Career Advice Job fairs and Events

Students profit from forum

More than 900 tertiary-education students attended the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) Career Forum 2012 on October 7 to learn about the opportunities and prospects of being an accountant.

Students spent a rewarding day at Cyberport visiting booths hosted by accounting firms and business corporations, and listening to career advice from the profession’s high-fliers.

The event, of which the South China Morning Post and Classified Post were the exclusive English newspaper media partners, featured expert contributors from the accounting profession relaying their insights on career development, while a series of career-orientated workshops gave participants advice on how to win an accounting job.

One of students’ major concerns is the Qualification Programme (QP) that one has to complete to become a CPA. Many are worried about not being able to manage studies, work and family.

Accountants taking the QP examination endure extra pressure at work, so good time management is the key to success.

“Many staff are concerned about being transferred overseas while having to prepare for the QP because they think it will be impossible to manage work, study and family at the same time,” said Susanna Chiu, vice-president of HKICPA. “But I can assure you that going overseas is a great opportunity to concentrate on studying the QP because you have fewer distractions. When you are away from family there is less engagement and you can concentrate on study.”

Tsai told students not to worry too much about the QP because firms will provide guidance and examination leave. “The firm is there to support staff to gain qualifications. Don’t be afraid to take the examination more than once. If you need another six months to get the qualification, so be it. When you look back later in your career, six months is a small price to pay for your future accomplishments,” she said.

Many accountants don’t know whether to move to the business sector or stay in a CPA firm after they have gained their professional qualifications.

Nancy Tse, CFO of the Hospital Authority, advised professionals to think carefully about what they truly want before deciding to move to a new job. “If one is thinking about getting more diverse knowledge then one should stay in a CPA firm instead of moving to the business sector. Working in a CPA firm allows you to know the operations of various industries,” she said.

Tse also highlighted the major difference between working in a CPA firm and the business sector. “In a CPA firm, you play the role of consultant to give recommendations. It is up to the client to decide which option to take. In the business sector, you are the decision-maker. It really comes down to what type of job you like. We spend almost 12 hours a day at work, so be sure to make the right choice,” she said.

Philip Tsai, audit partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, warned students to think twice before leaving for a new job.

“It is a painful experience switching jobs. The settling down and adjustment one has to make while switching jobs is tougher than you think. Every job has its hardships so don’t simply make the move because you are unhappy about a certain thing that you have to do,” he said.

Paul Tsang, deputy head of the finance department at Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, advised accountants to gain more years of experience in a CPA firm before considering moving on.

“It requires three years of working experience to be a CPA but to be honest, three years is not that long. One still has a lot to learn after becoming a CPA. Modern-day accountants need to have strong common sense and an understanding of clients’ business models. We are no longer looking for accountants who are only familiar with accounting standards. We want them to be excellent communicators and able to understand the needs of clients,” he said.

Tsai pointed out that more and more people are joining the profession who did not study accounting at university.

“I don’t see much of a difference between the career development of accounting majors and those who are not. Accounting firms offer programmes to help staff prepare for the QP so I don’t think non-accounting majors are at a disadvantage to get their qualifications. The key is whether they have a passion for the profession or not,” he said.

When planning their career, Tsai advised students to stay ambitious, but not think too far ahead. “I have many students coming to be telling me that their goal is to be a partner in an accounting firm. But I think it is too early to tell. They should get their CPA qualifications first, then think again about what they want from their career,” he said.

“Nowadays people tend to work for more than 30 years before they retire. It is a long journey and one has different ways of thinking at different stages of their career. Don’t be too sure of what you want yet – you have a long way to go,” he said.