Two years ago, Eric Pingarron was taking accounting classes at PCC. This year, he was offered a full-time position at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) LLP, a worldwide accounting, audit, tax advisory and business consulting company.
Pingarron and five fellow professionals told more than 35 PCC students how to make the leap from community college student to successful businessperson at a Business Career Forum Nov. 30 in the Circadian during a two-hour lunchtime seminar sponsored by the Associated Students’ finance committee.
All six panelists urged students to take concrete steps to identify a career goal, prepare themselves fully, become self-directed and concentrate on networking. Five of the speakers were certified public accountants.
The preparation begins now, while in school.
“The first thing companies look at is your GPA, so work hard,” Pingarron said. “Second, be curious. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. That shows you are a ‘difference maker,’ a go-getter.”
He will graduate from California State University, Northridge with a B.S. in accounting in 2017, and he interned at PwC.
Pingarron followed his own advice by networking with teachers. He attributes his success in part to guidance provided by two accounting professors, Barron Yanaga and Michelle Lee, professors of business at PCC.
“They coached me and mentored me when they saw I was interested,” Pingarron said. “I spent time with them during office hours to learn more about the accounting field. I am the first in the accounting field in my family or even to graduate from college, so there was a lot to learn.”
After he transferred to CSUN, he spent time with the director learning about the firms that recruit at the school.
“Make sure you are ready,” he said.
Attending the seminar was Jose Iturbe, who wants to own his own business in finance to assist his family and community in Pico Union area of Los Angeles. Another was Julia Mendoza, who acknowledged that there were few female students in her accounting classes (only a third of the attendees at the forum were female). She plans to transfer to CSUN, which she said has one of the best accounting programs in the country. She wants to work in the entertainment industry. Daniel Armas, a computer science major, plans to add economics and finance to his coursework. He wants to create software for the investment industry, although he has never met anyone who works in this field. He would like to transfer to the University of California, Berkeley or San Diego, and work in the Bay Area.
Speaker Chris Chrisney, chief financial officer at the Old Pasadena-based Idealab, advised, “Keep your grades up, get your resume tightened up, and involve yourself in financial groups to build your network.” Idealab is a local 20-year-old startup incubator that has helped launch more than 160 companies.
Panelist Mike Noll, Maxwell Noll Investment Advisors in Pasadena, worked for an accounting firm and then for his family’s motorcycle business. He has his own CPA firm since 1991.
“The greatest thing I learned is adaptability,” Noll said. “Say ‘yes’ and learn as you go.” He experienced a steep learning curve while managing all financial aspects of his family’s business. “You’re going to work really hard in this business,” he added.
The financial rewards of a career in business and finance, however, are higher than other comparable professional careers, according to a PowerPoint chart presented by an Associated Students representative.
Speaker Noll’s firm serves small entrepreneurs. “I’m at the grassroots level with people who are trying to make it work. I know their pain from being in the motorcycle business. I can relate to them.” He finds this work immensely satisfying.
Speaker Keith Hamasaki, KROST Certified Public Accountants in Pasadena, warned students that community college business students are at a disadvantage when seeking employment after graduating from college.
“Most firms are looking at students in their sophomore year,” Hamasaki said. By the time community college students transfer to a four-year school and become adjusted, he said, “students at the school have already applied to firms and have gotten externships. Full-time job offers are made a year ahead of graduation.”
However, he said, “You can do what it takes to catch up.”
Christine Kloezeman, a PCC adjunct faculty member who teaches accounting, outlined the educational steps necessary to progress in the accounting field.
“Start doing client tax returns,” she advised. “They will get to trust you and will need other services as time goes on.” For students interested in a business career, “accounting is the universal language,” she said. It can serve as a springboard to other positions.
Mike Miller, a startup investor and principal at Wild Horse Labs in Los Angeles, advised students and businesses to think globally instead of concentrating only on the U.S. market. He asked how many in the audience spoke more than one language, and a number of students raised their hands. He travels worldwide with his international education and investment network that focuses on mentoring and training global entrepreneurs.
Miller’s straightforward advice was to start doing what you want to do. “If you don’t know,” he said, “find out.” While pursuing that, he said, “Network like crazy. All day every day.”