Jump Starting Your Accounting Career: The Interview Process Pt. 2


Our guest author, Professor Tchaikovsky, CPA, is an Associate Professor of Accounting at Irvine Valley College. A few weeks ago, he shared an article regarding how students can jump start their accounting career by learning everything they need to know about the hiring process as well as 3 different types of positions students can be interviewed for.

Today, Professor Tchaikovsky dives into part two of this topic, as he talks about what steps you need to take to become recognized and obtain an interview from recruiters before graduating. 

This posting is based on information contained with Part 1: The Structure of Accounting Firms and What Firms are Looking for in Candidates.

Formal interviews for full-time employment start the year prior to graduation.

However, your success at this stage will depend upon how you have positioned and previous interactions with the Accounting Firms.  

The steps below are to give you a general understanding as to how Accounting Firms recruit on-campus. Remember, you are always interviewing. Even if the interview is not formal, your initial impressions made on the Accounting Firm will be subsequently reinforced or discounted by your future interactions.

Step 1: Join the Accounting Society and get involved

Join the Accounting Society, Accounting Association, Beta Alpha Psi, and/or other Honors Societies (collectively, “Accounting Society”) at your college or university as soon as possible. Accounting firms coordinate their on and off campus interactions Accounting Societies for speaking engagements and/or recruitment. Attend as many events as you can. Most Accounting Societies will have at least one speaking event each week.

If your school does not have an Accounting Society equivalent, you will need to go to your on campus recruiting department for assistance. If you are considering transferring to a four-year school from a community college and/or from a four-year school to another as an accounting major, be sure to see how robust their Accounting Society is and how active their alumni are involved with the school. The more established the Accounting Society, the easier your process will be.
If you have the time and ability to volunteer and/or be involved with the Accounting Society, do so. For example, if you are the speaker coordinator, you will have one on one interaction with the firms and other speakers. 

Be nice and assist your fellow accounting society members and fellow accounting students. You are colleagues not competitors. If you are volunteering to assist as a sophomore, you’ll be leaving a positive impression on those Accounting Society members about to graduate who will be coming back to potentially recruit you in the future for a full time position. Also, five years down the road, your colleagues may be referring you business.

Step 2: Targeting Accounting Firms

What firm is right for you? Sometimes up to 35 Accounting Firms can attend Accounting Society events. You cannot meet every one. Rather, you need to focus on getting to know some of the Accounting Firms that interest you. There are many differences between small, medium and large sized Accounting Firms. These were a few articles on the subject I found via an internet search.


Your targeting depends on where you are in the recruitment process and how well you have positioned yourself for hiring. If you are working full-time and are precluded from Accounting Society involvement, obtaining a full–time offer from a Big 4 firm will be extremely challenging due to the nature of the recruiting process. Sophomores/Juniors should look at larger firms and mid-sized firms for SLP’s/Internships so that they can obtain a better understanding as to where they would like to work full time upon graduation.
If you are a graduating senior and entering into the process for the first time, you may choose to look at mid to smaller sized firms. Why? Sophomores/Juniors may occupy the majority of the time during Meet the Firms for the larger Accounting Firms. Given where you are in the process, you may have difficulty getting noticed without prior interactions and therefore, may have better opportunities at a smaller to mid sized firm.
Also, use websites such as www.glassdoor.com  and www.yelp.com to see if former / current employees and clients have left feedback. Remember, similar to other websites, you may see unfavorable posts or incentivized reviews (the HR department gives out a gift card for feedback). However, this may give you some insights as to a firm’s environment.

Step 3: Attend Accounting Firm Events

On Campus Events

On Campus events are generally speakers from Accounting Firms and other accounting related areas (for example: CPA Review courses, California State Board of Equalization) that come to speak on a particular topic and meet with students. I would suggest going to these events and make time to converse with the speakers before/after the event. You never know who you will meet: a CPA Review course speaker that came to IVC later became a recruiter for a Big 4 accounting firm. 

Be sure to research the speaker/organization prior to the event so that your questions are on-point while being friendly and conversational. Speakers from Accounting Firms will later come back to campus for future recruiting events. If you have made a positive impression on the speaker, when they come back to recruit, your conversation at future events will be that much easier. 
If you follow up with e-mail, keep it brief and do not expect an immediate response. Don’t cyber stalk firm personnel. Speakers are busy and may not be able to get back to you for some time. As great way to follow up is to send forward a relevant news article on a topic that you discussed.  

Meet the firms

Depending on the school, you can have as many as 120-750 students attending a Meet the Firms event. Most students are very nervous before attending these, bringing resumes and nervously huddling around as to how to approach the accounting firms. If you have positioned yourself for hiring, this event will be significantly easier.
Prior to attending, Accounting Societies publish a list of firms that are attending.
When you have the list, research online your targeted firms and their professionals. For example, if you have a Linked-In account (you should have one) use this to search those Firms’ professionals to get a better understanding as to their background.
During Meet the Firms, I suggest to my students to not talk about accounting. Most of the information about firms and their recruitment programs can be found online. I would try to draw out from the firm representatives what interests them outside of work. 

After the event, the Firms will be given a book of resumes (can be hundreds). The way you will be remembered is by the general impression left on the Accounting Firm during the event and if you had prior contacts with the Accounting Firm personnel (for example on campus speaking events). 
Be sure to have your “elevator/personal pitch” developed. Only talk about yourself if asked. I would include: desired position (SLP, Internship, Full-Time employment), campus involvement, anticipated graduation date, CPA exam eligibility as well as when you will have completed the number of units required for licensure. I would not discuss grades unless specifically asked.

Off campus events

You may be invited to selected events hosted by an Accounting Firm. This is a way that you can meet more of their professionals in a more intimate environment. Most of the Meet the Firms and on-campus events are “alcohol free”. However, off campus events generally offer alcohol to their employees and/or those candidates that are over 21. I would suggest not drinking at any firm sponsored events. If you do, do so conservatively. A student recently shared with me while attending an “invite only event” that another candidate started drinking one too many and by the end of the partner conversation was slurring their words. Not an impression you want to leave on your prospective employer. Remember, you are not Debbie-Do-Anything from Tri-Pi or Frank the Tank prior to the formation of Lambda Epsilon Omega.

Step 4: On Campus Interviews

The on-campus interview tends to be the initial “official” screening by the Accounting Firm’s human resources professional. Other methods can be used as well. For example, a student recently informed me that Google Hangouts was used for an initial interview instead of the on-campus interview.

There are many different techniques for interviewing and answering questions. I would be absolutely honest in my responses and try to answer the questions as directly as possible. If you are nervous, I’d practice with friends or with an on campus career center (many offer classes on how to effectively interview). You can practice your answers while driving or walking around your home.

Remember, you are not the first person to ever interview. Search the web for more information.  A website that lists out interview questions from the Big Four:
Interview questions at PWC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY. The definitive list

Another website that lists out tips for interviewing:

Step 5: Interview at the Accounting Firm

If you have had positive interactions with the firm and a successful on-campus interview, you’ll be asked to interview at the firm’s office. During this interview, you may meet with a human resources representative, partner, manager, senior associate and fellow staff that you’ll be potentially be working with and go out for lunch.

Remember, you are not involved in a professional eating contest and be sure to cover your lemon as you squeeze this into your iced tea (yes, I squirted a senior in the eye with lemon juice after starting full time). All of these individuals will have a say as to whether you get hired including interns at your school who have already received full-time offers.
Remember your professional etiquette: arrive on time (be sure to allow plenty of time to get to the office location), treat everyone kindly and professionally (yes, office assistants can have a say in your hiring), and no matter the end result, follow up positively and graciously. It’s a small world after all and you’ll be seeing everyone again soon. 

Thank you for reading this posting. Our next post will be covering special topics for transfer students. 

Other articles in this series 

Accounting Professor Helping Students Jump Start Their Careers
The Structure of Accounting Firms & What Firms Are Looking for in Candidates
Jump Starting Your Accounting Career: The Interview Process Part 1

Scroll to Top