Jump Starting Your Accounting Career: The Interview Process Pt. 1


After having almost the same conversation with many different students, I wanted to create a “starting point” for my students and others so that prior to asking questions about what needed to be done to obtain a position at an accounting firm (or business), students have a baseline to work with. 

The content of this this blog is not solely my own, but rather embodies the feedback and thoughts that I have received and continued to receive from my students (Irvine Valley College (“IVC”) has the best students and this is my completely biased statement); professionals that have been kind enough to give their time to speak at IVC Accounting Society events and student leaders from the University of California at Irvine and California State University at Fullerton. 

I want to thank you in advance for your time in reading this blog and also would appreciate your feedback to make this better for future students entering into the profession.

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

Interviewing: A marathon, not a sprint

Now that you are aware of what Accounting Firms expect and are positioning yourself for hiring by developing your interpersonal skills, you need to enter the recruiting process as soon as possible. If you wait until you have graduated / passed the CPA Exam, you will miss the opportunity.

The hiring process for entry-level associates at Accounting Firms is not: meet a partner, receive an offer and start working.

Recruitment is a marathon and not a sprint. Accounting Firm employees (including those that have had internships and are your fellow students) are evaluating your interactions during social situations and want to interact with you multiple times on and off campus prior to see if you would be a good fit for their firm. Why? As a new associate, you have the most client interaction and how you treat and interact with others is crucial to Accounting Firms. If you come into a client’s workplace inebriated and your firm is fired by the client, that will pretty much be the end of your employment at the firm.

Throughout the recruitment process, you are interviewing the Accounting Firms as well.

You want to work in an environment where you can excel professionally. Your success at an accounting firm will be largely dependent on those that you are surrounded by. When you hear from colleagues and other professionals as to why they chose a firm, inevitably they will say “the people.” Accounting tends to be a collaborative process and you’ll be working alongside your firm personnel sometimes until 2 or 3AM. 

Three Defined Opportunities: SLPs, Internships, Full-Time Offers

Most mid-size to larger Accounting Firms have three or more formal opportunities for the student to interview for: Summer Leadership Programs (SLPs), Internships, and Full-Time employment. Some firms do not have SLPs and others may not offer Internships. You do not need to have one to obtain the other.

My students transferring from Irvine Valley College have been able to obtain an Internship without having an SLP. Additionally, my transfer students have had offers of Full-Time employment without an SLP and/or Internship. However, transfer students generally have to work significantly harder to obtain these opportunities (subject for a future blog post).

Summer Leadership Program (SLP)

The SLP is a one-to-three day meeting during the summer after the Freshman/Sophomore/Junior year where students meet Accounting Firm personnel. The firms will sometimes form separate panels of associates, senior associates, current interns, managers, and partners to field questions from participants. Students generally apply for multiple SLPs. If there is a match, the accounting firm will often extend an offer for an internship position to the participant for the following year.

This can be a great way for a student to gauge whether or not they will be a fit with the people at the firm. Note that you generally need to have at least one summer after the SLP whereby you could complete an internship, come back to school to complete the remainder of your coursework. More than likely, you will not be eligible for an SLP if you are going to be graduating in the following academic year. 

Accounting Internships

Accounting Internships, depending on the firm, generally are in the summer (Big 4) while other accounting firms may offer “working” internships between January – April or September – December. Upon completing the internship, interns are generally offered a position for full-time employment. The significant majority of accounting internships are paid. Unpaid accounting internships are rare as the internship would need to be specifically design not to have repetitive tasks. 

Internships can be extremely competitive. The availability of internships and SLPs are directly dependent upon the school that you attend. For example, students attending the University of Southern California (USC) will have extensively more internship and SLP opportunities than newly established schools as there are many firm partners that attended USC who tend to recruit from their alma mater.

If you are attending a school that has been newly established where the accounting program without a significant alumni presence, you will have a much more challenging time obtaining internship and SLP opportunities from larger firms. 

Interns at the larger firms are offered trips within the United States as well as off-site training. Why are interns treated so well? Accounting Firms expect that their interns will market/promote their firm while the intern is still in school to potential recruits. Once the interns are hired full time, they will more than likely be coming back to their alma mater to hire the next class of associates. 

Accounting Firms often use the internship interviewing process as a warm up for full-time hiring. If you do not receive an internship offer, do not be upset. Rather, continue to engage the firm if it’s the right fit for you as often the number of full-time positions greatly exceed the number of internship offers. 

Stay tuned for part 2 of the Interviewing Process where I’ll dive into the actual interviewing process and everything you need to know to set yourself up for interview success. 

If you have any comments, questions, or concerns, for Professor Tchaikovsky, leave them in the comments box below! 

Other articles you may be interested in
Accounting Professor Helping Students Jump Start Their Careers
The Structure of Accounting Firms & What Firms Are Looking for in Candidates

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