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Five types of courses to help students land their dream job

The audit and accounting profession is less homogeneous than it was 30 years ago. Enormous change, technological innovation and shifts in the capital markets are pushing auditors to new heights, demanding more diversified skill sets, according to the American Accounting Association.

While getting a CPA certification is still a mainstay of being an auditor, audit firms are placing greater emphasis today on hiring candidates with backgrounds in technology, data science and analytics, as well as fields that emphasize softer skills. In short, companies want auditors with diverse skills.

For students aspiring toward a career in the audit and assurance profession, embracing electives that could stand out on their resumes, in addition to completing core coursework, can help set them apart. Electives that map back to the real-world situations that today’s auditors face — applying professional judgement and skepticism, harnessing data analytics, using cutting-edge technologies like bots and tools that leverage artificial intelligence — are strategic ways for students to enhance their marketability to prospective employers.

As students look to build out their class schedules for the coming school year, here’s a list of some of the course types they can consider when preparing for a career in the audit and assurance space:

1. Data science courses. Data analytics is rapidly moving auditors away from sampling a representative set of data toward auditing entire data populations, greatly enhancing the auditors’ ability to find needles in a haystack and discover outliers and trends. Therefore, accounting majors should seriously consider taking courses that delve deeper into frameworks that map audit objectives to innovation and automated data analytic procedures. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, for instance, provides courses that allow students to take a deeper dive into business analytics, alongside their traditional accounting degree.

2. Courses in artificial intelligence and cognitive learning. Building experience through the use of innovative tools and platforms can help auditors increase the efficiency and quality of audits by enabling them to focus on high-risk areas and reduce error-prone, manual tasks. As cited in Deloitte’s cognitive technologies perspectives series, there is already much investment within the audit profession to build and leverage proprietary automation, and cognitive and analytics capabilities internally within an organization.

3. Advanced risk management modules. As pointed out in Deloitte's latest Audit Value Survey report, organizations are putting major emphasis on the value that they can get out of auditing. C-level executives now understand the value audit can have in strengthening a business, with 49 percent agreeing that today’s financial statement audits have helped them to uncover a risk (in contrast to 40 percent in 2016). Auditors will need to bring critical and creative thinking to the risk analysis and assessment process and apply cognitive technology to gain a deeper understanding of risks and how to develop audit procedures that are responsive. They will have to be well-versed in telling data-rich stories and more equipped than ever before to provide clients with valuable insights to consider.

4. Blockchain courses. If you think an immutable record of transactions will erase the need for auditors, think again. According to a report released in 2017 by the American Institute of CPAs and the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada, blockchain actually makes it necessary for auditors to become comfortable with a whole new set of risks, such as more complex forms of fraud, and thus may significantly change how auditors do their jobs.

There is an increasing adoption of blockchain by businesses, and many accounting firms have undertaken blockchain initiatives to further understand the implications of this important and versatile technology. Audit and assurance professionals should stay abreast of developments and continue to learn more about blockchain business applications, blockchain in accounting, and blockchain audit technology. In fact, one of the beneficial outcomes of blockchain is easier access to structured data which can then be used to generate advanced analytics and accelerate machine learning.

5. “Soft” skill courses, such as ethics of emerging business technologies. The need for auditor judgment and smart decision-making skills cannot be replaced. It’s imperative that audit students understand how to navigate inherent biases that newer technologies will inevitably introduce. Some already see it as a business imperative that auditors become more comfortable with words, feelings and debate in addition to becoming competent when it comes to numbers-based activities.

The audit and accounting profession is constantly evolving, but taking elective classes like these isn’t the only way college students can get up to speed on what’s new and relevant and stand out on their resumes. Most universities offer other ways for students to get real-world experience in the profession, including lecture series and student-led project competitions. Students can also connect with their on-campus career center to explore externship and internship opportunities, mentorship programs and more.

This may sound like a lot of effort for college students, many of whom already have heavy course loads, but the fact of the matter is that today’s accounting majors constitute a new generation of auditors who are primed to have a significant influence on the evolution of the audit and assurance profession. Being proactive now in terms of jumpstarting their careers may put them in a position of greater strength later in their professional lives.