You Probably Shouldn't Major in Accounting

I had a student in my office this week. She was quiet, and polite, and asked her questions quite directly. "I'd like to make a career change. I'm thinking of a Masters in Professional Accounting. Can you tell me how to market myself so I can get a job?" 

I get asked about Accounting as a career path more than any other professional discipline. Why? Accounting is on the list of Skilled Occupations for migration to Australia, so anyone coming here from overseas has an eye on that list for career paths that come with a visa. There are other reasons too, domestic students pick accounting because it's clear. It sounds practical. Sensible. Surely every business everywhere needs Accountants. It's one that Mom and Dad can understand, be proud of. "Jack is an Accountant." Nothing says "risk-free" like Accounting. I see a lot of risk-averseness in my office. 

Accounting is safe. And now I let you in on a secret: it's not just Accounting that's safe. I have students who study Law, Nursing, Engineering, because they think that those fields are in demand, and they'll have a job waiting for them when they graduate. 

The Job Market

There is nothing inherently wrong about considering the job market when you choose what you want to study in University, it is indeed an important factor. In fact I used to have to have tough conversations with my Library Science students who didn't realize that the national demand for Librarians was...slim...and that the pay would be barely enough to cover their student loans in only the best cases. Knowing the reality of the job market you're about to step into is very important, but it certainly shouldn't be the primary basis of your decision on a major or career path. 

What is more important than job market is who you are as a person, what you're naturally predisposed to, and what you WANT. That's right, I used all caps. 

What Do you Want? 

Because what you think other people want is not the same thing as what you want, and it's not the same as what is actually needed. And all that should factor in what you've actually been doing with your time, what you enjoy and are good at, if you're going to make a decision about what to major in or what to pursue as a career. And if you don't know what you want yet (normal!), then take action to figure it out. Take a bunch of fun classes. Or go travel. Or work in a few jobs that are close to what you think you might want. Definitely get an internship. Or come see me. But don't just pick Accounting. 

When you choose a major or a career that lights you up, that makes you excited and curious and is the kind of thing you could stay up all night to do, that's when you'll find your job opportunities. You'll throw yourself into that field so fully that you'll become an expert, a go-to, the best of the best. And then you'll start to see opportunity everywhere. You'll see problems that can be solved with your skill-set because you love your skill-set so much that you've perfected it and are excited to use it. If you pick something that sounds safe and like it's hiring a bunch of people then you'll find yourself in the predicament that many of my accounting students now face - a glut on the market of Accountants who all thought they could get a job and who now have to compete with hundreds of other people exactly like them, because they didn't take the time to figure out what makes them unique as a professional contributor to the world. 

The world needs you to be passionate about your career path, not just a bunch of reasonably qualified people who meet minimum qualifications. It can be hard to get passionate when you're young and don't know what you want yet, and that's ok. But that means you should put some effort into developing that before you pick a major in something you don't love. Get busy.