Mihaylo alumna Lia Larasati ’17 is an assurance associate at PriceWaterhouse Coopers (PwC), one of the Big Four accounting firms. Larasati discusses her journey to PwC and her tips for how Mihaylo students can prepare for a career in accounting.

There are few people who can say this: From the day that she set foot on the Cal State Fullerton campus, she knew where she wanted to go and what she would do to get there.

When Mihaylo alumna Lia Larasati graduated in spring of 2017, she had secured a full-time position with one of the world’s most reputable accounting firms. However, during her time as a student at Cal State Fullerton, Larasati juggled classes, part-time jobs and student leadership activities while traversing the recruitment and interview process. She credits this packed schedule with preparing her to manage the demanding tasks that post-graduate life throws at her.

Now, she is hoping to help other students achieve their goals and make the most out of the resources they have available in the accounting program at Mihaylo College.

Tell us about your job and the journey you took to get to where you are now.

I am an assurance associate in the audit practice at the PwC Orange County office. Currently, I’m working with a tech client in Irvine. As I am in my first few months, I’m still learning the ropes. But I will say one thing about working at PwC – they throw you into the thick of it from day one!

I took the usual recruitment path starting my sophomore year, and I distinctly remember being completely overwhelmed by the process.

After a lot of research on the different programs the firms have, I began attending Accounting Society meetings and the Meet the Firms events. What helped me the most during this time was understanding how important it is to find the firm that fits your values and lifestyle. It’s also important to be able to verbalize how you meet the firms’ needs as well. Pun intended.

I truly believe my involvement outside the classroom – with Business Honors, the Business Inter-Club Council and working at Mihaylo – helped me build the connections and soft skills needed to work in public accounting. I highly recommend anyone looking into this line of work find leadership opportunities to build your communication and time-management skills!

Photo by Victoria Doan

How did you decide between public and private accounting?

Although I chose public accounting, I think it isn’t stressed enough to accounting students that you don’t have to go down this route. There are other options. I chose to do public accounting because I saw it as an opportunity to gain a lot of experience and knowledge very early in my career. This line of work is constantly changing, and the type of brainwork involved in navigating that environment is pretty fascinating. Plus, the exposure to controllers, VPs and higher-level management is invaluable from a networking standpoint. And, the benefits and pay are great for someone straight out of college.

Again, public accounting is not for everyone. My biggest advice on this topic is to follow the opportunities that excite you the most and push you to where you want to end up in a few years.

Among the options (tax, audit, advisory, etc.), why did you choose audit?

You don’t have that much to go on when you originally make the decision toward tax, audit or advisory routes. I chose audit mainly because I liked my audit class, and I felt better suited for it versus tax. Also, many of the people I know going the tax route have higher degrees (although it’s not necessary). But I’m not closing the door on doing tax or advisory rotations in the future.

You participated in the Summer Leadership Programs offered by some of the firms.

I did the Summer Leadership Programs for EY, KPMG and PwC my second year of college. It’s only for a few days each during the summer break, but you really get an understanding of the culture in those firms. You also meet a ton of people and other students who might be interning and working with you in the future. They design these events to help you get a better understanding of your leadership and communication style, but it might guide your decision in choosing a firm to intern with should they offer you the opportunity.

The Summer Leadership Programs are mainly for sophomores or those who have two more years to go before graduating with the 150 unit requirement. I applied online and connected with the recruiters at Meet the Firms in the fall semester. I highly recommend going for these opportunities; it’s a foot in the door for the internship. For the Big Four, the Summer Leadership Programs are how they mostly fill their quota for interns the next year.

How did your involvement in student organizations and mentoring programs help you reach your career goals?

I was involved in Business Inter-Club Council my freshman and sophomore years as the vice president of marketing. I was also in the Business Honors Program all four years and the vice president of student affairs for the program my senior year. Both those experiences pushed me out of my comfort zone and honed my communication, leadership and time management skills. It also exposed me to a variety of leadership methods and personalities, which gave me experience in navigating how to work with people from different walks of life.

I found great mentors both in the University Honors mentoring program and the Mihaylo Executive Council mentoring program. Both mentors are in public accounting, so they helped guide my decision!

Were there any professors/faculty members that helped you reach your career goals?

The faculty is pretty top notch at CSUF. I admire a lot of the professors I had, and they helped solidify my decision to pursue business and accounting. Dr. Richard Lu, Dr. Wonik Choi, Dr. Walied Keshk and Dr. Elisa Lee were all pivotal in my decision to pursue this career path. Honorable mentions to non-accounting professors that influenced me as a person and are all-around inspiring: Dr. Naser Nikandish, Dr. Lorenzo Bizzi and Dr. Robert Mead.

What online resources do you recommend for students looking to gain a better understanding of the field?

The AICPA website is the place to go if you’re looking into becoming a CPA. They have tons of information about getting licensed, taking the exams and career paths you can take with this certification. There are also research papers if you’re more interested in academia. I believe there is a student membership to the AICPA, so take advantage of that. If you are hired by a public accounting firm, they usually cover the fees as well.

Do you have any tips for a successful interview?

Practice speaking in a professional manner. Watch your body language and tonality. Look at your résumé and try to get ahead of potential questions they might ask you. You have very limited time to make a positive impression, so every detail counts!

Before the interview, make sure you know about the company beyond the standard facts from Wikipedia. Know the company’s mission and values. Hopefully, they align with your own personal mission and values, so you can easily give examples of how you embody it in the work you do and give ideas on how you can contribute. As an example, two of PwC’s values are “reimagine the possible” and “work together.” In the interview, I would make sure to mention an example of a time I embodied those two values.

Lastly, always ask questions that are unique and worth asking during the interview. While I was recruiting, I found other students would often ask the same few questions to different people just for the sake of asking a question and keeping the conversation going. Get to know your interviewer a bit and ask a question that isn’t generic or prepared. You never know, it could turn out to be something you could use to springboard your conversation into something positive and unique about you.

What advice would you give to your freshman self?

I think I would tell my freshman self to enjoy college and take as many interesting classes as possible. Working full-time is so different from going to school. Working full-time in public accounting is so different from your normal 9-to-5 job, too. You’re not as exposed to different people and experiences as you were in college, so I would probably tell myself to try more new things and find new interests!

What are some of your favorite memories at Mihaylo College?

Junior year was probably my most stressful year, but oddly enough, it was also really fun and fulfilling. I think about that year fondly because it was the year I co-led and sang in a band with some Business Honors students! I talked about this idea to a bunch of BH friends and mentioned it to the director, because I noticed there were a lot of really talented, artistic people in the program. There’s always a bit of pressure and worry associated with trying new programs or activities out on a group of people, but I think it was successful in bringing more cohesion between students of different years. And it’s always a plus to be nurturing our creative side.

Another highlight: I went on the Mihaylo Business Honors study abroad trip in winter 2017 and it was a blast! Although it was only for a month in January, I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in France, Germany, the U.K. and Belgium. This program is organized through the Business Honors program, but I believe others can join if there is availability. The partner university is in Nantes, France, but they set up opportunities to visit the EU in Brussels and spend a week in Paris studying the economics of the EU and international management. I learned quite a lot in a short time and found places to go back to in the future!

There are many on-campus resources for Mihaylo accounting students: The Accounting Society, Beta Alpha Psi and other organizations host weekly events for members to learn more about the field. Mihaylo Career Services also offers personalized advising and workshops for students exploring the accounting field.

For more information on the accounting program at Mihaylo College, visit the Department of Accounting in SGMH 4313. Want to hear more from successful Mihaylo alumni on their “Careers in Accounting”? Check out our article to read about Gloria Chu ’17 and her journey to Ernst & Young.