Young Pros Investigate Fraud As a Career Option

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On Balance – The Magazine for Wisconsin CPAs
January/February 2007

Ever since the big corporate scandals at Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, there has been an intense focus on fraud. This has made the field of forensic accounting the next hot career for young professionals. The prospect of investigating fraud seems exciting and cutting-edge.

Fraud examiners come in all shapes and sizes. They include private investigators, law enforcement personnel, paralegals and insurance investigators. Internal auditors and independent auditors may also focus on fraud detection. Bank examiners, government investigators and forensic accountants perform fraud investigation functions. The field is still expanding, and a wide variety of jobs exist for the professional who is fascinated by fraud and white-collar crime.

It can be difficult for young professionals to break into the field. Many new graduates request forensic accounting positions, although companies seek professionals with several years of experience in fraud examination. With intense competition for available positions, a strong resume related to fraud examination is more important than ever.

Education
Younger professionals generally need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to qualify for most professional fraud examination positions. Business degrees tend to be the most useful when seeking jobs related to fraud investigation, since the available jobs relate so heavily to accounting and finance issues.

Degrees in criminal justice or sociology can relate well to fraud examination, but those degrees should be supplemented with business administration courses to provide a solid foundation of business knowledge.

Advanced degrees can give an extra edge in the job-seeking process, but certainly aren’t required for a forensic accountant or fraud examiner. Master’s degrees in business administration or economic crime management can be valuable assets. A young professional who wants an advanced degree should get one that will expand the range of knowledge and complement his or her undergraduate degree.

Certification

Professional certifications help job candidates tremendously. A certified public accountant most often has an advantage over a professional with an accounting degree but no certification. Other certifications such as the certified internal auditor or certified management accountant can help build a solid resume, but tend to be less important than the CPA.

The certified fraud examiner credential has quickly become one of the most requested qualifications for forensic accounting professionals. This certification is respected because it is obtained through an application and testing process that ensures high quality, and the certification is given by a highly respected anti-fraud organization.

Young professionals seeking certifications should look for those that have substance behind them, as well as wide acceptance in the business world. They should be wary of new certification programs that appear to require little more than a registration fee and the purchase of a self-study course. Employers are looking for widely-accepted certifications.

Work experience

Work history is the most persuasive component of a job-seeker’s background. Employers are looking for fraud examiners with on-the-job experience directly related to fraud. While textbooks and classrooms can teach the technical aspects of financial statements and fraud, there is no substitute for real-world experience.

Prior to securing a fraud examination position, it can be helpful to participate in projects that may have an investigative or legal component. Opportunities to begin navigating the legal system or see fraud up-close can provide valuable experience to a young professional.

The understanding of financial statements and business in general is an essential component for any investigator. Therefore, a general auditing position can be valuable to a future career in fraud examination. It helps build a foundation of business knowledge.

Auditors sometimes have an opportunity to work at an accounting firm that does a small number of fraud investigations each year. This may be a necessary step if a full-blown fraud examination position cannot be secured. A job like this can provide real-world fraud experience that may lead toward a full-time forensic accounting position in the future.

Young professionals working toward a fraud examination position should carefully plot each educational and career move. A total package combining general business and accounting experience with a solid educational background will be attractive to employers seeking fraud examiners.

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