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Upskilling to become a more attractive accounting candidate

Posted on Thursday, May 2, 2019 by Gary Hunt

By Annette Hoelzer, CPA, adjunct professor, Franklin University

Prospective employers in the accounting field typically anticipate that entry level accountants will have some level of accounting experience, such as an internship, when they apply for a position. However, what if their life situation does not allow for an internship?

Most of our students at Franklin University are adult learners with families, jobs, school and other responsibilities. Often, they are not able to accept an internship that would not be full-time, that would be lower paying, or that does not provide benefits such as healthcare.

At Franklin University, we provide an alternative “real-world” work experience through a program called “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance” (VITA). VITA is an Internal Revenue Service initiative that provides free tax return preparation for taxpayers with incomes below $54,000. Students receive intensive training on individual tax concepts, with rigorous testing on the topics they will address most in the VITA tax preparation process. Through preparation of tax returns for the VITA clients, students gain experience in working with clients directly. They develop soft skills as well as technical proficiency. Most of all, they develop confidence. For example, one student this tax season was hesitant to respond to questions and to prepare returns on her own. As we near the conclusion of the project, she is now reviewing returns prepared by other students and meeting with clients to explain the return to them.

Besides the experience and technical knowledge students are gaining, what are other advantages of VITA? At least half the students involved are taking the program for college credit at Franklin. It is also good preparation for taking the Regulations section of the CPA exam. Students can experience the satisfaction of helping clients who cannot afford to have their taxes prepared by a paid preparer – Aby the end of this season, we anticipate that we will have served at least 375 clients. Many clients express deep appreciation, which then provides the students the satisfaction of providing an important community service. Whether you are an adult learner or a traditional college student, VITA provides the opportunity to develop skills that employers are looking for.


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