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SKILLS NECESSARY FOR A SUCCESSFUL CAREER IN ACCOUNTING

Nas Ahadiat Department of Accounting College of Business Administration California State Polytechnic University NAHADIAT@CSUPOMONA.EDU

ABSTRACT

A few years ago, in response to a call from some academic and professional groups, accounting curriculums across the country were revised to include instructions aimed at improving students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities which would go beyond their technical knowledge. These skills included, communication skills, analytical skills, presentation skills, team orientation, critical thinking, to name only a few. This study investigates, (1), whether our recent accounting graduates still find these skills important for a successful career in the accounting profession, and (2), if so, which skills are considered most important for each segment of the profession.

INTRODUCTION

According to the Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC), Position Statement No. One (1990), to be successful in their careers, accounting graduates need skills and abilities that go beyond accounting technical knowledge. They include communication skills, analytical skills, and interpersonal skills. Accounting graduates are expected to be able to receive and send information, identify and solve unstructured problems in unfamiliar settings, and exercise judgment. To be a good communicator they have to become effective readers, writers, speakers, and listeners. Other desirable skills include the ability to work in groups and serve as a leader when appropriate. Several years later, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) published a research report entitled “What Corporate America Wants in Entry-Level Accountants (1994). In this report, the IMA also argued that many accounting recruiters have become dissatisfied with the level of preparation of the accounting graduates. Some believe that accounting graduates need more college education due to the recent changes in the business environment. The main theme of the IMA study was that corporate executives believe that entry-level accountants are out of sync with the modern times. The research concluded that, among the skills entry-level accountants must have are the practical experience, a broad understanding of the real world events, social and communication skills. From these and similar studies it was then concluded that it is critically important for the accounting programs to incorporate, in their curriculum, instructions designed to improve students’ non-technical skills. Based on the recommendations of the abovementioned groups, undergraduate and graduate accounting programs across the country began a wide range of curriculum development activities aimed to improving students’ job preparations by placing more emphasis on teaching non-technical skills. However, the question that now remains is do the new graduates consider the skills recommended by the AECC and IMA very important for their success in the profession? Are these skills as important as the technical accounting knowledge? Which of the skills, if any, are more important than others? It is the purpose of this study to investigate these questions.

THE STUDY

A questionnaire was

developed containing a list of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs), outlined in the AECC and IMA

The data required for this study were collected through a mail survey.

studies. The participants were asked to indicate the importance of each KSA for success in their career by using a rating from “1” through “5” (“1” being the most important and “5” being the least important). To ensure validity and reliability of the study, the questionnaire was pre-tested by using a small group of accounting professionals. The group was presented with the first draft of the questionnaire and asked to provide their comments for possibly improving the quality of the study. The comments received were helpful in enhancing the quality of the survey instrument by adding a few questions to it and modifying a few others. Subsequently, the group was presented with the latest copy of the questionnaire, which received unanimous approval. The questionnaire was mailed to a random sample of 250 accounting alumni who graduated within the past two years from Cal Poly University. Cal Poly represents the first group of U. S. universities that redesigned its accounting curriculum by adopting the AECC and IMA recommendations. Soon after, a second mailing was made, which helped to bring the total responses to 99 from both mailings. The overall response rate was nearly 40 percent, which is reasonably adequate for this type of research.

THE RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

The survey responses are summarized and presented in the following tables. The first table reveals the average ratings of the KSAs for all participants.

TABLE 1 Respondents’ Mean Ratings of Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

 

Mean

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Ratings

Ability to Synthesize

3

Accounting Technical Skills

2

Analytical Skills

2

Computer Competency

3

Creative Ability

3

Critical Thinking

2

Ethical Behavior

3

General Business Skills

3

Initiative

3

Leadership Skills

2

People Skills

3

Presentation Skills

3

Sales Skills

4

Team Orientation

2

Verbal Communication

3

Written Communication

3

Personal Demeanor

3

These results demonstrate, while accounting technical knowledge is a sought after attribute (with an average rating of 2), there are other qualities that are believed to be equally important. Thus, in line with the recommendations of the AECC and IMA, accounting professionals find analytical skills, critical thinking, leadership skills, and team orientation as important as the technical skills. The only attribute that received a low rating compared to others was the sales skills with an average rating of 4. The areas of business practices in which the respondents operate further classified the results. Table 2 summarizes these results.

TABLE 2 Respondents’ Mean Ratings of Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities By Area of Business

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

Public

Government

Retail

Private

Accounting

Organizations

Business

Industry

Ability to Synthesize

3

4

3

2

Accounting Technical Skills

3

4

3

1

Analytical Skills

2

4

3

1

Computer Competency

3

4

3

1

Creative Ability

3

4

3

1

Critical Thinking

1

4

3

1

Ethical Behavior

2

3

4

2

General Business Skills

3

4

3

2

Initiative

3

3

3

2

Leadership Skills

3

4

2

1

People Skills

3

4

3

1

Presentation Skills

3

4

2

4

Sales Skills

4

4

3

4

Team Orientation

2

3

2

1

Verbal Communication

2

4

3

2

Written Communication

3

4

3

2

Personal Demeanor

3

4

4

1

Written in Comments Enjoyment/Fulfillment of Goals Positive Attitude

2

   

1

Time Commitment

4

Values

   

Flexibility

1

Organization

2

1

According to Table 2, critical thinking is the most important KSA for public accountants with an average rating of 1. Four other KSAs, including analytical skills, ethical behavior, team orientation, and verbal communication received an average rating of 2. In addition, enjoyment/fulfillment of goals as well as organization were added in by a few of the respondents and viewed important with a rating of 2. Also, contrary to the general comment that much of public accountants’ success depends on their ability to sell their services, the survey participants did not find this attribute overly important and gave it an average rating of 4. Likewise, a few of the respondents did not rate time commitment highly important with a rating of 4.

Professionals affiliated with government organizations rated most KSAs somewhat unimportant for success in this sector of the profession. Only a few KSAs received an average rating of 3. These were ethical behavior, initiative, and team orientation. All others received an average rating of 4. As with government accountants, accounting professionals employed in retail business did not exhibit strong feelings towards most of the KSAs. Respondents from this group considered only three attributes, leadership skills, presentation skills, and team orientation somewhat important with an average rating of 2. However, ethical behavior and personal demeanor received a much lower rating of 4. The group, which rated many of the KSAs very important, is the private industry. To this group not only technical accounting skills are extremely important, analytical skills, computer competency, creative ability, critical thinking, leadership skills, team orientation, and personal demeanor also play an important role for a successful career in this sector. The only attributes that are somewhat unimportant to these professionals are presentation and sales skills. The results of this research demonstrate that it may not be appropriate to teach the KSAs in each and every accounting course. While, the professionals in private industries value nearly all of these skills, they are of little or no significant value to government accountants.

REFERENCES

Accounting Education Change Commission (1990), Position Statement No. One, Objectives of Education for Accountants, (September 1990).

The Institute of Management Accountants (1994), Results of research, What Corporate America Wants in Entry-Level Accountants, (August 1994).