A reader posted this question on my last post about recruiting.
I am an accounting major going to my first accounting recruitment next week. My only worry is that my cumulative gpa is not up to their standards. I think that I have a lot of prior work experience but I’m not sure that is what they are looking for. I heard a bunch of different stories- work experience is more important, gpa is more important… what are your thoughts? Also, what are good ways to stand out to these firms?
On the eve of another recruiting event, I am going to share more thoughts from the "other side" of recruiting.
How important is GPA?
In some ways, GPA is a very important number for firms. Especially if you are interested in working for the Big 4, your GPA will play a role in whether you are even considered as a candidate. However, once a firm has invited you to an event, you can assume that you have met whatever their GPA cut off is, and at this point, I would argue that GPA hardly matters.
A firm may decide they will only consider candidates above 3.3 for example, but they may not really differentiate between a candidate with a 3.5 and one with a 3.8. Once you're already "in" and being invited to firm events, personality and how well the professionals at the firm get along with you becomes a much more important issue.
How can you stand out beyond GPA?
When I was going through recruiting, I thought that firms put a ton of emphasis on your involvement in activities, what prior experience you had, but, at our firm anyway, it's way more important the impression everyone gets when they meet you. I do think it's good to be involved in some activity because that's something where people can remember from conversation with you, and also connect it to your resume: "Oh yeah, that's the girl who's on the soccer team" or "that's the guy who was in ROTC."
At our firm anyway, we're looking for people who fit into our culture. It's hard to force that, but keep this in mind:
If you don't speak up, ask questions, and meet a bunch of the professionals, then even if you are a good fit for our firm's culture, how will we know?
Even if I have a great conversation with one student at a recruiting event, that will not get the student hired unless they meet several other firm employees who also get a good impression of them. (And one or two of those employees should be partners, since they get to make the hiring decision.)
A few basic rules of conversation
1. Try not to talk to one professional the whole time. They won't be offended if you move on to talk to someone else, since they need to meet as many students as possible too.
2. Try not to "overshare." I'm sure I have been guilty of this in many a conversation, but the professionals don't want to hear how nervous you are to be there, and they don't want to help you make a decision about whether to pursue tax or audit. Just because the younger professionals are the same age as you doesn't mean that they're your friend or confidant. Anything you say or email to them will be retold and passed around the firm, because all we know of you are the brief snippets of interaction.
3. Better topics: where you're from, where they're from, how they ended up in this city or picked their university. Recent travel you've done, sports you've both played, sports you've both watched. Classes you're currently taking and how much you like your professors (try not to bad mouth professors - even if the professionals don't know them, people prefer positive conversation to negative - as long as it's not super gushy/fake.)
4. If you're just not having an easy conversation with someone, by all means, move on and talk to another professional. Everyone at my firm is very different, and we all get along with different people. If it's awkward talking to one of them, cut your losses and move on to someone easier. If it's awkward talking to everyone, this may not be the firm for you, and that's okay.
Good luck, and let me know if you have any other questions or suggestions for good recruiting conversation tips!
University is back in session, and so is recruiting for public accounting! As you're meeting the firms for the first time, here are a couple of pointers:
RESEARCH THE FIRMS (okay, just one pointer for this post.)
I know, people tell you to do it, your college hands you a guide to the accounting firms that recruit in your area, and there are 200 firms to look through, and you don't even know where to start looking. I always looked up accounting firm websites and just didn't know which information to pick out. Part of that was because I knew that I wanted to work audit, and I wanted a job, and beyond that I didn't really *care* so I didn't know which information remember and ask about!
Your mission: get familiar with what is "the norm" for accounting firms in your area, and take note of things that make each firm different than the norm. You don't need to memorize the firm's history, you just need to be able to say "I was looking at your website, and saw xyz about you." It's best if you have a question to follow this factoid up with, but if delivered right, you can get away with just saying the fact "Oh, your firm specializes in health care clients, right?"
At the last recruiting event I went to, I explained our basic differences from other firms to about 25 students. Only one of those students said "Oh I read on your website that..."
It does make you stand out. Of course, you probably don't want to memorize a factoid for every single firm, but do your homework, figure out which firms you're most interested in, and go prepared with some basic knowledge on those, plus a few other firms. At these events, you never know which firm you're going to end up talking to, and it's hard to pick out from just looking at websites which firm is the right fit for you.
I'm going to provide a couple ideas to help you know which information to study and bring up at accounting recruiting events.
Be familiar with firm size and location.
Most local accounting firms have only one office. If a firm that would otherwise be a local firm has another office in the city, mention that they have another location. Maybe ask why that came about. I would say that you don't need to memorize every firm's address, but it you really can't think of anything else to ask a small firm about, you can always say "Oh you guys are located up on xyz st, right?"
If the firm has a couple of locations throughout the country, ask "so you have offices in Chicago and NYC too, right? So does the firm have clients all over the country, or just in these 3 areas?"
If you're talking with a firm like Reznick Group or BDO Siedman you need to be familiar with the fact that they are big and nationwide! Just because a firm is not Big 4 does not mean that it does not expect you to recognize its name, and that it is a large company (just not huge like Big 4.)
Website Hint: Check out the part of the accounting firm's website called "Locations." Remember that just because a location is listed, doesn't mean that it's a large office. That can be another question to ask.
Be familiar with firm client base
As a student, I didn't know if I would prefer auditing health care clients, banks, or non-profits. But if a company specializes in banking audits, or construction audits, that is a very valuable factoid to throw out there. Another key to asking questions is not to lose your flexibility. Sure, their website says that they focus on health care clients, but most firms will have clients outside of their focus area too, and you may be talking to a professional at the firm who has never had a healthcare client.
So ask "I read on your website that you focus on healthcare clients. Do you work on only healthcare clients, or do you have a lot of clients in other industries too?" And then depending on how the professional answers, you have a follow up question.
But don't make it sounds like you're only interested in healthcare, and don't make it sound like working on 100% healthcare is your worst nightmare. Chances are, at a firm with a specialty, there are some people who will work 100% on the specialty, and others who will hardly touch it, so you don't want to commit to either one without knowing more.
Website Hint: Check out the part of the accounting firm's website called "Our Clients" and read the blurb there - even if it is directed at the clients themselves, it should tell you something about the type of clients that the accounting firm is targeting.
Take note of a firm's practice areas
If you're really interested in forensic accounting, make sure you tell that to the firms that actually have a forensic accounting arm. Our firm does a bit of investigation into fraud, but that is NOT anyone's full time job here. Plus, at a firm like ours where we mostly do tax and audit, and then will help out a client with looking into employee fraud, you'll typically get to work on the fraud case after you're experienced with audit and that particular client. So, there's a chance for it, but if you are aiming for a masters in forensic accounting, we know that we're not the right place for you. If it's just something you think you might interested in, I suggest not making a big deal out of that to a firm that doesn't have it listed as a practice area.
Website Hint: Check out the part of the accounting firm's website called "Services" for more information about the firm's practice areas. But, be careful because the firm may list services that aren't a huge part of their offerings - again, it gives your a starting point for asking informed questions, but don't assume anything.
At our firm, we all rank the students we meet at recruiting events. Our votes are added into a chart, and are all shown the same in the chart, so essentially, even us new hires who have only been working a few weeks getting a pretty equal vote. This means that when you get a chance to meet the staff at an accounting firm, it is important to make a good impression on as many staff members as you can.
The partners of course make the final decision, so their impressions can override our votes, but it is generally better to make a good impression all around.
What to talk about
Generally, people like to talk about themselves, so if you can get them talking, they should form a favorable opinion of you (although they might not know why!) This can be tricky at recruiting though, because the safest topic of conversation is their work at the firm, but these are the questions that everyone will ask.
If someone brings up their kids or other topics relating to their personal life, this might be okay to ask them about further, but be careful not to ask personal questions out of the blue. A manager I know at another firm said she had a conversation with one recruit, who asked her tons of questions about whether she was married, what her husband did, how many kids she had. She didn't bring up any of those topics herself, and she found the whole conversation pretty awkward.
Good topics to talk about could be places you've traveled recently, where you're from and why you moved to the area, if you're from somewhere else. Before I started interviewing, I thought I had to be up on current events, but really, I feel like current events doesn't typically come up. Make sure you know about big news events like the oil spill and the rescued Chilean miners at least.
Talk about something
If you can't think of any more questions to ask about the firm during your office visit, talking about yourself and your activities is definitely okay. Not saying anything at all is something that should be avoided - if you don't say anything, people won't have anything to go by when they're forming their opinions of the interviewees.
Today, we went to lunch with three recruits. Every time we asked a question, one girl immediately jumped in an answered every question as if we meant it only for her. Then the second girl would answer the question. Then the third girl, sitting next to me, would stay quiet, and no one would prompt her to answer the question, so she barely said anything the whole meal.
Personally, I was a bit turned-off by the girl who jumped into answering the questions first, but in general, the staff formed a good impression of her. I got to speak to the third, quiet, girl more than most of the others did, because I sat next to her at lunch. I really liked her and found what she had to say interesting , because she had lived in several foreign countries. Sadly, few people besides myself gave her a higher than average vote, because she just didn't talk to many of the staff.
How about you? Are there any topics you think people should avoid at office visits? What are your suggestions for making a good impression on the staff?
Next week we will be having students coming into our accounting firm for their office visit interviews. This is the last round in the recruiting process, and in a matter of days, we will know who we will be having on board with us as spring and summer interns and future full-time hires.
If you are going through the accounting recruiting process, the office visit may seem like one last hoop to jump through. At this point in the game, you're probably tired and just want a job, any job. Well, keep putting in the effort, because the office visit is your chance to shine.
The odds are in your favor
Of the students coming to our offices, we probably have positions for about 1/3 of them. You don't have to be amazing to make it into that 1/3, and if you come prepared and enthusiastic, I think you'd have a good chance of getting the job.
At this point in the process, everyone who gets an office visit is a perfectly viable candidate if they get good ratings from everyone at the firm. As far as I can tell, at this point, no one is worried about who's GPA is the highest, or what extracurricular activities you did. They just want to meet you and get a feel for you. All you have to do is make sure that what they see is good.
Live for the moment
You will probably meet a lot of staff that you didn't meet during the recruiting process. Our firm tries to make sure that, if possible, you are interviewed by a partner that has not yet gotten to know you. If you were only an average, not very memorable candidate during the social events, but made it to the office visit, you can wipe out your past history here. We will rate students after each day, and their most recent impression of you will be the one that decides how you score.
So, show up on time, come prepared with lots of questions, and be friendly to as many of the firm's employees as you can!