Career Tips

Surmounting the two-year-experience dilemma – Part 1

graduate thinking about  job

This is the first of a two-part blog post in which CPABC’s Manager of Employment Initiatives, Dan Relihan, CPA, CGA, MBA, will explore why so many employers ask for two years of experience for entry-level jobs, and how you can get the interview anyway.


We’re all too familiar with this dilemma, and just as baffled by it as are the hundreds of post-secondary students we meet. Grads looking for that first job out of school often feel that they run straight into a wall. You want that entry-level job; you’re bright, ambitious and fully capable of learning new skills with blistering speed.  Yet every job seems to require two years’ related work experience.


Yes, it certainly can be valuable to bring related work experience to the table—that’s why co-op can be so beneficial. But are all other students doomed? What about the majority of students who didn’t do co-op, or did unrelated co-op? What do they put on their resumés? How do they possibly land the interview?


Here’s the good news: We don’t believe that the majority of these employers truly require related work experience, and may not, in the end, insist on work experience at all.


The Business Council of British Columbia’s published report called “What Are BC Employers Looking For?”  covers the skills and attributes employers want in new hires.


First of all, the report states that employers expect accounting to be one of the areas where a return to a ‘skill shortage’ is expected. This alone should give students cause for optimism.


Equally encouraging in the report are the attributes and skills that employers are truly seeking for various jobs in a range of levels. Attributes such as positive attitude, energy, and passion topped the list, followed closely by honesty and integrity. As for skills, employers ranked speaking, listening, writing, decision making, problem solving, and teamwork the highest. So many of the listed attributes and skills are qualities that abound in so many of the students we meet, regardless of whether they actually have specific accounting experience.


In our own conversations with numerous HR managers from our CPABC Career Connect employment partners we often found that, though the job posting may state ‘two years of experience,’ employers may also be seeking attributes and skills not necessarily from specific work experience.  They often indicate they want two years’ experience to ensure that the candidates can demonstrate maturity, the ability to perform with responsibility and integrity, the ability to work on a team and/or with customers, and commitment. These are also traits that most post-secondary grads can demonstrate in abundance without two years of actual professional accounting experience.


So what’s the take-away?  Simply this: Most post-secondary students have already acquired many of the skills and attributes that employers are actually looking for when they state they require two-years of work experience. The trick is how to get them to recognize that.


Next week…. Part 2: How to showcase the skills and attributes you have acquired outside the workplace to beat the two-year experience trap and get that interview.




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