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Accounting Student

What the “Big Four” Want in an Accounting Graduate: Spotlight on Jacob Spector

Get the inside track from a Recent Graduate of the Masters of Accounting program at American University.

Jacob SpectorJacob Spector, a recent graduate of American University’s Master of Science in Accounting never dreamed he would become a staff auditor for Ernst & Young, one of the well-known “Big Four” accounting firms.

But while earning his first master’s degree in Hospitality Management from Florida International University, he took courses in financial accounting and financial statement analysis and discovered his true passion: accounting.

The experience changed the direction of his career path and in 2015 he enrolled in the Kogod School of Business MSA graduate program. For Jacob, what set Kogod apart was its flexibility and support for students.

“Students don’t all follow the exact same page of courses,” he said. “Kogod has graduate advisors that help you develop a unique plan of study based on your needs and goals.”

AU recently sat down with Jacob to ask him how his experience at Kogod helped position him for success in his job search and in his career.

Q: What is your current position with Ernst & Young and what are your responsibilities? 

Jacob Spector (JS): I am currently working in the Assurance Services service line as a staff auditor. My responsibilities are endless, and offer me new challenges every day. My main role is to collect audit evidence to obtain a reasonable level of assurance so that the amounts and disclosures made by the company are free from error, either due to fraud or unintentional mistakes. Basically, we provide credibility to the financial markets, an essential task to ensure efficient use of market resources.

Q: What is your typical day like?

JS: On an average day, I will speak to upper-level management at some of the largest companies in the world. The purpose of my conversations is to validate claims made by management, to gather physical and electronic evidence, and to maintain professional skepticism. I’ll usually spend the rest of the day analyzing the evidence I collected, writing summaries of my findings, and conducting team discussions about our individual findings.

Q: What attracted you to Ernst & Young?

JS: Ernst & Young offers many benefits to its team of client-serving professionals. Although the compensation offered is very attractive and highly competitive, the intrinsic benefits offered by Ernst & Young are even more attractive. One such benefit is working with some of the most well-known companies in the world, including Facebook, Amazon, Google, Marriott, AT&T, Wal-Mart, BP, ConocoPhillips, among others. And in the DC Area, clients include Lockheed Martin, the US Postal Service, the Internal Revenue Service and Booz Allen Hamilton.

Q: How did the skills you gained at Kogod lead to you being hired at Ernst & Young?

JS: Kogod’s MSA program focuses not only on building technical accounting knowledge, but also soft skills. The experience I gained in public speaking, business writing, and networking proved to be invaluable. For many people, when they think about accounting, they imagine a pale man with a green visor. This is a myth! Firms look for people with strong communication skills, confidence and the ability to think critically.

To meet the needs of the large accounting firms, the Kogod MSA program emphasizes developing students’ ability to think critically and write cogent memos explaining findings. After writing my first memo, my supervisors were impressed with my business writing skills. This led to more and more challenging tasks, as they were confident in the skills I gained in my MSA program.

Q: How are you applying your classroom skills to your job?

JS: Again, it’s all about writing skills. Most classes in the Kogod MSA program require one or more written assignments. These assignments force us accountants—a notoriously number-centered group of people—to develop our writing. At first, this was challenging, but I soon realized the benefit that writing would bring to my professional career. The Kogod MSA program also focuses on the meaning behind a written entry. By completing a deeper dive into a concept, MSA students are able to build their critical thinking skills. I felt confident my first day on the job to participate in team discussions on a specific accounting treatment for an event. I may not always have the answer, but the firm has been impressed with my confidence and interest.

Q: What about networking? Did you benefit from networking events at Kogod, and did networking help you get to where you are today?

JS: American University has some of the best networking events I have ever attended. Every fall, Kogod sponsors Accounting and Finance Week, a weeklong event consisting of panel discussions, information sessions and mock interviews, and ending in a career fair. Hundreds of companies attend the career fair, from all of the “Big Four” firms to small, local firms and many government organizations. This event allowed me to meet recruiters from all of the “Big Four” firms and paved the way to interviews on campus for positions.

Q: Are you involved in hiring? If so, what skills do you look for in a new recruit?

JS: Ernst & Young loves when their new employees participate in the recruitment process. As a devoted employee and American University alumnus, I participate in interviews, information sessions and firm tours. Some of the main skills I look for in a recruit are strong academic performance, multiple extracurricular activities, self-confidence, a desire to learn, and a bright personality.

 

As a devoted employee and American University alumnus, I participate in interviews, information sessions and firm tours. Some of the main skills I look for in a recruit are strong academic performance, multiple extracurricular activities, self-confidence, a desire to learn, and a bright personality. 

 

Q: If you could offer candidates one piece of advice, what would that be?

JS: My one piece of advice is: Remember that you will be spending many hours with your fellow colleagues. No one wants to spend 10 hours a day or more with someone who doesn’t have a positive personality. In an interview, it’s a great idea to discuss an interesting current event to show you are keeping up with the industry. After that, however, also share a personal anecdote that shows you can separate your accounting life from your personal life.

 

 

Discover how the MS in Accounting program at the Kogod School of Business positions you to compete in today’s job market.

Aerial View of DC

Why Study in DC? A Prime Location for Accounting and More

American University’s prime location in the nation’s capital means access to opportunities not found in other cities. For students in the Master’s in Accounting (MSA) program, this means gaining access to professional and alumni networks across the corporate, not-for-profit and government sectors. Our students, full-time and part-time alike, take full advantage of all the D.C. area has to offer to their careers.

Professional opportunities abound in Washington, D.C. Beyond the classroom, MSA students also enjoy access to a wide array of dynamic speakers over the course of their time in the program. These occasions serve as invaluable networking events, which often lead to internships and full-time jobs.

For current MSA student Jacob Spector, access to a thriving economy and to faculty who are leading professionals in the D.C. Metro area drove his decision to choose Kogod. Spector said, “Whether you’re interested in public, private or governmental accounting, there are myriad career options in D.C., as well as opportunities to visit many local firms’ offices during the semester. Faculty members have been instrumental in leading me toward my career of choice.”

Public accounting firms, private sector companies, non-profits and government agencies in the metropolitan area heavily recruit MSA students. Among MSA graduates of the past three years, 86 percent have gained employment in the DMV area. Many graduates enter leading local firms like KPMG, Deloitte, eTrade, Fannie Mae and Wells Fargo.

Internship placement is equally impressive. Nearly half of MSA students in 2015 completed internships at a wide range of corporations, non-profits and government agencies, including KPMG, AARP, Department of Housing and Community Development, US Department of Treasury, US Department of Defense, International Monetary Fund. Several of these internships led to full-time employment.

Our alumni also report competitive compensation numbers. The median salary of our newly employed alumni is just under $60,000 per year, and many alumni are receiving signing bonuses of between $2,500-$3,500.

Cultural diversity, music, restaurants, arts, recreation and, most importantly, unparalleled internship and job opportunities. A Kogod education represents all that D.C. has to offer. With direct proximity to a global community, access to a thriving professional network and a high success rate for full-time employment, the MSA program will position you for a job outcome that fits your professional and personal goals.

Learn how the MSA program at the Kogod School of Business positions you for success.

Forensic Accounting

Five Financial Heroes and Villains: How a Master of Science in Accounting at American University Can Turn You into a Fiscal Superstar

Over the last 25 years, corporate accounting scandals have earned front-page headlines. These acts of malfeasance—from Ponzi schemes to income inflation—triggered sweeping corporate finance reforms; the Occupy Wall Street movement; and the controversial U.S. bank bailout following the financial crash of 2008.

But for every financial villain there are accounting heroes – single whistleblowers or investigative teams that are armed with the skills, experience and confidence needed to detect and report fraud.

Check out these five headline-grabbing scandals for insight into how earning as Master of Science in Accounting from American University’s Kogod School of Business can turn you into a fiscal hero.

1. Enron Scandal: How a background in forensic accounting can prevent wide-ranging fraud.

The Story: In 2001, thousands of employees and shareholders of the Houston-based commodities, energy and service corporation, Enron, lost $74 billion in retirement accounts because the company kept huge debts off the balance sheets.

The Forensic Hero: Ultimately, Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling and former CEO Ken Lay were caught by internal whistleblower and then Vice President of Corporate Development Sherron Watkins. In courses such as ACCT 551 Forensic Accounting: Fraud Examination and Litigation Support, you will explore the nature of financial fraud and learn to identify and deter financial deceptions. You’ll also master examination techniques that experts use to detect fraud before it becomes a financial crisis.

2. Worldcom Scandal: How training in corporate responsibility prepares you to report fraud.

The Story: In 2002, telecommunications giant Worldcom inflated assets by as much as $11 billion through a variety of fraudulent accounting tactics. The unethical behavior led to the loss of about 30,000 jobs and $180 billion in lost revenue for investors. Within weeks of the scandal, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which introduced a sweeping set of new business regulations that threatened harsh consequences for firms that mimicked Worldcom’s practices.

The Forensic Heroes: Ultimately, Worldcom’s internal auditing department uncovered $3.8 billion in fraud. Courses in ethics, such as ACCT-600 Ethics in Business and Accounting, examine the major ethical issues that face businesses today. With an emphasis on profit motive and public good, social responsibility in corporations, consumer and employee relations, confidentiality, whistleblowing, and advertising and hiring practices, you will complete these courses equipped to put corporate accounting practices to any ethics test.

3. Tyco Scandal: How a background in investigation can prevent financial losses.

The Story: In 2002, the CEO and CFO of the New Jersey based security systems firm Tyco stole $150 million and inflated the company’s income by $500 million by siphoning money through unapproved loans and fraudulent stock sales.

The Forensic Heroes: Ultimately, investigations led by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the New York County District Attorney’s Office uncovered questionable accounting practices. Courses such as ACCT-607 Financial Accounting introduce you to the foundational concepts behind identifying fraud in any corporate setting. You’ll learn about the accounting model of a firm, the financial accounting cycle, and the methods firms use to account for their financing activities. This course is designed to help you understand the diverse roles in the accounting profession so that you will have a firm grasp of the inner workings of the entire practice.

4. American International Group (AIG) Scandal: How auditing skills help identify irregularities that result in fraud.

The Story: In 2005, multinational insurance corporation AIG, engaged in massive accounting fraud to the tune of $3.9 billion, along with bid-rigging and stock price manipulation. CEO Hank Greenberg allegedly booked loans as revenue, steered clients to insurers with payoff agreements with AIG and told traders to inflate the AIG stock price.

The Forensic Heroes: Ultimately, the SEC investigated, most likely tipped by a whistleblower. Electives that focus on auditing standards and practice, such as ACCT-760 Advanced Auditing and Professional Practice, let you examine real-life contemporary issues in the practice of professional accounting. Coursework in information systems audits, internal/operational audits, government compliance audits and international auditing standards will arm you with the skills to identify systematic irregularities that could prevent the massive accounting meltdown.

5. Bernie Madoff: How fraud identity and reporting skills can save thousands from financial ruin.

The Story: In 2008, Bernie Madoff, head of his own investment firm, along with his accountant, David Friehling, and Frank DiPascalli, bilked investors out of $64.8 billion through the largest known Ponzi scheme in history.

The Forensic Heroes: Ultimately, Madoff’s sons reported him to the SEC. Fraudulent ponzi schemes such as the one perpetrated by Madoff and his associates can be prevented through proper detection. In core courses such as ACCT-680 Advanced Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigation, you will focus on identifying and investigating business crimes with an emphasis on the forensic accountant’s role in uncovering fraud. The skills you gain in fraudulent financial statement analysis, fraud detection using electronic evidence, and legal issues that arise during the investigation may help you win the day.

Do you want to be the next fiscal hero?  Consider an MS Accounting degree at American University.

accountingscholarships

Scholarship Options Make Earning a Master’s in Accounting Degree More Affordable

A graduate degree in accounting is a great way to advance your current career or help you enter a new profession. Paying for a master’s degree can be expensive, but its long-term benefits make it well worth the initial cost.

You don’t have to pay for your graduate education by yourself, though. Many scholarships options are available, which can go a long way toward removing the financial burden of achieving your academic and professional goals.

At American University, we link students with an array of accounting-specific scholarship opportunities from leading accounting organizations. Scholarships from the Association of Chartered Certified accountants, the AICPA Foundation, the National Association of Black Accountants, the Government Finance Officers Association, and the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting, among others, help students of all kinds.

Ranging in value from $1,000-$10,000, accounting scholarships are based on a variety of criteria, including ethics, undergraduate accomplishment, ethnicity and gender. Below are just some of the awards that accounting students at American University have received.

Be sure to visit the MS Accounting Scholarships page to see the full list of available scholarships, and to learn more about requirements, deadlines and the application process.

  • The Greater Washington Society of CPAs Scholarship Fund awards scholarships ranging from $3,000-$4,000 each. This includes two special named awards-the Past President’s Award and the Sue Marcum Memorial Award. To qualify, students must attend an accredited university located within Washington, D.C., be a U.S. Citizen and have an overall GPA of 3.2.
  • The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants offers the ACCA USA Ethics in Accounting & Finance Scholarship. This funds the ACCA examination and registration fees for five students for a period of five years, or until they become members. Applicants must meet the qualification criteria and submit a 1,000-word essay.
  • The National Association of Black Accountants Scholarship, offered by the National Association of Black Accountants, awards African-American students or students of African-American descent between $1,000-$5,000. Recipients must be undergraduate accounting, finance or business majors, or full-time graduate students enrolled or accepted into a master’s-level business program.
  • The Frank L. Greathouse Government Accounting Scholarship, offered by the Government Finance Officers Association, awards a $7,000 scholarship to full-time undergraduate or graduate accounting students who are preparing for a career in state or local government finance.
  • The Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting Graduate Scholarships, offered by the Educational Foundation for Women in Accounting, awards scholarships valued between $1,000-$2,000 to women pursuing a degree in accounting in preparation for a career as an accounting or finance professional.

Our MS in Accounting program will prepare you for many versatile, rewarding jobs within the field. Whether you’re advancing your career, transitioning to a new one, or just starting out the program will put you on track to compete in a flourishing industry.

We understand that paying for a graduate education can be prohibitively expensive. By exploring available scholarship options, you can drastically lessen your financial commitments, allowing you to fully invest yourself in your education and career development.

Expand your career options with an MS in Accounting at American University.

cpa-exam

8 CPA Exam Prep Tips from a Kogod Accounting Student

Your career is important to us, and we understand that preparing for the CPA exam is a big part of your success. Our MSA students select from a variety of graduate accounting and tax courses designed to prepare them for the advanced topics covered on the CPA exam. They’ll also be equipped to meet the educational requirements for public accounting licensure in most states.

Because of our excellent relationship with Becker Professional Education, maker of CPA exam materials, we are well positioned to support our students and offer insight into the structure and format of the exam, as well as any registration nuances.

But beyond the support we offer, it’s often best to hear from a recent test-taker. MSA Graduate Assistant Gian Alvarez, who began taking the exam last month, offers his top tips for preparing for the CPA exam.

  1. Register in a timely manner. Contact the Board of Accountancy for the state in which you are looking to be certified. Start the application process sooner rather than later. It can take up to five weeks and if an issue happens to arise, it can really delay your exam plans. Make sure you have the appropriate courses needed to sit for the exam and understand the requirements in the state you have chosen. Educate yourself on the exam’s costs and the fees associated with the application process.
  2. Plan a study schedule. Preparing for the CPA exam can be a stressful and intimidating process, but sitting down and focusing on it will help you get organized. If you need to take the exam before starting a job, look at a calendar and see when your start day is and schedule as many sections of the exam (without overwhelming yourself) before you start work. I was advised to take the exam before I started my job because studying becomes harder once you start working full time.
  1. Understand the exam format. The exam is broken down into four “testlets.” In order to move on to the next testlet, you must submit the one you are currently working on (and you cannot come back to it). The strategy that I employed was to go through all of the questions and answer the ones that I knew first. When I finished I was able to put more time and effort into the questions I did not know well. The exam software lets you flag questions that you are not sure about or have no idea how to answer so that you may come back to them.
  1. Study efficiently and smartly. Figure out how much time you can devote to studying during the week, but also carve out some time to step away from the material and decompress. When studying, keep a notebook nearby to write down any questions or the answers to questions you got wrong while completing homework. Make flashcards as you study and take comprehensive practice tests as you go. The AICPA or the review company of your choice offers practice tests.
  2. Take advantage of Kogod’s resources. Kogod has a partnership with Becker, which is one of the top CPA review programs. The company is often on campus talking about their products and giving students the opportunity to “test-drive” the software to see if it fits their study needs.

    Kogod also offers courses on all topics covered by the CPA exam. Some courses that students should take to supplement their CPA studies include:

  • Government & Not-for-Profit Accounting (heavily tested on the FAR section of the CPA exam)
  • Financial Statement Analysis (covered in both the FAR and BEC sections)
  • Advanced Financial Reporting
  • Federal Income Taxation (covered in the REG section)
  • Audit and Assurance Services
  • Advanced Audit
  1. Talk to other students who have taken the exam. Another invaluable tool for students taking the exam is their personal network. Many students in the MSA program are taking the exam at the same time, so it is extremely helpful to gain insight into how others study and what strategies work best for them. Most importantly, your network can provide the motivation you need to help you stay focused.
  1. Prepare for the day of the exam. My advice for the exam day is to eat a healthy breakfast, dress comfortably, arrive 30 minutes early and be sure to bring your Notice to Sit (NTS) and two forms of ID. Arriving early gives you time to check-in without rushing and get settled.
  1. Avoid exam-day pitfalls. Perhaps the biggest pitfall is poor pacing. Often, test-takers lose track of time because they are so focused on making sure every question is answered. Then, when they reach the Task-Based Simulation section of the exam, they’re rushed.

    During the exam, take your time to read all the questions carefully, but be mindful of the clock. The test is four hours long, and you set your own pace. You can spend as much or as little time as you want per section. Nothing helps with pacing better than practice exams. Proper pacing will afford you time to take much-needed breaks between testlets so that you can get up, get a drink of water or just decompress.

kogod-softskills

Three Soft Skills Every Accountant Needs: Master them at American University

Managing client expectations. Successfully pitching a new idea. Meeting with team members. These are just some of the everyday accounting practices that go beyond technical know-how. “Soft skills” may not always come naturally, but they are of equal importance in the business world – arguably more.

Presenting a financial analysis or managing a client requires a high level of soft skills proficiency. Expertise in three particular soft skills areas is in high demand today:

  1. Communication
    Strong communication skills—interviewing, listening, writing, and presenting—are a critical component of any career, especially accounting. Many graduate business programs recognize this and incorporate interpersonal skills training into their coursework. The Kogod School of Business takes it one step further.The Kogod Center for Business Communications offers help with business and professional writing, public speaking, and team presentations. Get advice on written or oral assignments from trained student consultants or expert staff members.Casey Evans, Director of the Master of Science in Accounting and the Graduate Certificate in Forensic Accounting programs, sums it up: “When I was practicing, I noticed that consultants coming out of school didn’t have the writing and communication skills that are important in a business setting. If you are analyzing complicated data or conducting technical research, how you present your findings is incredibly important. Having the ability to break down complicated information and communicate it in a user-friendly way is crucial.”
  1. Leadership
    The ability to inspire and motivate are key traits of successful leaders that often are not learned in a classroom. These skills are acquired by building relationships with professionals and mentors in the field.These relationships are forged through networking, a key component of the Kogod experience. The Kogod Center for Career Development (KCCD) provides students with one-on-one guidance on relationship building, transitioning to new careers, crafting resumes and job search strategies. KCCD connects prospective employers with talented candidates to meet their business goals.Our location in the nation’s capital also offers students full access to strong regional networks. Whether you want to work locally or make your mark globally, you will connect with professional leaders and alumni mentors who can help you hone the leadership and professional skills you need for success.
  1. Real-World Problem Solving
    Solving problems is at the center of what we do at work every day. Whether we’re solving a problem for a client, playing a supporting role, or discovering new challenges, today’s business world requires confident problem solvers who possess the technical skills and real-world experience to approach and resolve challenges.At Kogod, our experiential learning opportunities and highly interactive classrooms, led by experts in the field, prepare graduates to tackle complex issues. Our Master of Science in Accounting classes blend theory with applied practical skills to prepare students for the biggest challenges in competitive markets.

Develop and advance your soft skills. Set yourself apart from the competition. Discover how Kogod’s Master of Science in Accounting (MSA) program will drive your career success.