1040.
While you have the time, contact your local churches, charter schools, clinics, museums, and charitable foundations for avenues to lend your financial expertise. Don’t let the “Great Recession” limit you. You can overcome the ‘lack of experience’ problem. Although these positions are not compensated, they will allow you to add to your limited professional experience and it is an excellent way to network. I believe recruiters will be impressed with your ability to weather the storm during these challenging economic times. Given that the House of Representatives passed the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act also known as the GIVE Act in March 2009, I think this is the perfect time for you to seize this opportunity. You can also search helpful websites such as www.serve.gov to search for volunteer opportunities. Serve.com is managed by the Corporation for National and Community Service and was created to be an online vehicle for volunteer opportunities and community service project registration.
You can easily use the Obama Administration’s renewed interest in community service to your advantage when speaking to recruiters. September 11, 2009 marked the first officially recognized National Day of Service and Remembrance. Use your time between jobs in a way that not only allows you to add to your limited work experience but to give back to your community, too.