“What do employers look for in an intern?” As students, this question sits at the forefront of our minds. While an important question, it’s not the only one we should be asking. Right now, building a useful skill set is our full-time job, so we should ask ourselves (and employers), “What skills will help me add value to the firm once I become an employee?”
When it comes to career advancement and long-term value-add, we hear a lot about soft skills. Rightfully so: communication, teamwork, and leadership are key to success. However we should be developing concrete skills (beyond accounting), too. The problem? With a whole wide world out there, how’s a future CPA to know what niche to choose?
PwC recently took the guessing out of it by sharing with our School of Accountancy faculty an outline of exactly what skills and technologies the firm believes to be relevant for new graduates. According to PwC, what we can do right now to help the profession (and ourselves) is to “develop a digital mindset.”
Technology isn’t slowing down. We’re not park rangers, we’re accountants: technology is integral to our profession, so it would behoove us to keep up. I’m certain that if we were to ask, this tech-related focus would prove similar across firms and companies both within accounting and without.
So, what can we do to develop a digital mindset? PwC simplifies the plethora of tech skills into five broad goals: 1) learn and lead in a digital world, 2) develop agile and design thinking, 3) utilize data analytics and visualization, 4) embrace emerging technologies, and 5) understand tech-driven domains.
I’ve read the materials (so you don’t have to), and good news! By the time you graduate, you will be well on your way to having a lot of the skills firms like PwC seek in new hires.
You probably already have the first goal nailed down: “learn and lead in a digital world” calls us to be intellectually curious, continuously learn, seek out relevant technology, and understand social media platforms’ business uses. Easy!
Auburn’s accounting program gives us a great jump-start on “utilize data analytics and visualization.” Accounting Information Systems (AIS) lays the groundwork for Excel proficiency, the rewards of which you reap the first day of your internship. Working in Microsoft Access and Tableau may not seem useful yet, but they will be at some point in the future. PwC looks for people who understand data modeling and data architecture (how data and databases are structured), which is something you’re introduced to through Microsoft Access (FYI, the programming language SQL that’s behind Access, runs other databases. Moreover, you guessed it: PwC mentions SQL). As interns, you probably won’t do any data visualization. That doesn’t mean Tableau is useless. Not only is the program mentioned explicitly in PwC’s materials, but multiple guest speakers in my MAcc classes have mentioned the power and importance of data visualization in both analytics and communication. A little investment in understanding the program now could prove a big pay-off down the line!
The final three digital mindset goals do not directly relate to your accounting curriculum, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop them while you’re at Auburn. As an accountant, we don’t need to create emerging technologies—leave that to the engineers—we just need to understand how they work, and how we can use them to the advantage of ourselves, our employers, and our clients.
Long story short, straight from the horse’s mouth: firms seek employees who take initiative to build a technology-related skill set and knowledge base that is increasingly key to client service. You’re already building some of these skills as accounting majors, so stay focused in your classes! Be proactive; find ways to gain skills and expand your understanding outside of those classes. This could take the form of a skill-building minor (e.g. Information Systems, Business Analytics), or may mean that you spend more time reading about emerging technologies. I’ve compiled a list below of the topics PwC highlighted, as well as some websites to get you started.
Auburn’s curriculum sets students up for success, but it’s up to us to take charge of our futures and make ourselves stand out. We’ve grown up with the technology boom; use that to your advantage!
Emerging Technologies & Tech-driven Domains Worth a Google Search:
- Industry-specific scenarios & applications related to:
- Internet of Things
- Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality
- Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing
- Robotic Process Automation
- 3D Printing
- Cybersecurity – signs of data breach, prevalent attacks
- Mobile technologies – how companies use them, requirements for developing apps
- Software – architecture, development, delivery, and management