While many accounting graduates have traditionally gone the Big Four or big corporation route for their first job, finance executives say that they'd advise new grads to start small, according to a recent survey.

When asked which employment environment they'd recommend to today's accounting grads to begin their careers, nearly half (46 percent) of more than 1,400 chief financial officers polled said a small to midsized company, while 30 percent said a small to midsized public accounting firm.

Only 10 percent would recommend a large public accounting firm, and another 9 percent would advise grads to start at a large corporation, while 5 percent chose other or didn't know, according to a poll developed by staffing firm Accountemps.

The majority of CFOs (49 percent) said that they would recommend that new grads start out in general accounting, while 17 percent said that they would recommend specializing in internal audit, and 13 percent suggested cost accounting. Other areas of specializations that CFOs recommended included tax accounting (10 percent) and credit and collections (6 percent).

"Working at smaller companies -- public accounting firms or otherwise -- may provide finance and accounting professionals with more opportunities to assume expanded roles and increased responsibilities at an earlier stage in their careers," said Max Messmer, Accountemps chairman and author of Managing Your Career for Dummies. "Employees at small business frequently wear many hats because internal resources are often limited."

Commenting on the demand for general accounting experience, Messmer said, "The Sarbanes-Oxley Act and related corporate governance mandates have placed heightened emphasis on the accounting function. This has resulted in strong demand for individuals with expertise in a wide array of accounting and finance disciplines to handle ongoing work, ranging from processing journal entries to performing account analysis and reconciliation."

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