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'Softer skills' give accounting majors the edge

Accounting majors in the College of Business and Economics get intensive training in communications skills.

The education that accounting majors receive in Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics classrooms is rigorous and demanding, especially since 150 credit hours are now required to practice accountancy in most states in U.S.

But one thing that sets Lehigh graduates apart when they enter the workplace is their mastery of interpersonal skills and understanding of the power of values, says Parveen Gupta, professor and department chair in accounting.

For 18 years, the accounting department has set aside one weekend each fall to take learning out of the classroom for junior year accounting majors and provide intensive training in these “softer skills,” as Gupta terms them.

“We do integrate these skills into the classroom, but here, they get a very concerted experience,” Gupta says.

This year’s Accounting Professionalism Conference, held on campus last weekend, brought in 58 professionals from 17 different companies—including the Big Four—to help 120 Lehigh students gain an understanding of what the profession of accounting is all about. Twenty-two Lehigh faculty and staff members also took part.

In addition to communications training, the conference offered the accounting majors a “very practical” introduction to networking, says Kenneth Sinclair, professor of accounting, who founded the annual conference in 1991 after attending a communications training seminar in Florida put on by Ernst & Young.

‘You can own the world’


Sinclair, who was accounting department chair when he started the conference, says that Lehigh’s accounting program has always sought not only to prepare graduates to earn meaningful entry-level positions, but also to move into leadership positions within eight to 10 years.

“Once you develop the skills that an accounting degree at Lehigh provides, you can do whatever you want,” Gupta says. “You can own the world.”

A panel discussion on the opening night of the conference Friday drove that point home, as alumni representing a range of successful professions talked about their careers. Returning to Lehigh to share their knowledge and experience on the panel were Lauren (Falkow) Albertson ’05, ’06, who works in economic and valuation services for KPMG in Philadelphia; David Stafford ’82, managing director of The Mercadien Group in Princeton, N.J.; William Keating ’72, ’74, director of government contracts consulting for Navigant Consulting, Inc., in Vienna, Va; Carl Rinaldi ’79, managing director of the hedge fund sales team and senior vice president for AllianceBernstein in New York City; and Janet Williams ’85, vice president, finance, consumer groups for Johnson & Johnson. Rounding out the panel was Ken Bouyer, Americas Director of Inclusiveness Recruiting for Ernst & Young.

“It gives students a real good overview of what they can do with an accounting degree,” says Jack Paul, professor of accounting, who organized this year’s conference.

Saturday was crammed full of practical, hands-on training sessions, including team-building exercises and discussions on career opportunities, the power of values, personal communications styles, oral communications and networking.

“The technical skills are important, but without these other skills, you’re not going to be able to do the technical work,” Paul says.

The conference is free for students, as the companies and recruiters that take part underwrite the costs. Still, it’s a daunting undertaking for the accounting department each year. Paul began lining up panel members in February, and the event took more than six months of planning.

Many students gain more from the conference than just a better-developed set of interpersonal skills and a deeper understanding of the profession they’ve chosen. Many also leave with valuable leads on internships and jobs.

Story by Jack Croft

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2009

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