The Prepped Team
September 7, 2022
Accountants are frequently among the most in-demand professionals in Canada, and a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation opens the door to even more careers and opportunities for advancement into senior roles across every industry. CPAs are sought after for their financial expertise, strategic advice, and leadership capabilities to help organizations succeed. A globally recognized credential, the Canadian CPA designation earns you an exceptional reputation for financial knowledge and professional integrity around the world.
A career in accounting offers abundant job opportunities, even if you choose to not pursue a CPA designation. We’re here to help chart your course from student to accountant. Our goal is to equip you with the knowledge to successfully land your first job in accounting—whether or not you pursue a CPA designation.
In this article:
The Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation is necessary to fulfil all the responsibilities of an accountant. Without it, you are limited in the services you can offer. CPA is a regulated occupation and you’ll be certified only after completing rigorous education and practical experience requirements. Only CPAs can perform audits and issue audited reports—accountants without this designation cannot. Hence, CPAs are considered to be the most trusted advisors for finance.
While you don’t necessarily require a CPA designation to work as an accountant, applicants to entry-level or mid-level accounting jobs will likely need, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree or diploma in accounting or other finance-related major.
As a recent graduate, there are a variety of accounting jobs you can apply for. If you’re considering pursuing a CPA now or in the near future, you may want a role that has potential to contribute toward your practical experience requirement. Whatever your professional goals, some entry-level career options available are: bookkeeper, accounting clerk, accounting assistant, financial analyst, junior accountant, project accountant, staff accountant, and accounting technician.
Keep in mind, if you have registered as a CPA student in your provincial or regional regulatory body and begun the certification process, you will need to secure a qualified position with an employer that’s approved by your CPA regulating body (refer to Complete your qualified work experience sub-section).
To qualify for the CPA designation, you must complete the CPA certification program. For admission into the program, you must hold a bachelor’s degree in any subject from a Canadian or international university. Once admitted, you need to: complete the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP); fulfil the practical experience requirement (PER); and pass the Common Final Examination (CFE) to become a CPA.
To get started, register with your provincial or regional CPA regulating body and submit your academic transcripts for assessment.
Once your transcript has been assessed, you will be notified as to whether you have all the academic prerequisites to begin the CPA Professional Education Program (PEP). If your undergraduate degree includes all the prerequisites, you can apply for entry into the PEP immediately. If your undergraduate degree is missing prerequisites, you can complete them at any post-secondary institution or through the CPA preparatory courses (PREP), which offers a self-study format.
The CPA PEP is a two-year graduate-level education program that adheres to the standards of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). Delivered on a part-time basis through your provincial or regional body, the program consists of six modules that progressively build your level of knowledge and skill (and should be taken sequentially). They include: two core (common) modules, two elective modules, and two capstone modules.
The core modules cover six technical competency areas: financial reporting, strategy and governance, management accounting, audit and assurance, finance, and taxation.
For the elective modules, you can choose any two subjects from assurance, performance management, tax, and finance. CPA Public Accounting students must pick assurance and tax.
The capstone modules integrate the core technical knowledge and enabling competencies you learn during the earlier modules in preparation for the Common Final Examination (CFE).
You may, alternately, complete all or part of the PEP through an accredited academic program that includes the required modules and confers a graduate diploma or master’s degree. For example, some post-secondary institutions offer a Graduate Diploma (GDip) in Accounting which fast-tracks the process so that graduates enter the CPA PEP at the Capstone 1 module directly (having completed the first four modules at school). Other programs, such as the University of Saskatchewan’s Master of Professional Accounting Program, cover the entire PEP; students need only write the CFE after graduation.
The educational requirement is only one part of the certification process to become a CPA. You must also complete the Practical Experience Requirement (PER) which is at least 30 months of work experience (24 months in Quebec). You can choose between two pathways to meet your PER. These are:
In the Pre-Approved Program Route (PPR), you work for an employer that has a formal student training program pre-approved by the CPA to meet all the requirements within 30 months. The “big four” accounting firms (PriceWaterhouseCooper, Ernst and Young, Deloitte, and KPMG) are best known for recruiting CPA students into their programs. However, there are many additional businesses that offer the PPR experience—from mid-size accounting firms to banks, and more. As a CPA student, you must apply for these positions directly to be hired by the employer.
For this route, you can secure an accounting position on your own, however you must have the job pre-assessed and approved by your CPA regulating body to ensure it can count toward your 30 months of PER. The benefits to this route are: you have flexibility to progress at your own pace, you have more job options, and you can work for a company, or in an industry, you’re passionate about. Even if you’re not registered with the CPA when you begin this job, you can later request that up to 12 months of your work experience be considered toward your PER. A potential downside is that there is no guarantee the position will meet all your PER requirements within 30 months as a PPR position will. Therefore, it may take longer to gain qualified work experience.
For both the PPR and EVR options, you must be supervised and have a mentor to develop the required competencies for CPA certification. In PPR, the supervisor assigns you work according to the program and the employer provides you a mentor who works in the company. In EVR, more of the onus is on you, the student. Your supervisor assigns you work based on your job description, and you are responsible for finding a mentor from your own professional network. Regardless of the route you take—PPR or EVR—you are required to document your experience on a regular basis throughout the work term.
Once you’ve completed the PEP and your required work experience, the next step is to write the nationally administered Common Final Examination (CFE). During this three-day exam, you must solve business-case simulations and demonstrate competence in the technical areas covered in the PEP. You are allowed up to three attempts to pass each of the three days.
It may take six to seven years to obtain your CPA designation, including the time spent completing your undergraduate education. However a number of factors can increase or decrease that time frame, including whether you need to complete prerequisite courses to start the CPA program, whether you plan to enrol in a graduate program to fast-track the PEP, and the speed with which you complete your work experience requirements. Typically, it takes around two years just to complete the PEP while working part-time to meet your work experience requirement. That being said, you have up to six years to complete the education program.
Once all the requirements are complete and approved by your CPA regulating body, you will be certified as a CPA. With this designation, you may choose to pursue any number of new job opportunities to advance your career, explore a new industry, and potentially increase your compensation.
Your resume will likely be the most important document for your job search. Both your cover letter and resume help employers ascertain if you’re an ideal fit for the role and if they should interview you. That’s a lot of pressure placed on one single document. Thankfully, there are some dos and don’ts to crafting an impressive resume that’ll help you land your first accounting job. Whether you’re looking for a job to fulfil your CPA work requirement or want to start building a career in accounting right after you graduate, here are some expert tips to get you started:
Start with a resume format that’s most suited to your skills, experience, and career level. Since you’re looking for an entry level accounting role, a functional resume format may be the right choice because it highlights your strengths and transferable skills and de-emphasizes your lack of accounting or finance-related work experience.
Carefully review each job description and the recruitment method for each company. Although some positions may appear similar, pay attention to details like work culture, company mission, and support if you’re pursuing your CPA. You can gather valuable information about the industry and organization by networking with other accounting professionals, comparing job descriptions, and targeting companies of interest. Not only will these insights help you craft an impressive resume, they’ll come in handy during CPA recruitment drives and interviews.
Although you may not have a work history in accounting, you’ve likely acquired valuable skills through your studies, internships, and volunteer or part-time work that employers want for an entry level accounting role. While your GPA will be an important determinant for recruiters, don’t discount the significance of the hard and soft skills you’ve developed that are critical for accounting roles, including analytical thinking, excellent communication, attention to detail, high ethical standards, and technological proficiency in software, such as Microsoft Excel.
Your undergraduate degree in accounting or other finance-related major should be prominently placed on your resume, along with any additional education related to accounting such as the Graduate Diploma in Accounting (GDip). If you’re a registered CPA student, you already convey a serious commitment to the profession which can be a draw for employers interested in developing young recruits for advancement within the company. Be sure to include any additional certifications or training such as proficiency in specific software, artificial intelligence (AI), or other industry-specific training.
Even though your resume emphasizes your education over your work history, employers still want to know if you’ve held past jobs—through part-time work, volunteer experience, or internships—to indicate your work ethic, responsibility, ability to prioritize tasks, and willingness to learn. Be sure to keep your descriptions brief and capture only what’s most relevant to the job you’re applying for. Wherever possible, highlight your achievements or accomplishments instead of merely jotting down what you did in each role. This will help employers visualize the impact you created in previous roles and give them a compelling reason to hire you.
No matter how impressive your resume is, you won’t likely get an interview if it can’t pass the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) many employers use. In order to get through this initial filter include exact-match keywords from the job description in your resume and cover letter where relevant. If you’re not sure your resume is ATS friendly, use the Prepped Resume Scanner to check how closely your resume matches the job description.
The value of a powerful cover letter cannot be overstated. Your cover letter for an accounting job is an opportunity to demonstrate your passion for accounting and finance, motivation to become a CPA, why you want to work for the company, as well as your most relevant skills and achievements.
Applying for your first accounting job can be overwhelming, especially when you’ve just graduated and don’t have experience. Where do you look for jobs? And more importantly, how do you convince employers that you’re qualified? Here are some tips to help you land your first job in accounting:
Consider what your short-term and long-term goals are. Have you decided to pursue your CPA? If so, will this job help fulfil your work experience requirement (even if you don’t register for the CPA program for another year)? If you have registered as a CPA student, are you looking for a job in a pre-approved program or will the job need to meet EVR requirements?
Before you apply to a job position, ask yourself how it aligns with your career goals. A job in a PPR program may provide perks like covering CPA student fees, time off for studying, and a guarantee that your work term will be completed in 30 months. However, an EVR position may offer more varied work experience in an industry you’re passionate about.
This is something you can (and definitely should) start doing before you graduate. While in university, look for part-time jobs that require skills that build and polish your accounting skills, such as working as a bookkeeper for a local business.
Even if your previous jobs weren’t in a related field, you have likely cultivated transferable skills that are useful for an accounting job. For instance, if you volunteered as a treasurer for a student club in your university, you may already have experience in preparing budgets and keeping financial records.
Networking is key to unlocking employment opportunities and there are many ways to connect with other accounting professionals. Ideally, you should start building your network while you’re still enrolled in university or college. Start with your professors, classmates, managers in your part-time jobs, and school alumni.
Don’t underestimate the power of social media. Keep your personal social media accounts private and make sure you don’t post or comment anything that can be perceived as unprofessional on social networks like LinkedIn. Leverage LinkedIn to build connections with alumni who attended your school—message them to set up a coffee chat. You can rely on your expanding network for guidance, job referrals, and to be introduced to hiring decision-makers in various companies. Building a professional network can provide additional benefits such as peer-to-peer learning and mentorships as you forge your career path.
If you’re currently pursuing your CPA, you’re a member of your provincial or regional CPA regulating body and its community of accountants who are often willing and eager to help aspiring CPAs build their careers. These organizations also have networking events, professional development courses, and conferences to help you build more connections. Even if you’re still in undergraduate studies, your local CPA regulating body may offer opportunities to join as a student or connect with its campus ambassadors—potentially improving your likelihood of landing a promising job after graduation.
Be on the lookout for opportunities to expand your skill set through certifications and online courses. If you are using the functional resume format, you will be highlighting your skills, and certifications are a great way to do that. Many accounting and tax platforms, such as QuickBooks and H&R Block, offer certifications that showcase your familiarity with the software. Your provincial CPA body may also offer online courses to advance your proficiency in software such as Excel and data analytics and reporting tools, or increase your knowledge in subject areas like tax or business intelligence (BI) automation.
Whether your first accounting job is to fulfil your CPA work requirement or to pursue a career in finance, you will have to provide good references as part of the interview process. Collecting strong references before you begin your job search is good practice and you’ll be prepared when a potential employer requests them. Before graduating, ask your professors to be your references, and if you worked part-time or volunteered, managers make ideal references, too.
If pursuing your CPA, some accounting firms hire up to one year in advance through recruitment drives. Firms publish recruitment dates and application deadlines for CPA students on their websites—so keep an eye on them. You can also attend on-campus recruitment events and visit the career portal for your university or college. When it’s time to actively seek full-time jobs, keep a close eye on popular online platforms like LinkedIn, Workopolis, or Monster. Don’t forget to connect with recruiters who specialize in accounting careers. Keep in mind not all available job opportunities are posted publicly. Your network can help you access the hidden job market and learn about jobs that aren’t widely advertised.
Your resume has been shortlisted and now you’re wondering what the interview process will entail. How many steps can you expect? And how long will it take to get a job offer?
While the answer will be different for each individual, many companies, especially accounting firms that actively recruit CPA students, schedule their annual recruitment drives in the fall. To prepare for the recruitment period, make note of application deadlines for each firm and attend their recruitment information sessions (online or in-person). However, there’s no need to feel pressured to secure a position in this window of time, especially if you’re considering the EVR route to obtain your practical experience.
Although the recruitment process will be a bit different in each organization, you can expect multiple interview rounds before landing a job offer. The first interview is typically a screening round meant to gauge your interest and overall qualification for the role, which can be conducted over the phone, as an on-demand video interview or a live video interview. Besides that, you can expect the interview process to include a culture fit interview, a one-on-one interview with the hiring manager, and one or more panel interviews. In some cases, you may also need to complete an assignment or case study to demonstrate your accounting acumen as part of the hiring process. Most colleges and universities have a career centre to help you prepare for interviews with tips, in-person practice, and feedback on where to improve.
Interviews are often the most stressful part of the job search process because you can’t predict what questions will be asked. Most interviews will have at least a few general questions, behavioural questions, and culture fit questions. In addition, there may be technical questions applicable to accounting to help the employer assess your readiness for the role. Here are some questions you may encounter while interviewing for entry-level accounting jobs:
Preparing for commonly asked questions in advance will ensure you’re confident and ready to ace your interviews and get your first accounting job. You can also record yourself and practice answering these common interview questions with Prepped AI Interviewer.
A career in accounting offers many exciting opportunities for professional and personal growth that will depend on whether you want to pursue your CPA. Our goal is to support you at every step of your career, from the time you enter the job market until you’ve found firm footing in your industry. Prepped’s tools will help you craft an ATS-friendly resume and practice your interview skills, so you are all set to land your dream job. Sign up for Prepped for access to a learning library and tools that’ll help you navigate your job search and grow in your chosen career.