CPA to MBA: Conduct a Pre-Business School Audit

Every year, thousands of young accounting and audit professionals apply to top MBA programs. Having a CPA or having been promoted multiple times after successful client engagements is not sufficient to secure a seat in a top program.

Here are 8 areas for assessment and potential repositioning as you prepare to apply to business school.

Play to Your Strengths

Not all MBA candidates live in spreadsheets. Right now, you are surrounded by colleagues who are remarkably similar to you in terms of their analytical and quantitative prowess; your facility with numbers can be a real differentiator. You will have MBA classmates who will be fighting to have you on their teams. You will be a workhorse and do whatever it takes to get the job done.

Highlight Teamwork Skills

Audits aren’t done alone. Share how you have worked with others to accomplish goals. What role do you play on a team? Perhaps you are the one who dreams up silly games to play late night during crunch time to keep spirits up. Alternatively, have you sat with a struggling junior to patiently re-explain the task they can’t seem to perform?

Identify Areas for Development

If your have spent your entire career in one company, you likely have some blind spots that you can address during an MBA. Be clear about what you hope to learn and why it is important for your continued development as a professional.

Don’t be afraid to share that you are not comfortable leading cross-functional teams or that you need to develop a better understanding of competitive analysis and corporate strategy. You are returning to school to learn.

Demonstrate Leadership

Do you volunteer your expertise during tax time? Sure, but so does nearly every other accountant who wants an MBA. Do you help with recruiting from your undergrad institution? Again, many of those you are competing with to get a spot in a top MBA program do the same.

Highlight your commitment to mentoring juniors, developing new materials to on-board new hires, your innovative approach to getting project work completed while simultaneously offering those on your team growth opportunities.

Explain Global Exposure

We work in an increasingly global world. If you have global experience or exposure, flaunt it. What have you learned from living or studying in a different geography? How has that experience influenced how you interact with others? Do you take time to listen to perspectives that are different from your own? Are you more empathetic? Are you willing to take risks that get you out of your comfort zone?

No global experience yet? Now might be the time to ask for an overseas assignment.

Describe Industry-Specific Experiences

Is there a particular industry you have learned about through your audit work? Perhaps this has informed the direction you want to take post-MBA. Be specific about what intrigued you about this industry. What opportunities do you see for future growth or disruption in the space? What insight might you share with classmates that will add value to their learning?

Identify Potential Recommenders

Sometimes it is difficult to ask your current immediate supervisor to write a recommendation. Perhaps it will jeopardize your anticipated promotion. Who else will go to bat for you? Develop and nurture relationships with indirect managers who will champion your MBA efforts and to speak to your impact and contributions. Manage your relationships carefully.

Share Your Outside Passion

Let’s face it – accountants are stereotyped. And not always in a positive way. Highlight who you are when you aren’t engaged in an audit. Do you play ukulele in a house band? Volunteer to teach English to immigrants at the local public library? Did you organize the company softball team that competes in the local corporate league? Have you hiked the highest peak in every state west of the Mississippi? If there isn’t anything interesting about you, admissions committees might not be very interested in having you join their program.

Just as every business needs accountants to run, every top business school needs accountants in their cohort…just not an entire class full of them. Assess where you stand and what you need to adjust to be one of the accounting professionals selected to attend your dream MBA program.

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