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The right image for recruitment.

The Right Image for Recruitment

Have you ever thought of yourself as a mild-mannered "bean counter," driving an inconspicuous car, wearing inconspicuous clothes and spending your leisure time reading the latest changes in the federal tax code? Probably not, but many people, especially career minded college graduates, do have this image of those in our profession. Many potentially excellent would-be accountants never even consider the accounting profession when making their career choices because of the old stereotypical image of the accountant.

According to an article written by Don T. DeCoster (Journal of Accountancy, 8/71), accountants have a stereotypical image that is far from favorable. Prior research has hypothesized that careers are chosen based partially on the stereotypical image that people have of those currently in the occupation. Hence, candidates who have the qualities that the accounting profession would like to see in their recruits probably are not even considering accounting as a career choice because of the profession's negative image. And the profession ends up attracting those candidates who perpetuate the current image. They have dull expectations regarding their anticipated work requirements.

In a recent report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that an additional 376,000 accountants will be needed in the U.S. by the year 2000. No other profession is forecast to match this 40% growth rate. However, not only are fewer students majoring in accounting or expected to enter this field, but there's a growing shortage of the best and the brightest of the college graduates.

Why is there a potential brain drain in accounting? Many believe it's caused by negative perceptions about accounting's image. The stereotype of the accountant - a Bartleby the Scrivener type bent over ledgers in a sea of steel gray desks - still exists in the minds of many in education and business.

Image plays an important role in recruitment. The profession's recruiting efforts are struggling under the severe handicap of an unfavorable image, and it is this very same bad image of the accountant among college students that repels those whom the profession should recruit and attracts those who resemble the bad image, who feel themselves endowed with those pedestrian qualities often attributed to accountants.

To help reverse the six-year decline in accounting graduates with bachelor degrees, the accountant has to change his/her image. While there are a number of reasons for the diminishing pool of accounting graduates from which to draw, it is obvious that the negative image of the profession and its inhabitants has had an effect on recruitment efforts.

What Can Local Firms Do?

The individual firms need to take a more face-to-face approach to improving our image. Russell E. Palmer, dean of the Wharton School, suggests that we should mount a campaign to educate business students about the level of sophistication of services accountants perform for clients in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.

He further suggests that "top partners and outstanding young staff need to spend even more time on campuses of major colleges and universities convincing students of the profession's merits."

But college campuses and business majors are not the first step. Studies have shown that students make their career choices as early as high school. Therefore, this is where accounting firms need to begin directing their recruiting efforts. The firms need to go to the high school career counselors to talk about the changing profession of accounting. It is important to broaden their views about accounting.

Today, accountants are involved in much more than just adding columns of numbers. With mergers and acquisitions, business interruption claims, regulatory rate claims, and corporate takeovers on an international level, the accountant's involvement is becoming more challenging and important.

The representative to the schools should talk not only to the career counselors but also to the students at a career day forum. To them they should describe the work of the accountant, not as routine, boring bookkeeping tasks, but rather as exciting, thought provoking work offering many opportunities. The people contact part of accounting, through financial and estate planning and tax and financial consulting should be emphasized.

For those students with keenly analytical minds, there are the intricate tax codes to be deciphered and used in making critical business decisions. This aspect alone is a mental exercise worthy of the sharpest and cleverest minds. Some liken preparing a complicated tax return to putting together an intricate puzzle, requiring gathering all the pieces of information through skillful questioning and examination and organizing them in just the right combination to get the best fit (and lowest tax liability).

Accounting offers a variety of job opportunities depending on what people are looking for. The high school students making their possible career choices need to see this wide range of opportunities in accounting. Down with the image of the accountant as the middle aged, balding man tangled in a web of adding machine tape. Up with the image of the young, smartly dressed man or woman consulting with clients about taxes, investments, retirement plans and estate planning ideas. Up with the image of the accountant sorting through increasingly complex tax laws. Up with the image of the accountant as the problem solver for today's financial disasters and the person to whom the corporate leaders turn for financial advice.

Today, more than ever, the reports prepared by accountants and personal recommendations of accountants are invaluable tools used in the business world. This is how the profession should be portrayed to inquiring high school students.

One last point, before selecting your messenger to go out and spread the word about the exciting challenges of the profession. You should look deep within your firm to find your most exciting and outgoing staff members. For the task of recruitment, overlook the superb technician with a flair for numbers and look instead to find the weekend athlete who's fit and trim; the community playhouse actor who is articulate and well spoken; the church social director who has good leadership and communication skills; even the office's would-be stand up comic who can let people know that accountants can make people laugh and still be good accountants.

Arm your representative with a long pencil and a big eraser to erase the image of accounting as dull, boring and tedious. Accountants no longer have to fit the image of being introverts who work within a very narrow discipline. Teach your representative to re-write the job description to show the interesting facets of accounting, the broadening international horizons of the profession involving new and exciting work requirements, and the interaction with people through financial and estate planning and tax consulting.

Preserving the Positive

While it is important that the accounting profession work to change its image as perceived by society in order to improve its recruitment efforts, it must not do so at the expense of the positive aspects of its image. The accounting profession is not all dusty ledgers poured over by boring dweebs! The accounting profession actually does have a positive side to its image that must not be sacrificed.

A recent comprehensive poll revealed that businessmen and the public-at-large gave accountants the highest marks for professional objectivity, integrity, competence and trustworthiness. Accountants generally were viewed more favorably than physicians, university professors and bankers.

The poll also showed that those who know accountants best rated them highest, receiving a 90% vote of confidence from those who have business relationships with accountants, compared with 78% rating for physicians, 70% for corporate executives and 43% for lawyers. Accountants were also rated very highly by leadership groups in areas of reliability, competence and honesty.

The only area accountants did not score well in was creativity, with only 39% of those surveyed thinking accountants are innovative. However, that may also work in the profession's favor when considering professional conduct. While people expect creativity from artists or entrepreneurs, they certainly don't want accountants to get too creative with their numbers.

Philip L. Yeager, MBA, CPA, CFP, has been in private practice for 20 years, specializing in individual income tax preparation, small business consulting and financial planning. He is an assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Business at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D. C.
COPYRIGHT 1991 National Society of Public Accountants
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Debits & Credits; recruiting accountants
Author:Yeager, Philip L.
Publication:The National Public Accountant
Article Type:transcript
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:NSPA on tax simplication.
Next Article:Proposed S corp regs: is the sky falling?

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