April 2003

Accounting Graduates’ Job search Strategies

By Sharon L. Kimmell, Pamela K. Keltyka, and David H. Olsen

Recruiting the best accounting students for entry-level positions is not always easy. Knowing how students undertake their job search can help employers reach the best and the brightest.

Members of Beta Alpha Psi, the National Honors Fraternity for Financial Information Professionals, were asked to complete an online questionnaire. The data includes only those students who undertook a search for a full-time accounting position in anticipation of graduation. The results indicated that students diversify their job search efforts by using both traditional and technology-driven resources, and both resulted in job offers.

Top Resources

Students use a wide variety of resources to search for their first full-time accounting position. Among the most widely used are the school’s career planning and placement center, business contacts, job fairs, temporary agencies, job-search websites (e.g., monster.com, accountingjobs.com), and employer websites. Of all the resources available to students, the school’s career planning and placement center was used most often (over 80%). This was true even though over one-third of students considered their school’s career office to have an average or weak reputation for helping students find full-time employment. Companies often disregard the career center in their recruiting, but students clearly rely upon this resource (it produced an offer for 62% of students using it), and it should be included in a recruitment plan.

Students also rely fairly heavily on business contacts; 68% indicated that they used business contacts in their search. Students with a GPA of 3.5 or more used this resource more often (71%) than weaker students (62%). This resource also produced a significant number of offers (56%) for students that used it.

The ability to meet a potential employer or employee through personal contact continues to be an important aspect of the recruiting process. Companies can capitalize on this by being active on campus: accounting clubs, Beta Alpha Psi activities, internships, mentoring, and guest lecturer programs. A call to the career center or appropriate academic department is likely to yield positive results.

A large gender disparity was found for two of the more widely used resources. Women were much more likely to have used a temporary agency than men (56% vs. 43%). Men were much more likely to have relied on job fairs than women (53% vs. 35%). These differences are not easily explained, but may be important to certain companies.

A traditional method of finding potential employees and job hunting is classified advertisements in newspapers. Given the large number of job-search resources, one might expect ads to be used only as a last resort by weaker students. But the results of this study indicate that this method was used by a fairly large number of students (38%), the majority of whom (almost 59%) had a GPA of 3.5 or more. Also of interest is the fact that significantly more women used this method (63%, vs. 37% for men).

Graduating students also used two technology-driven resources: job-search websites and employer websites.

Job-Search Websites

Job-search websites (JSW) allow companies, generally for a fee, to post job openings. Prospective employees can access these sites and apply for jobs, usually at no cost. JSWs provide companies with access to a large number of geographically diverse potential candidates.

Slightly less than half (47%) of students surveyed used a JSW as part of their search, and almost all (95%) of those students placed a resume with at least one JSW. The website features most important to students were an easy-to-use format and the ability to use a variety of search variables (e.g., location, salary range, etc.). Students also want to be able to target specific geographic regions, view salary data, and focus only on accounting postings.

Companies using or considering JSWs may want to concentrate on the sites that attracted the most graduating students, which included Careerconnection. com, Careerweb.com, and Careermosaic. com (used by 52%, 25%, and 21%, respectively, of the students using a JSW). None of the accounting-focused JSWs (e.g., AccountingJobs.com, AccountingWorld.com, etc.) were used by many of the students.

Companies may be surprised to learn that the use of JSWs resulted in a relatively low number of job offers: Only 19% actually received an offer. Even so, over half of the students (57%) indicated they would use a JSW in searching for their next job, and only a small percentage (11%) expressed dissatisfaction with the JSWs they visited. Companies should not overlook the role of this resource.

Company Websites

Companies can design their websites to serve a multitude of functions, including recruitment. Almost all of the students in our study (94%) visited company websites as part of their job-search efforts. Their purposes were very diverse.

Why do job seekers visit company websites? Almost all (98%) of the 120 students using company websites visited them to learn more about the company. The top four reasons were related to employment opportunities. About half were interested in obtaining salary and benefit information (56%) or financial information (48%) about the company. About 42% used company websites to check job postings, and slightly more than that number actually completed an online application.

Whatever their reason, most job-seeking college students are likely to make use of a company’s website. With this in mind, what will make a positive and lasting impression on them? To help answer this question, students were asked to indicate the following:

Students said three types of information were slightly more useful than others: company product or client information, historical information, and a description of the company’s corporate culture. This information was considered useful by over 94% of the students. This also suggests that students rely upon company websites heavily for interview preparation.

Since most job seekers rely on company websites during the search process, a well-designed site is essential. What can a company do to make its website attract potential employees? Being easy to navigate was the most important; 75% of the students selected this as a “positive feature.”

Additional features that might make a company more attractive to potential employees include an indication that starting salaries are above the norm (69%), the availability of current event information relevant to accounting (66%), a list of current job openings (64%), and the ability to apply online (61%). Women assigned more importance to all of these characteristics than men.

What might cause a potential employee to eliminate a company from consideration? A significant number of students indicated that incorrect information (90%), blatant errors (83%), or outdated information (60%) would cause them to eliminate a company from consideration. In all cases, female respondents were much harsher in their judgments than males. The most significant difference related to outdated information; 66% of the women would eliminate a company from consideration, while only 49% of the men would.

Remaining Competitive

Students (93%) believe that to remain competitive in the hiring market, a company must have a website. Yet only 33% indicated that they would not be interested in working for a company that does not have a website. This statistic is slightly misleading, since most students use company websites in their search efforts and 77% indicated they would use company websites during their next job search. Companies that do not have a website may be overlooked by a large segment of the market.

To remain competitive in the hiring market, 77% of respondents said companies should post job openings on their website. Even if job seekers cannot apply online, a company will increase its competitiveness by including a list of current openings on its website. Students also believe companies should post their job openings on JSWs (59%) to remain competitive. This reflects the fact that 57% of those surveyed intend to use a job-search website as part of their next job-hunting effort.

In designing a plan to recruit entry-level staff, awareness of how potential employees undertake their search is critical. To achieve maximum success, companies must use both traditional and technological recruiting resources. The Internet has and will continue to affect the recruiting process, and companies must respond accordingly.

Sharon L. Kimmell, DBA, is an associate professor, and Pamela K. Keltyka, PhD, is an assistant professor, both at the University of Akron.
David H. Olsen, PhD, is an associate professor at Utah State University.

Benjamin Kaplan
The CPA Journal

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