What You Must Know About Accounting Recruitment
A nice salary, bright future, prestige. These glories and more await every Syms accounting student just down the road at any number of top accounting firms. Many have already began to fill out their business cards with power names such as Deloitte, EY, Grant Thornton, KPMG, PwC, and other excellent firms of varying sizes. The only minor complication that remains is: how do you get from accounting student at YU to accounting associate at a premiere firm? There are just three things standing in your way: building your resume, owning the career fairs, and nailing the interviews. Resume building starts from the moment you walk into YU, while career fair networking and accounting firm interviewing heat up during your second and third years. It is my intent that after reading this piece, whether you are a first year accounting student or nearly graduated, you will be sufficiently informed about the myths and facts of these three fundamental aspects of making it big. You will know exactly what you need to do to one day soon call yourself a top firm associate.
1) Building Your Resume
This is your professional life story crammed onto one sheet of paper. It will detail your educational, work, and extracurricular experience. In order to accumulate the 150 semester hours necessary to be eligible to take the C.P.A., nearly all Syms accounting students either do four years of undergraduate studies or three years of undergraduate and one year of the Sym’s MS (Master’s) in Accounting. The exception to needing four years is if a student comes in to YU with an unusually high number of credits in addition to any credits from an Israel program. For simplicity’s sake, we will assume all Sym’s accounting students are on board for four years. The summer going into the fourth and final year is when you will shoot to secure an internship at the top firm you could start your career with. We will call this the target accounting internship. The two summers before then will be filled with some combination of accounting firm internships and accounting or business internships in the private sector.
A) Your GPA is the only thing that matters. That’s right. The recruitment process is not simply an exercise of who can get the highest GPA. Not to say that your GPA isn't fundamentally important, but having the appropriate internship experience is also a must. Recent YU graduate and Deloitte Associate Avi Geller found that though “one of the first things (the firm) looks at on your resume is your GPA, after that they will look at your experience.” While the GPA is the starting point to getting you noticed, Geller urges students to also prioritize internship experience.
B) You must intern at an accounting firm before you apply for the target internship. Before the Career Center comes with pitchforks to take me to the insane asylum, let me explain. While you do not need to intern specifically at an accounting firm, having internship experience somewhere is non-negotiable. As one first year associate at a top firm puts it, “To get your (target) internship, there is no expectation that you have experience specifically in public accounting.” Marc Goldman, the Executive Director of the Yeshiva University Career Center, sees benefits to accounting firm experience as well as experience in different business settings. While accounting firm internships portray interest and hands on knowledge of the industry, other accounting and business internships offer varied experience and an understanding of how business works. Goldman preaches that “the key is to build and enhance relevant skills and be able to communicate impressively and clearly about these skills and the experiences in which they were gained.” This can be achieved at accounting firms and other businesses alike.
A) Recruiters don’t care that you are a former camp counselor. Sadly, it is time to hang up your staff badge. Geller even recommends that “for anything camp related, take it off your resume, no matter how good you make it sound. YU Alumnus Etan Bluman (Class of ’10), in his 5th year in the Real Estate Tax Services Group at Ernst & Young (EY), concurs, believing that camp experience on a resume can look like fluff. “Firms are looking for a long term investment,” he advises, “the key is to make your resume applicable.” The business world is harder to break into than ever and you must do everything possible to make yourself the best candidate.
B) Extracurricular experience is anything but extra. Leading the right program or club is often what earns one resume an interview and the other resume a one-way ticket to the trashcan. While it can be largely subjective which activities a particular company may prefer, one golden rule which holds true as Goldman puts it is that “it is more important to be involved and possibly take the lead in an activity or organization as opposed to picking a right activity.” Showing initiative will go a long ways towards making any extracurricular activity stand out.
2) Owning The Career Fair
Here’s a good question: What in the world is a career fair and how much money do I need to bring for rides? A career fair is actually a networking event with representatives from a number of top firms. This is an opportunity for you to meet professionals in the accounting field - and for them to meet you. There are a couple career fairs each school year which are hosted by the Career Center and target different groups of students.
A) This is where you learn about the firms. One of the biggest mistakes Goldman sees students making at the fairs is being ill-prepared. The last question you should find yourself asking is “so can you tell me about PwC?” Well before you step foot in the door, you must know the size, practices, and types of clients each firm offers. Research the firm’s website, do a Google search for their recent news, and use Monster.com’s LedgerLink to get a brief overview of the firm. This will allow you to ask pointed, intelligent questions like “so can you tell me about what type of work PwC does for Nike?”
B) You need to finish the job there. This is not a job interview. Bluman, who himself has represented EY at multiple YU career fairs, finds that the fairs are best used as an opportunity to simply make a good impression. The most important thing is going to be what you do before and after. Are you going to ask the recruiter for a follow up conversation to get a better feel for his firm? Are you going to touch base at a later date with the manager you met and ask him to put in a good word for you?
A) You are a human being. A PwC Associate and YU Alumnus finds that “students can get caught up in their personal pitches.” This is your chance to show you can be sociable but still professional or as the PwC associate puts it, “Have a conversation.” Your resume will speak for itself.
3) Nailing the interview
After you build your resume and own the career fair, all that will be standing between you and the top accounting firms is a great interview.
A) You must have your answers down perfectly. In fact, Bluman strongly recommends the exact opposite. He has found that giving memorized or “canned answers show (the interviewer) a lack of confidence in yourself to think on the spot.” Bluman is not, however, advising you not to have your resume down pat. You better know your resume forwards and backwards. Be able to analyze situations you were in and draw from your resume to support your answers. Just do not rehearse specific answers.
A) Be prepared for anything. This can be best described by the following incredible story from Geller of an interview he will not soon forget. “My first round interview with a firm was not a normal interview and it caught me by surprise. He wanted to see how I handled being pressured. I walked into the office and he sat me down and said, ‘I don't know why you chose the last slot, but you better have a good reason.’ To which I responded, ‘Well I'm going to be the first person you will remember tomorrow morning.’ Needless to say, he liked that answer. He then proceeded to tell me, ‘I don't have any more questions, so you are going to be asking me all the questions.’ It's a good thing I had real questions to ask him and turned the interview into a 40 minute casual conversation.”
B) You should dress and talk with your brain. Every single encounter you have with a firm representative should be considered part of your interview. While I was waiting for an interview to begin with a top accounting firm, I saw a fellow Syms student walk into the waiting area with a poorly done tie and upon the recruiter asking how he is feeling, he replied, “Really good actually. Usually, I am not well prepared for things, but I am really ready for this interview.” Needless to say, he didn’t get the job. Anything you say or do could, for better or for worse, differentiate you from the rest of the pack..
If you would like further guidance about resumes, career fairs, interviewing skills or any recruitment matter, please visit the Career Center to have a mock interview and take advantage of their terrific staff and resources.