HR Experts Provide Tips for Landing an Accounting Internship
A panel of human resource experts discussed what college students need to do to land that coveted first internship and what curriculum can make them stand out at the NJCPA Accounting Educators Workshop held earlier this month in Iselin. Moderated by Don Meyer, chief marketing officer at NJCPA, the panel shared best practices for students to implement when they have an interview with a recruiter, communicate with accounting professionals or are beginning their search for internships.
Accounting firms often tap their accounting interns for full-time, entry-level positions, so landing the internship is essential. “For us, the internship program is very important. Eleven of our 15 partners actually started as interns, so we take recruiting very seriously,” explained John Christian, HR director at Nisivoccia.
Firms are looking for coachablility and enthusiasm among intern candidates, even over grades, agreed most of the panelists. Students with the highest GPAs, according to Hayes MacArthur, HR partner at EisnerAmper, do not always receive the offer to work for them since many times there are other qualifications, like how they interview and having soft skills, that they are looking for in the candidates than simply high grades.
Allison Corio, HR manager at WilkinGuttenplan, makes sure interns are content to get involved in all facets of their operations. “We have younger staff getting involved with higher-level staff, and we try and drive that down to the internship level as well,” she said. WilkinGuttenplan also requests feedback on their internship program and encourages interns to discuss their experiences so they can continuously make any improvements.
When They Hire
Students need to be aware that the timing of internships matters. Most accounting firms hire interns for the January to April busy season and then again for the summer months. “We are all going back and forth on how much money do we invest in winter internships,” admits MacArthur, since students who get hired for a winter internship often take another internship somewhere else in the summer and have a higher chance of working at those firms.
At EisnerAmper, “the internship program is solely for filling the pipeline of entry levels,” said MacArthur. “We do not use it to get work done… Obviously, we want to show them what a traditional, entry-level position would be like,” he adds, noting it’s far easier to keep interns busy in the winter compared to the summer, but they will have some travel, client interaction and real-world experiences.
Eleni Athanasiou, assistant director at Northeast Campus Recruiting at EY, noted that summer internships are a bit “fluffier” than those in the winter months. She recommends having an internship one year prior to graduating college. “We have different types of programs throughout the year as well, either over the summer or busy season.”
The 150-Hour Requirement
Panelists were asked whether college students should obtain the 150-hour requirement for a CPA license with a Master’s or MBA degree, or take courses at the undergraduate level, for example, by obtaining a second major or a minor. The answer? It depends.
“It’s a lot of competition. We would hire someone who has their 150 versus someone who has their 120 credits,” according to Michelle Aurich, talent acquisition specialist at WithumSmith+Brown, who interned at the firm herself. She noted that often times it makes sense to get the 150-credit requirement needed at the undergraduate level compared to the graduate level. “The cost of getting your Master’s in Accounting and the value that you are learning from that program doesn’t necessarily translate into what you are going to do day-to-day as an entry-level staffer,” she added.
But students who do go ahead and obtain their Masters in Tax, for example, are showing how they are committed to that sector. “It’s like them giving us the green light, saying I’m really invested in my career… and I’m going to invest my time and my money into this specific Master’s program,” adds Aurich. “Those are the candidates we are trying to target and hire.”
Indeed, obtaining more advanced, graduate-level courses for the 150-credit hour requirement may help get a leg up on the competition. The proverbial “basket weaving” course at an undergraduate level does not look appealing to some employers since it can be an indicator that a student is looking for the easiest possible way to obtain the credits. The harder workers, the panelists noted, are taking tougher classes.