Magazine article The CPA Journal

Failure to Communicate

Magazine article The CPA Journal

Failure to Communicate

Article excerpt

Why Accounting Students Don't Measure Up to Professionals' Expectations

When accounting firms conduct recruiting efforts on college campuses, professionals frequently express concerns about students' communication skills. Many recruiters agree diat students are technically very strong but have surprisingly weak writing and speaking skUls. Professors are often at a loss to explain this discrepancy - during the past 15 years, most accounting curricula have been revised to require students to take multiple courses in communications.

The authors' research shows that a significant perception gap exists between professionals and students, with respect to the importance of communication skills to success in accounting. Accounting professionals seem to attach much more value to writing and speaking skills than do accounting students.

The gap cannot be closed by simply requiring students to take courses in speaking or writing. Years of adding communication courses to the accounting curriculum have not remedied the problem. Instead, the key to improving students' mastery of communication skills is to increase the value they attach to such skills. This takes place most effectively when it is driven by accounting professionals. Closing the perception gap between students and professionals requires employers to inform students why and how communication skills are critical to a successful career. Only when students understand the importance future employers place on such skills will they become motivated to master them.

Valuing Communication Skills

Both accounting practitioners and academics have acknowledged the importance of communication skills to an accountant's career success. The AICPA' s core competency framework for entry into the accounting profession emphasizes that communication skills are part of an accounting major's fundamental personal competencies. Researchers have also found that, as accountants advance in public accounting firms, those with better communication skills are more likely to get promoted. Other research reveals that mastery of die skills becomes increasingly important as accountants are promoted to die manager and partner levels.

Professional experience appears to have great effect on how much value an accountant attaches to communication skills. As accountants interact with clients, superiors, and coUeagues, they become more confident and skiUed in oral and written communication, and they gain more insight into the importance of communication skills.

In contrast students do not place as high a value on communication skills. And requiring students to take communication courses has not been sufficient in emphasizing the significance of these skills.

The authors surveyed and received responses from 262 upper-division undergraduate accounting majors and 23 1 accounting professionals. The latter were aU alumni of the same university as the students. The survey covered: 1) reasons for choosing accounting as a major, 2) perception of the importance of communication skills to career success; and 3) dernqgraphic information. Exhibits I and 2 present demographic data from the survey.

Reasons for Choosing the Major

Prior research suggests that students select accounting as a major because they have strong quantitative skills. The survey asked students and professionals the extent to which a perceived competency in either quantitative or communication skills affected their choice of accounting as a major.

Six questions on die survey asked die extent to which a perceived competency in either quantitative or qualitative areas led respondents to choose accounting as a major. AU questions began with the introductory phrase, "An important reason why I chose my major is that . . ." Respondents could select one of following for their responses: "strongly agree," "agree," "undecided," "disagree," or "strongly disagree," rated 5 to I, respectively. …

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