Success in the Finance/Accounting Field After the Military
By: Paul Bayer
One of the many challenges facing a retiring military candidate in the Finance and Accounting arena is convincing prospective employers that the quantitative nature of the work in military operations is consistent with that of the private sector. So often, companies stress the fact that the military number-cruncher is not profit motivated. After all, the military operates on a not-for-profit basis. There is a fallacy among hiring managers in private industry that the bottom line does not matter when it comes to government operations. How can you overcome these objections?
First, it is important to prepare a resume that highlights your quantitative skill set. Usually, this is the tool used to catch a prospective employer's attention. Use proper finance and accounting catch phrases that will grab the attention of a hiring manager and help you secure an interview. Some skills hiring managers look for are:
- Journal entry posting
- Monthly closing of books
- Financial statement preparation
- Explanation of variances to independent authorities
The double entry accounting system remains consistent, so a candidate who has performed detailed accounting functions will usually have sound technical skills. The Financial Accounting Standards Board recently passed guidelines for non-profit organizations, dictating that they report their financial operation results in a similar manner to those operating on a profit basis. For example:
Statement of Financial Accounting Standards #117, "Financial Statements of Not-for-Profit Organizations," discusses how to report the elements of the required financial statements and dictates that they should be similar to those financial statements required or permitted for businesses. The goal is to help users of the financial statements make informed decisions about the utilization of resources. The information provided should help users to assess the entity's ability to continue to provide services, as well as its liquidity, financial flexibility, ability to meet obligations and need for external financing.
Candidates can use this statement to persuade prospective employees that financial reporting in military operations follows closely the financial reporting in the private sector.
The interview is by far the most important step in the process. You must be able to intelligently discuss your day-to-day work experience. By researching the accounting systems of the prospective employer, you may gain an advantage, so try to find out what type of general ledger system is used and then parallel technical skills with it. Many software systems utilize the same commands, so military candidates can impress employers with their knowledge of those systems, as well as their ability to manipulate data for posting and reporting.
Impress the prospective employer with the size and type of accounts that you have maintained. For instance, it is impressive if you reconciled vast amounts of money and accounted for large balances, since this requires detail and focus. It also demonstrates responsibility and initiative because the larger the account balances, the more propensities for errors in posting. Remember that these reconciliation skills transcend to the business sector.
Military vs. Civilian - Skills Match
In summary, it is important that you demonstrate accountability. Despite the fact that the military is a not-for-profit operation, the candidate must impress upon the prospective employer that the accounting skills demanded consistent and comparable financial reporting to those expected in the private sector. The bottom line is that the accounting still required verifiable data to be reported on a timely basis.