By Hunter Hartwick, Staff Accountant at John A. Knutson & Co., PLLP (JAK + Co.)

If you’ll be graduating soon (or if you’ve recently graduated) with a degree in accounting, it can be hard to know where to start. Do you try to secure a position with the firm where you did your internship? Do you focus on the Big Four? Do you stick to public or private accounting, or do you look into a different financial field?

It can all be overwhelming. Believe me, I get it—and so does anyone else who’s been in your position. To give you a little guidance and encouragement, I interviewed a partner, manager, senior accountant, and staff accountant at our firm to ask for their advice.

Here are our tips for new accounting grads.

When looking for your first job in the accounting profession, what’s the one thing you wish you had done differently?

“I regret not spending more time with classmates to discuss their career paths and bounce ideas off of each other. When I initially started looking for a job, I immediately envisioned a position at a Big Four firm because that’s where most accounting students want to work. Now that I’m at JAK + Co., which is a mid-size firm, I’ve come to really enjoy it because you’re not locked into a specialty. You’re also able to work on a variety of different tasks between attest and tax.”  – Staff Accountant

“I didn’t realize (until I applied at JAK) that you could get an entry-level accounting position (especially at a firm) without internship experience. I went into the interview process with the perception that you had to have had interning experience somewhere to even be considered for the position.” – Senior Accountant

“I wish I gave a bit more weight toward the possibility of a smaller firm when I first came out of school. So many of my interviews were with the Big Four or other national firms. I wish I was more informed about what smaller firms had to offer.” – Manager

“Look at the culture and the types of clients you will be working with more than the pay. The money tends to work itself out; focus on the items that will shape your career.” – Partner

When looking for your current position, what’s one thing you are really glad you did?

“I’m really glad I got into a mentorship program during college, as it helped me draft my resume and gave me tips to succeed. Something else I’m really glad I did while looking for my current position was attending job fairs. Job fairs are underutilized by college students in my opinion. By going to job fairs, you open up more opportunities than by searching LinkedIn, Indeed, and employers’ websites. It also gives you a chance to ask employers what their culture is like, what industries they’re in, and the size of their business to see if the firm is a good fit for you. You could even attend student job fairs outside of the ones hosted by your college.” – Staff Accountant

“I was looking for a firm with 20–60-ish people. I didn’t want to work for a Big Four or a larger mid-size firm, but I also knew I didn’t want to work for a five-person firm. I thrive in somewhere where I know I can do my own work and be left alone, but also where I can bounce ideas off of people and everyone knows who I am (like JAK + Co.).” – Senior Accountant

“As this is my second tenure with JAK + Co., I would say I’m glad that I decided to come back after a hiatus of two years. The grass is not always greener on the other side.” – Manager

“I’m glad I had an opportunity to do many different things. This helped me build on strengths and learn my weaknesses. I also helped me in deciding which areas of accounting to focus on. Coming out of college, I would have never guessed that I would enjoy the client-facing portion of the job as much as I do. This helped me decide to go the audit route and now I focus on advisory and consulting as much as anything else.” – Partner

One piece of advice for those trying to decide between public/private accounting and another financial field:

“Do accounting! Accounting is the backbone of all financial reports. If you learn accounting, you are going to be able to understand all the fundamentals. My professor once said, ‘If you do accounting, you can still do finance. But a finance major won’t be able to understand accounting. Early in college, I didn’t really see myself working in public accounting. Once I started as an intern at JAK + Co., I realized how much I enjoyed it. Accounting is an ever-changing field where you are constantly learning and can find an area that fits your style. Also, if it’s not something you enjoy, you can easily transition into private or corporate accounting.’” – Staff Accountant

“Know the size of the company you want to work for. This will help narrow down the field. Also, for public accounting, you’re not expected to know much, you’re just expected to know very basic accounting. You’ll learn most of what you need to know on the job. This definitely is not what I thought, and no doubt I was terrified until I realized that a company just wants to see growth. You’re not expected to know everything.” – Senior Accountant

“Accounting is a tough and demanding field. Make sure you give yourself enough time to fully learn the trade and know what it’s about firsthand before making any drastic decisions.” – Manager

“Give public accounting a try. It’s easier to jump into it directly from school since you are used to learning. It’s all learning for two to three years and after that, you build on what you’ve learned. You can always move out of public accounting, and whatever experience you had will benefit you in your next career. I would also say if you stay in public accounting, you will see your job areas change over time. I know some advice is to move jobs every four to five years. In public accounting, your job can change that often without leaving your employer. After 20 years at JAK + Co., if you broke down my roles and responsibilities throughout this time, you could probably say I’m on my fifth job at the same company!” – Partner

Ready to begin your accounting adventure?

Starting your accounting career can be an incredible experience. The world is your oyster; there are so many directions you could take. The question is, what will stoke your fire?

If you’d like to explore what a career at JAK + Co. could look like, we’d be happy to answer any questions you have. As I said, I know how stressful it can be to decide how and when to take the first step.

If you’d like to get to know our firm, head to our careers page and be sure to follow us on social media (links in the footer of our website).

To learn more about what a career at JAK + Co. could offer you, give us a call anytime.