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Beyond the numbers: Accounting students develop "soft skills"

Glenn Sward ’92, head of Americas recruiting at SAP HR Operations, leads a panel discussion during the conference.

Students at the 19th-annual Conference on Accounting Professionalism recently were provided a rare opportunity: the chance to network and interact with high-profile accounting professionals from firms across the nation.

The weekend conference began with a panel discussion and dinner at Iacocca Hall, where junior accounting students and graduate students were encouraged to develop their “soft skills” and capitalize on the collective experience of the professionals and Lehigh alumni in the room.

Gopal Krishnan, director of the accounting conference and the Joseph R. Perella and Amy M. Perella Chair in accounting, kicked off the evening by providing students with a framework for the weekend’s activities.

“The purpose of this conference is two-fold: first, to provide you with an opportunity to interact and network with professionals; and second, to enhance your interpersonal skills, which are just as important as the technical skills you are learning in the classroom.”

More than 50 Lehigh alumni and professionals from 15 different companies were in attendance to share their collective wisdom with the nearly 100 accounting students who sacrificed a Friday night for professional development.

Confidence is critical

The evening continued with a panel discussion, moderated by Glenn Sward ’92, head of Americas recruiting at SAP HR Operations. Sward prefaced the discussion with a nod to the significance of the event. 

“This conference is an outstanding event that is for and about you, the students,” Sward said. “So take advantage of it, because it’s an investment you’re making in your own future.”

The panel, composed of six accounting professionals from various organizations, offered many key messages to students, one of which was to use their time at the conference to narrow down their own interests and potential career paths.

“Use this conference as the tool it is to try to figure out where you want to be and what you want to do in the accounting industry,” said Michael Deseno ’97, senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Panelists also gave students advice on the interview process, emphasizing the value of interpersonal skills.

“What I’m looking for in a candidate is someone I can have a conversation with,” said John Stitt ’91, director of customer contract management at Merck. “Your GPA is a screen that gets you in the door. Once you’re in, it’s all about you.”

Another theme that echoed throughout the evening was the value of a Lehigh education.

“Lehigh really prepares you for the real world,” said Cathy Engelbert ’86, a partner at Deloitte. “I can’t tell you how many clients have told me that everyone they meet from Lehigh is so well-rounded and well-balanced.” 

Students were encouraged throughout the evening to be confident and assertive, and to reach across the table to shake the hands of their professional counterparts.

Other panelists included Richard Carpenter ’76, CFO of The Vanguard Group; Sean Denham ’94, partner at Grant Thornton; and Preston Wells ’03G, finance director of financial planning and analysis, global supply chain at Johnson & Johnson. 

 

Story by Adrienne Wright

Posted on Monday, October 04, 2010

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