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Project managers make great accountants

Changing careers shouldn’t mean abandoning the experience you already have.

For project managers interested in a new career with many opportunities, or for professionals who regularly tap into project management skills, working as an accountant or a corporate finance professional is a great way to leverage skills you already have, such as time management and organization, while adding and exploring new skills like data analysis and business leadership.

“Prior to pursuing my Master of Accounting degree, I managed operations at an early-stage startup and subsequently worked as a project manager for a boutique nonprofit consulting firm,” says Cathy Park, former Project Manager at H2Growth Strategies, current Assurance associate at EY, and 2020 UNC MAC graduate. “Both of those roles required strong time management and communication skills as well as attention to detail. I decided to pursue the Master of Accounting degree as it became very clear in both experiences that few people (myself included) had the technical knowledge to properly account for financial transactions or navigate financial statements.”

>> Check out our essential tips to switching careers

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Here are five ways that project management sets you up to transition strongly into accounting or corporate finance.

Focused on completion. Project managers are experts at meeting the needs of multiple stakeholders and getting projects completed.

Accountants also face demands from multiple stakeholders — clients, regulators and colleagues — while completing complex tasks and meeting deadlines. When companies are preparing corporate tax returns or completing audits, they need accountants who can work with others to complete these projects.

The Master of Accounting (MAC) curriculum at UNC Kenan-Flagler provides classes in financial reporting, auditing and other fundamental accounting topics to ensure that graduates are ready to tackle these critical projects.

“I started working at Ernst & Young after graduating, and the combination of accounting and project management skills have helped me stand out among my peers and meaningfully contribute to my teams.”

Detail oriented. Project managers spend much of their time keeping track of milestones, statuses and resources. A command of details is essential.

Accountants also need an eye for detail. Deadlines, regulations and highly specific standards are all part of an accountant’s life. A project manager already accustomed to keeping track of details is likely to thrive as an accountant.

In the MAC program, students not only gain mastery over accounting fundamentals, but also can take electives to dive deep into topics that interest them, such as the intersection of law and accounting or securities regulation.

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Team leaders. Ensuring a team collaborates successfully — cooperating, communicating and staying aligned on objectives and milestones — is at the heart of project management.

Accountants routinely work in teams and collaborate with others. And leading a team is often one of the first opportunities young accountants have for career advancement.

The UNC MAC program ensures accountants are well prepared for working in, and leading, teams by making group work a part of many courses and requiring students take a Leadership Immersion as part of the program.

Clear communicators. Every project manager knows that one of the fastest ways to derail a project is through poor communication.

Likewise, communication is a core job skill for accountants. In addition to working with numbers, accountants write memos and reports, deliver presentations and are frequently called upon to explain accounting judgments to executives without accounting backgrounds.

The MAC program prepares students with a required course in professional communications. In that class and others, they strengthen writing skills, practice presentations and learn to handle accounting-specific communication tasks they’ll face.

Problem solvers. Project managers often focus a lot of their energy dealing with surprise obstacles. As a result, they have well-honed skills in creative problem solving.

Problem solving is an essential skill for accountants, too. While the end goal for an accountant may be clearly defined, there are often challenges along the way. In those cases, accountants use their creativity, accounting knowledge and interpersonal skills to solve the problem.

In UNC’s MAC program, faculty teach classes on topics such as auditing and assurance services and electives such as negotiations. These classes help students learn to deal with obstacles they may encounter as accountants. Project managers who become accountants start out with great problem-solving skills and then strengthen these skills in the MAC program.

How else does a MAC degree open the door to a new career?

MAC students at UNC have access to robust career services and often receive job offers long before they’ve graduated. The flexible online curriculum allows students to attend fulltime or take classes part-time while they continue to work — whatever fits their goals and circumstances best, which was ideal for Cathy.

“While on the 1.5-year degree track,” she says, “I was also juggling a part-time job, looking for a full-time opportunity, and starting to study for my CPA exams. Needless to say, I had to be hyper-focused on managing all these aspects of my life, and the tools and support provided by the MAC educators and staff allowed me to stay on track. I started working at Ernst & Young after graduating, and the combination of accounting and project management skills that I’ve developed while at UNC have helped me stand out among my peers and meaningfully contribute to my teams.”

Learn more about how a MAC degree can lead to new opportunities.

>> View our essential tips to switching careers

>> Learn how one MAC grad made the move from engineer to tax