How real work experience can help students, businesses

Getting work experience while in college can give accounting and finance students an edge in their post-graduation job search, according to a new survey.

Meanwhile, businesses that provide work opportunities for students can build a network of promising talent that will pay big dividends in the future, experts say.

Eighty-three per cent of more than 2,100 US CFOs surveyed by temporary accounting and finance staffing service Accountemps said it is important for entry-level accounting and finance professionals to have gained work experience in the field while in college.

Four in ten CFOs said such work experience is very important, and 43% said it is somewhat important.

“It is just getting more and more critical for people to be able to come into a position and add immediate value, have an immediate impact,” said Robin Ankton, an Accountemps regional vice president. “So for those who can come with some work experience, it’s a huge selling point.”

Creating work opportunities for college students can help organisations create the same edge over competitors that job candidates are seeking. Ankton said college work experiences such as internships can be valuable recruiting tools for organisations.

Businesses can use internships to connect with and evaluate potential future full-time employees. Ankton said it’s important for businesses to emphasise their strong points to student workers – whether it’s high pay compared to competitors, work/life balance or strong benefits – to establish credibility as a place where interns would want to work full time in the future.

But recent research conducted by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills shows that many employers are failing to give young people opportunities to develop. The research, conducted with 90,000 employers, showed that lack of experience was the top reason employers believed young people were unprepared for work.

Further research showed that 74% of employers said experience in the workplace is significant or critical when hiring young people. But just 27% of employers said they offer young people the chance to gain work experience.

The lack of access to the labour market for young people can trap them in a frustrating “no experience, no job” cycle, Katerina Rüdiger, head of skills and policy campaigns for the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said in a news release.

“This is as much a disadvantage for employers as it is for young people, as organisations risk not being able to recruit individuals with the skills and attributes needed to make their business a success,” Rüdiger said. “Offering high-quality work experience placements is an easy way for employers to ensure they will have access to a wide range of talented new recruits who have the work-based experience they crave.”

Gaining work experience during his student years proved to be a significant benefit for Brett Jordan, a 28-year-old CPA who works in internal audit for Russell Investments in Seattle. Jordan’s experience began when he took an internship at a bank as a high school student.

He also served as an accounting intern for an insurance company and as student association business manager while he was an undergraduate at Western Washington University. During his grad student years at Seattle University, he had additional internships and part-time jobs where he served in audit/tax/advisory, US Securities and Exchange Commission reporting and business manager roles.

“It’s really a great opportunity to determine what your interest is and what your passion is,” Jordan said.

Getting real work experience helps students learn how to work on a team and apply their skills after receiving directions that are more limited than they are accustomed to receiving in school projects, Jordan said. It’s important for students to have the courage to market themselves and seek intern and part-time roles, he said.

He did not use a recruiter to land any of his work roles during his student years.

“It may be hard for some students, but they need to have confidence in themselves,” Jordan said. “If you don’t try, you are never going to find out.”

Ankton advised students to:

  • Consider volunteer opportunities to build experience if paid jobs are not available.
  • Display a strong work ethic and use the job to improve technical skills and interpersonal skills.
  • Stay connected to people after leaving the organisation at the end of the internship or job.

“Understand the value of networking,” Ankton said, “whether it’s in person [or] joining an accounting-affiliated group online, but really making sure that you are out there.”

Ken Tysiac ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.