The accounting scandals of the past few years may have ended a few accounting careers, but they've also created thousands of jobs for accountants who understand the new accounting rules and procedures that came about as a result. Many companies need auditors who can help them comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (aka SOX), the federal legislation that tightened auditing rules.
"Sarbanes-Oxley increased the demand for accounting in the corporate and public worlds, because it imposed a whole structure and hierarchy of requirements with which companies need to comply with respect to their financial operations and reporting," says Bea Sanders, director of academic and career development for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. "To comply with these regulations, companies need in-house financial expertise. They're also looking to external auditors to help them."
Ironically, companies searching for experienced auditors are having a tough time finding them. That's because enrollment in university accounting programs began declining in the mid-'90s as students flocked to information technology majors. In fact, Cheryl Levy, national director of recruiting for KPMG, spent a few months looking for accountants with three or more years of experience.
"We know that all of our competition is looking for the same thing," she says. "There's a definite dip in terms of quality individuals in the marketplace. That makes us more creative.
By "creative," she means hiring accountants from small firms and offering training programs for parents returning to work. She also promotes the company's flexible work programs, which allow employees to work part-time schedules such as three days a week or six months a year.
Policing the Auditors
SOX has created jobs in the public sector as well. To enforce the new accounting rules, Congress created the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), which is charged with policing auditors and setting accounting standards. Armed with this charter, the PCAOB has had to staff itself with high-caliber accountants and attorneys who are capable of auditing public accounting firms.
Marthe Lattinzille-Pace, PCAOB's deputy director of human resources, lures recruits with salaries that match those of the top accounting firms, coupled with better working conditions. Unlike private accounting firms, PCAOB isn't client-driven, which means that if you work there, you won't have to interrupt your backyard barbecue to take a client's call. And when PCAOB employees travel, they leave Monday morning and return Friday afternoon.
"If you love auditing and like an intellectual environment and the challenge of the work itself, but you're tired of being client-driven, come and work for us," Lattinzille-Pace says.
PCAOB is hiring attorneys and investment banking associates and analysts, who will scrutinize information filed by companies that want to go public. It's also looking for inspectors who will spend 40 percent to 50 percent of their time from April to November on the road. PCAOB must also hire forensic accountants, case builders and attorneys for its enforcement division and academically oriented accountants to write standards.
If you love the world of auditing, have a passion for the standards and care about the accounting profession, we have all that to offer you, Lattinzille-Pace says. You'll also find work/life balance in an environment where you get the best practice of auditing in all the accounting profession.
Just a few short years ago, many accountants worried that their careers were ending because of the scandals at their companies. However, far from becoming a dead-end career choice, accounting is now red-hot. A recent search of Monster using "Sarbanes-Oxley" as the keyword recently brought up more than 1,000 job listings nationwide. Other keywords and job titles to look for in connection with Sarbanes-Oxley include accountant, auditor, cost accountant, internal auditor, senior accountant and SOX.
So if you stayed with the accounting field through the tough times, the future -- thanks to SOX -- looks brighter than it has in years.