Ask the expert: Education

Jack Little, CPA, CFE, Director of the MPS in Management–Accounting Specialization Program, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University

Jack Little, CPE, CFE

Long-term career prep

Q. What should a new CPA candidate know about the evolving field of accounting?

A. The accounting profession is not just about debits and credits anymore. Yes, new CPAs must know the fundamentals in order to create financial statements and prepare tax returns, but they also need to understand the broader strategic implications of their work. In today’s accounting roles, we have to be able to crunch numbers and analyze and communicate results. Clients are looking for a “value-added” service that can separate them from the competition.

Q. What types of accounting professionals are accounting firms looking for?

A. Clients have demanded — and firms have been eager to supply — a broader range of service. Standard fare at most large firms now includes financial, forensic, tech, business analytic, and advisory services. Graduates who are versed in these areas, especially business and management principles, will be prepared to offer valuable expertise and insights. Many traditional accounting programs struggle to supply graduates who have this focus, so it’s important to find a program that supports the changing landscape.

Q. Based on your experience as a CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner, what advice would you give to new CPA candidates entering a post-Madoff world?

A. One of the best ideas to instill in young accountants is that they need to become a “professional skeptic.” This means that staff accountants must be trained in the techniques to gather and analyze incoming information, and, more importantly, know how to maintain an attitude that includes a questioning mind and critical assessment of that information. While you’re preparing to enter the field of accounting, it’s essential to develop critical-thinking skills and the ability to problem-solve — this sets the stage for professional skepticism. Graduate students should work on acquiring business and industry knowledge to help them understand the goals that managers are trying to accomplish. With that background, new CPAs can develop nuanced expectations, which enable them to identify when reported results might not correspond to reality. This skill set, really a mindset, must be built over time.

Q. How can aspiring CPA candidates begin preparing for their long-term career trajectory?

A. Unless these candidates want to be staff accountants for the duration of their careers, they’ll need to round out their skill sets and strengths in areas like leadership, communications, strategy, organizational theory, and decision-making. To move up within a CPA firm, progress in corporate accounting, or successfully transition into advisory services, it’s likely that an accountant’s management skill set, rather than their pure accounting skill set, will position them into leadership roles. It may be the accounting and tax classes that get them that first job, but it will be the broader electives that make the difference in their future career.

Jack Little is an accounting-practitioner-turned-educator who brings many years of experience to the classroom. He is a CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner and holds several association memberships. He mentors students on careers in accounting and requirements for CPA licensure.


Johnson boasts seven MBA programs, several dual-degree programs, a Ph.D. program, and two Master of Professional Studies in Management programmes. The MPS in Management–Accounting Specialization builds students’ essential accounting skills, prepares them for the CPA licensing exam, and positions them for long-term career trajectories in the fields of accounting, management, and business. For more information, visit