Despite a challenging job market, the unemployment rate for senior accountants and auditors is a relatively low 4.1 percent, according to Robert Half Finance & Accounting.

That’s considerably lower than the current unemployment rate of 7.8 percent, pointed out Paul C. McDonald, a senior executive director of Robert Half International, during an interview last Thursday at the Accounting Today offices.

One of the hottest areas, he noted, is a business systems analyst who is able to bring together financial information from reports into a kind of dashboard to provide information at a glance into revenue, operating profit, inventory levels and other areas.

McDonald said Robert Half is projecting accounting salaries to grow 3.3 percent in 2013, while technology salaries will grow approximately 5.3 percent. Robert Half’s 2013 Salary Guide provides a more specific breakdown by skill, size of company, and geographic area.

“One of the hottest backgrounds out there right now is a CPA with three to six years’ experience in public accounting,” said McDonald.

The geography and industry vary. In New York, for example, a CPA with three to six years of experience working with clients in the financial services industry would be extremely marketable.

“If you poked your head out and said, ‘I’m on the market,’ and you really diligently used recruiters and LinkedIn, you would probably find yourself with multiple offers in two to four weeks,” said McDonald.

Senior financial analysts with an MBA and five to eight years of experience in not only accounting, but also budgeting and financial analysis, are highly sought after, he added.

Accountants who understand the systems area, whether it’s enterprise resource planning systems or report writing, are also in high demand. That includes ERP systems such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Dynamics and Oracle’s JD Edwards and Hyperion business intelligence software. Being familiar with the latest versions of the software is important.

Other jobs that are in demand include controllers, assistant controllers, accounting managers, and employees who can handle SEC reporting. Global companies also are demanding employees who are familiar with International Financial Reporting Standards.

Companies are also seeking compliance professionals and auditors who are familiar with Basel III and Dodd-Frank requirements, especially in the New York metropolitan area. Both internal and external auditors are in demand.

“The public accounting firms that are doing external audit are going to demand individuals that have financial services experience and audit expertise, but your internal audit departments are going to do a lot of self-policing as a result of Dodd-Frank and Basel III and whatever other regulation is going to come out,” said McDonald.

Besides the financial services industry, the health care industry     is also demanding accounting and finance professionals to do what-if analysis about health care reform, determining the impact on their business depending on which parts of the Affordable Care Act are implemented or not. McDonald is also seeing some demand for forensic accountants and auditors.

Accountants who don’t have experience in a particular area can gain it through a temporary job or a project engagement. Robert Half also operates Accountemps to fill temporary accounting jobs.
McDonald said he is seeing broad demand for accountants across the country.

“If you’re an employer looking for people, the advice is: if you see somebody good, don’t hesitate, because they may not be around when you come back to them,” said McDonald. “And we’re finding that the savvy client of ours has that in their mind now, where if somebody hasn’t looked for an employee in two or three years, you may still think that you have the pick of the litter. Well, you may get a lot of resumes, but once you sort through those candidates, you may not have any gold. If you do have the luxury of seeing one, sort to it and get the person in front of you right away.”

Accounting students are also seeing demand pick up for their services after they graduate. A student who interns with a Big Four or a large international firm may be recruited in their junior year to start the job right after they graduate.

“The competition for the new grad is hot and heavy,” said McDonald. “Not all the new grads are interested in becoming public accountants. There’s still that contingent you should be going after on campus to try and get for private industry. If you’re waiting until the people graduate, you may not have the best picks.”

Students who get guidance and career advice early tend to get jobs after college sooner, McDonald pointed out. They get internships and career counseling and make themselves more marketable.

“Students who don’t seek out career advice and wait until graduation or the last semester of their senior year are going to have trouble, said McDonald. “Those that look for internships and guidance early are going to get the job.”