College grads can count on accounting

The life science and information technology industries usually get all the attention here in Northern California. Last month, however, the accounting firms got their due when BusinessWeek magazine listed several national companies as good places for young employees to start a career. The list ranked Deloitte & Touche number one, with PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young landing at the second and third spot. Luckily the Bay Area is home to several local offices for these organizations—all of them with dozens of opportunities for young employees to position themselves for long term success.

One reason why these companies are good launching pads is that they expose new recruits to the full spectrum of employment opportunities in the field. Jeff Franco, Office Managing Partner at Ernst & Young in San Francisco, explains, “The first few years at EY is like doing general education requirements at college. We want you to have a lot of different rotations so when it’s time to choose you can say ‘I’ve done so much and I’ve found what my passion is.’ ”

Ellie Manoucheri started working at Ernst & Young three years ago shortly after graduating from UC-Berkeley. She currently works in the audit division and while she hasn’t mapped out her long term career path says, “The number one reason I chose accounting is because it is the foundation to all business.” She credits EY for enabling her to be a better worker since it has taught her soft skills. “I’ve learned so much about time management and managing other people. The clients come from a variety of industries and being an auditor you are actually comfortable being in rooms with CEOs and CFOs.”

A top priority for any employee regardless of how long they have been in the workforce is to have a work-life balance. Accounting firms are able to meet the needs of younger staff who might be turned off by the requirements of a strict nine-to-five schedule. Some of them might be pursuing a graduate degree or have a long commute because they can’t afford city rent and need to shift their schedule. The accounting firms have taken note of this and are building in flexible work time to accommodate the needs of young people. Mark Edmunds, Deloitte & Touche USA LLP's vice chairman and regional managing partner based in San Francisco, says, “Built into our DNA is flexibility as long as you are going to deliver the value you promised. We are responsive to not only our clients but also our employees.”

The idea of flexibility isn’t limited to which hours are spent at the office. Firms are now realizing that employees are happier if they have variety of choices throughout the course of their career. Edmunds explains, “Whereas before a career was kind of linear, you would start out as a staff person then become a manager then a partner. Today folks are allowed to customize their own career. We celebrate diversity of thought and experiences so if you want to go and do two years in the Peace Corps you can.”

In addition to the desire for variety, people just out of college want to have jobs that let them use their strengths. A big fear for the entry-level worker is that they will be assigned all the menial tasks and have to toil away for years before they get to put their college degree to good use. Any of the global accounting firms have such a need for skilled labor that this shouldn’t be a concern for new grads. As Edmunds says, “We believe in empowerment. The day you walk in the office we are going to put you on the frontlines.”

Companies have had to come up with recruitment methods that appeal to a younger generation. Ernst & Young, for example, has a profile on Facebook that connects current young employees with prospective applicants. Franco says that, “Recruiting was a challenge for us since young people want to learn about a company from their peer group. Facebook is a place where an employee can say honestly what a first or second year is like.” With over ten thousand members it is clear this was a popular move amongst the tech-savvy set.

Nonetheless Franco recommends that applicants use these new recruitment formats as only a part of their employment research. “I usually do my recruiting face to face. I’m on campus and most of my experience is in small groups. Even though we have so many technological tools available I still think it comes down to meeting people.” His final piece of advice is that there is no substitute for visiting a workplace during the standard workday. “Its one of the few times you’ll get to be in an office before you are actually an employee,” he says. “Look at the people. Are they happy?” With accounting firms employing thousands of people in the Bay Area the answer is surely a resounding yes.

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