Greater opportunities and pressures are facing Class of ’21 grads than did a great many of today’s CFOs when they got their undergraduate degrees in the 1980s and 1990s.
“Today, the breadth of potential industries and companies a college graduate can join is much wider. College graduates can choose from a wide range of industries and size of firms to begin their career,” said Paul Clancy, senior visiting lecturer of finance at Cornell University’s Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.
When they enter the workforce, they’re going to find the pressure is greater than when many current CFOs got their first jobs, Clancy said.
“The pace of change facing corporations has been a trend: the time management teams have to respond to any issue has compressed, whether that be a competitive threat, employee demands, or customer expectations for service, quality and value,” he said.
Adding to the strain is that, given changes in job patterns in recent years, is the reality that they are unlikely to retire from the company they joined right out of college, he said.
Looking broadly at the business world, the professor said technology and life science companies are now contributing to the lion's share of the economy and its growth usurping the prominence industrial and manufacturing companies held three decades ago.
“Equally important, is what has not changed for college graduates seeking a business career. Many of the fundamental qualities to succeed are the same, including, strong analytical skills and critical thinking prowess, hard work and perseverance, integrity, and an ability to work in teams. These skills, many which are developed at your university or college, can continue to be honed throughout life,” the Cornell finance lecturer said.
One of the most recent differences between the Class of 2021 business school grads and the entry to the workforce of the current CFOs is the need over the last year to thrive in a virtual environment, said Janet Huang, assistant dean of graduate career management and corporate relations at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.
How to be effective in the business world remotely and in person is a skill the McCombs school is stressing with the expectation the savvy will be needed beyond the pandemic, Huang said.
“As the post-pandemic world adopts hybrid approaches to work [a mix of in-person and virtual work], the pivot to virtual learning this academic year for both career management activities and academics has provided the training needed for our students to be successful beyond the classroom,” Huang said.
She added that since leading through ambiguity and with agility are critical skills needed across all disciplines and functions with the great uncertainty in the world, the university’s undergraduate and graduate business programs provide experiential learning that gives students the opportunity to strengthen these skills.
Agility was becoming more important for finance teams even for the pandemic, something that has been impressed on this year’s grads, said Andrew Harding, chief of management accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.
The new graduates need to recognize it’s essential for finance professionals to broaden their digital skills — e.g. data analytics, risk management, cybersecurity and business modeling — and be recognized for questioning constructively, guiding strategic decision-making, partnering with their peers, managing risks, and implementing projects, as well as providing reliable management information.
Communication and commercial skills are also more important than they were when today’s CFOs graduated decades ago, Harding said.
In the new normal in a post-pandemic world, they will need to master a wide range of technical, business, people, leadership, and digital skills, he stressed.