I am a college student working towards an accounting degree. Without job experience in accounting, how do I get ahead in this field? Where do I look for entry-level positions? Don’t recommend that I check into internships. I’ve already done so and all of the ones I’ve seen are for students in traditional schools. I am a non-traditional student and I don't have many contacts. I also have children, so I need to work to live. If you know of any alternatives or how to network being a non-traditional student please let me know. Any advice would be appreciated.
Your question is such a catch-22; no one will hire you because you don't have experience, but how are you supposed to gain experience if no one will hire you? Years ago when I was starting out, the only work I could find was typing. After I typed checks I added accounts payable to my resume. After typing invoices I added accounts receivable. My first real job was working in an accounting department entering work order data into an accounts receivable database. From there I was hired as a staff accountant at a brokerage firm. Unless you are lucky or have contacts you usually have to start at the bottom.
Apply for any type of administrative job at an accounting firm or in accounting department to get your foot in the door. I know someone who spent a summer scanning client work papers into an accounting firm’s computer system when the firm went paperless. She now works at the same firm as a full-time tax accountant.
Apply for jobs working with accounts payable and accounts receivable.
Don’t discount jobs with low pay:
You will most likely have to take very low pay for at least 6 months or until you prove yourself.
Sign up with every temporary job search firm in your area:
Go through their registration/interview process. Some firms will offer free on-line training. Take advantage of these programs especially if they provide training in Excel. Also, many firms offer benefits after you have worked a certain number of billable hours. Working for temporary firms is an excellent way to build your resume while gaining experience and discovering what type of work/industry you enjoy.
Work hard, be likable and have a positive attitude:
If a company likes you they will request your services when they have future work and may offer you a permanent position when one becomes available.
Join one or two of the professional organizations in your area:
Most professional organizations will offer reduced annual dues and subsidized meal costs for students. Some may even sponsor student dues and/or cover the cost of a dinner or two. Really network with these people. Let them know you are looking for entry level work. Dress professionally; a nice pair of dress pants and a sweater or blouse would be perfect. Act interested and engaged. Ask questions. (At a recent professional organization meeting, I witnessed a student looking extremely bored as a member discussed the death of her father. Two other students rolled their eyes as we discussed the qualifications of an upcoming speaker.) We do notice this behavior and will not recommend someone we think has a bad attitude. Our reputation is more important than helping you find a job.
Do volunteer for tax preparation work:
Seek out local tax preparers. Offer to complete basic returns and to help keep the tax preparer organized during tax season for free. Next year offer to help again, only this time ask if you could be paid.
Do not lie or exaggerate on your resume or during an interview:
Your reputation is on the line. Nothing will get your new job off on a worse note than asking your employer how to make a basic change to an excel spreadsheet after you've told them you were an excel expert during the interview. To read more on this topic see Anita Bruzzese's post Is it okay to fudge the truth on a resume?
Good luck to you. If you are persistent, I am confident you will eventually get the job experience you are looking for. Do keep working towards your degree though. I was a non-traditional student myself and I know how hard it is to work full-time while taking classes. Once you've earned your degree, you will have more opportunities available to you.
Readers - How did you get that first job in your field? Do you have any additional advice for Kelly?
If you liked this post, you may also like: Do you type? where I wrote about my career as a typist.