Despite the gloomy headlines, the outlook for hiring in finance and accounting should be strong for 2008. “You see a lot in the press that’s negative, and there are problems with the economy,” says Josh Warborg, Robert Half International district president in Seattle. “The fact of the matter is we’re seeing an expanded economy and expanding jobs.”
For accountants at all levels, that means lots of opportunities. At Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, only a couple dozen of the 125 accounting majors set to graduate in June don’t have job offers yet. “If your GPA is a 2.2, you’ll get a job,” says Dennis Bline, PhD, professor of accounting. “If you make it a 3.2, your issue is which good job offer to take because you’ll have multiple offers.”
Demand is just as strong for midlevel accountants. Glenn Dubiel, vice president of Spherion Professional Services, says his firm is seeing a shortage of accounting professionals with one to seven years’ experience across all industries. “There’s just a natural shortage of those workers,” he says.
At the top, Warborg says treasurers and chief financial officers are in short supply. “We’re seeing strong increases in demand for them at small- to medium-sized companies with sales of less than $250 million,” he says.
The trends feeding demand for accountants aren’t likely to end soon. “The Baby Boomers [who] are retiring in the next five years are going to fuel demand for accountants, despite what may happen in the economy at large,” Warborg says. “And the effects from SOX and other compliance initiatives are still having an impact on the financial sector. Those two forces provide assurance that, even in tough economic times, accountants’ skills will be in demand.”
Math Majors Rule
For math and actuarial science majors, the hiring market is “phenomenal,” says Kristin Kennedy, PhD, chair of Bryant’s actuarial math department. “My seniors [are] being given offers plus nice signing bonuses of around $10,000,” she says.
Applied math and statistics undergraduates are also being snapped up by forecasting companies, government agencies and investment banks. “Companies are doing a lot of number crunching,” she says. “If you come out with four SAS courses and you get a certificate in SAS, that’s very marketable.”
Many other companies are seeking quantitative analysts who know statistics and programming, says Dr. Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis for PayScale. “Companies like Google want the same people, so there is competition for those skills, and those jobs are paying a couple hundred thousand dollars a year,” he says.
With the credit crunch leading to massive layoffs in mortgage banking, Peter Nigro, associate professor of finance at Bryant, is warning students looking at banking to take what they can get. “I don’t expect a lot of financial institutions to be hiring in the spring,” he says. He is pointing students toward jobs with federal bank regulatory agencies that will be beefing up staff to deal with the ongoing credit crisis as well as changes brought on by the Basel II international banking standards agreement.
The outlook is rather gloomy in investment banking. A number of big financial services players have instituted soft hiring freezes, says compensation expert Alan Johnson, managing partner of Johnson Associates in New York City. “They’re going to end 2008 with fewer people than they began with,” he says. “They’re reducing college recruiting by 50 percent and cutting back on entry-level and middle-level hiring. They’re doing that unofficially -- no one wants to be the poster child of hard times.”
Some finance niches are still looking good, however. Having experience with enterprise resource planning makes one very marketable to large firms, Dubiel says. And at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, executive-in-residence David Payne is still optimistic about financial services despite the employment slump. “Depending upon how you measure it, financial services is one of the fastest-growing areas of our economy, notwithstanding the credit crunch,” says Payne, a former banking executive.
The issues that have plagued the residential real estate market have not hit the commercial sector as hard, so positions such as property manager will still be important in 2008, Lee says. And credit and risk analysts remain important to companies seeking to learn from past mistakes in extending risky credit. “Unfortunately, collections specialists may have more work than usual,” he adds.