To pay homage to recruiting season, we’re interviewing several recruiters from the top 35 firms across the nation to learn more about what makes their recruiting process unique, what their biggest challenges are, and what they believe are the main qualities candidates should possess to be successful in their accounting careers. Earlier this week, we featured McKenzie Campana from Armanino, LLP and Katherine Charchalis from BDO, LLP. Today, we talk to Jennifer Matsuura and Nancy Choi from HCVT, LLP.
Jennifer has worked her entire 20 year career in public accounting. She started her HR career with Arthur Andersen and then transitioned to Andersen Tax. Jennifer has been the head of training and recruiting with HCVT for nine years and received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and a graduate degree from the California State University, Northridge. She enjoys playing basketball and is originally from Sacramento, where she saw her first live NBA game with the Golden State Warriors. When she is not at work, most of her spare time is spent running her two children around from activity-to-activity.
Nancy has been a recruiter for 16 years, beginning first at Deloitte for 6 years and spending the remaining 10 with HCVT. She graduated from University of California, Irvine and is an avid traveler. From Costa Rica to Thailand to Korea, Nancy enjoys exploring the world and spending time with her family.
What makes your firm unique in the recruiting process?
At HCVT, we look at everyone individually and want to know their stories. There are so many things in a person’s life that people categorize as black and white, but we’re more interested in the grey areas. So if students we meet with don’t have a strong GPA, didn’t join an accounting society, or don’t have any type of internship or work experience, we want to know the story behind that because there’s just so many unsaid things that people assume when they look at a resume.
By doing this, we get to understand candidates as people, and that gives us a better idea of whether they’ll fit into our organization. It’s not just about personality—but about what they as individuals can bring to our firm from their personal backgrounds and experiences.
We also pride ourselves on following up with students. We stay involved and check in with them to see how they’re doing throughout the recruiting process as well as when they become employees. We want to make sure that any gaps they have regarding our firm and their overall experience with us is fulfilled, whether that’s providing them with mentors, training, a peer group, or anything else needed to begin a successful career.
How does your recruiting process reflect your firm’s values and/or company culture?
How we recruit is similar to how we treat our people at the firm. We value all aspects of diversity; not just the color of your skin or where you’re from, but your professional and personal aspirations as well. We really try to customize students’ career tracks here when we’re recruiting on different campuses. While we offer the typical career track similar to most public accounting firms, we also meet with each person individually to ensure that they’re getting what they want out of the position and are on track with where they want to go in the future. We try to match our newly hired staff with performance managers and peers who have similar goals so that they have the support they need to meet both the firm’s and the individual’s expectations.
We also focus on what’s important and what really matters to people. The partners decided that it doesn’t matter what our people wear to work (even shorts and flip-flops are common attire in some offices) if no clients are present. They’re also always reevaluating what makes people productive and happy at the firm. The flexibility here is very alluring.
Another example of how diversity and flexibility play into our recruiting process is how we recruit for the entire firm and not just local offices. If someone wanted to work in Texas who goes to school in California, we would definitely interview and refer them to the appropriate office because we’re looking to fulfill hiring goals as a whole and want good quality staff throughout our entire organization rather than concentrated in certain regions.
What would you say is the most challenging part about recruiting and how are you working to overcome this challenge?
There are a couple things about recruiting that will always remain challenging; one being lack of resources. Every firm is going after the same type of talent and the hiring needs are growing for every firm everywhere, which means competition is stiff. Therefore, most accounting students have a lot of opportunity and are getting multiple offers.
To overcome this challenge, we let students know what our firm is about and why it could be the better choice for them. We highlight the fact that they have plenty of opportunities to work directly with partners and managers who will know them by name and develop very personal relationships with them. Furthermore, they’ll be working with professionals who have 10 or 25 years’ worth of experience in the industry which means they’re going to learn a great deal and be exposed to those who have deep technical expertise.
In addition, students don’t need to immediately specialize in an industry, which may not be the case at other accounting firms. At HCVT, our staff is exposed to a broad range of work and industries so they can choose to be a generalist or specialize in a particular industry. The exposure to a variety of work makes our staff well-rounded professionals. Also, our clients are middle-market in size, which allows staff to see and understand the big picture of what is happening with their clients.
What are the most important factors when it comes to recruiting top talent at schools?
Character. We want to know how students overcame challenges; what they learned from their mistakes; and whether they’re able to think on their feet and react to things proactively to turn negatives into positives. We’ve turned down people with high GPAs and or who was President of Beta Alpha Psi. Those credentials are great, but when it comes down to it, we’re looking for people who are genuine, have a great work ethic, and are passionate about public accounting.
This is a tough industry. You can go to school and study all day, but if you’ve never had to overcome a hardship or worked really hard for something, we don’t know if you’ll be a good fit here. There are certain things we know 20-year-old students haven’t gone through; we don’t expect them to have 15 years’ worth of work and life experience but at the same time, we need to know that they have enough character to take skills from whatever wisdom they have accumulated and apply it to their jobs successfully.
How do you think the recruitment process will change 5 or 10 years from now?
While there will always be the human element of meeting people face-to-face, there’s a couple things we see affecting recruiting.
With social media and the internet, students are very well informed about firms. They’re connecting with people who work there and also reading reviews about the organization. While it’s good they’re doing their research, we also want to make sure that they’re not blindly believing everything they read and what others are writing. If this trend continues, we can see how students will have a preconceived notion of firms based on what they see online, so maybe firms will have to improve their online branding to portray positive and interactive experiences.
Lastly, our competition won’t just be with public accounting firms, but with other industries like consulting and finance. We can see that as the economy gets better and more job opportunities open up, firms will have to find new ways to stay relevant and not be just a typical accounting firm.
What is your best piece of advice for students going through recruiting?
Do your homework beforehand and be prepared. If you’re interested in a firm, be memorable and make a connection to help yourself stand out. If you’re interested in tax, find someone in tax. Know who you’re talking to, be yourself, work hard, and take this seriously. In fact, take your whole college career seriously and take nothing for granted.
It’s also important to step outside of your comfort zone. We know that walking up to professionals and recruiters can be awkward, but the more practice you have, the better you’ll be at it. Remember, you have limited time at these events, so make the most of it.
Lastly, make sure your resume is error free. We can’t say how many times we’ve seen someone put “detail oriented” on their resume that’s filled with spelling and grammar mistakes. Embrace the recruiting process; the more that you get comfortable with the process, the more we can see the real you and if we can do that, the chances of you being hired at a firm will increase.
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