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Want to Hire Talented Students? Let Them Experience Your Firm

August 27, 2015

by Jana Cinnamon

For owners of professional services firms, attracting talented college students may seem like a daunting task. You’re not only competing for their time; you’re competing with countless distractions (often handheld!) for their attention. And standing out in the crowd tends to be easier said than done.

So how can you connect with the caliber of students your firm needs to hire? My experience has taught me this: Give students a chance to experience what life is really like at your firm.

Here’s how it worked for us:

Accounting students typically learn about a potential employer through tours or a visiting speaker. While informative, these types of “information sessions” often leave students without a good understanding of the firm’s culture and day-to-day life. We knew there had to be a better way.

So about four years ago, we began asking students what they wanted to learn about the firm, as well as public accounting in general. We wanted to come up with a type of program that would benefit both students and the firm. After all, the sooner we could get in touch with students, the better chance we’d have to connect with top talent.

After listening closely to students, we had our solution: a two-day intensive program designed to give students a day in the life of Abdo, Eick & Meyers. We called it “Experience AEM.”

To start, we invited eligible students to apply, conducted interviews, and then chose the 20 best and brightest students to participate. On May 22, 2013, the chosen students — hailing from a variety of Minnesota and Wisconsin universities — converged upon our Edina office for the first-ever Experience AEM.

The two-day schedule included a class on Excel tips and tricks for accountants, a new hire panel comprised of younger staff members, a lunch and learn on the CPA exam, and a tour of our office. Breakout sessions for both tax and audit students took place in the afternoon. Group activities included a presentation on selling, a barbeque lunch, and, in the evening, bowling at a local hot spot.

After receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, we decided to make Experience AEM an annual affair. We’ve since expanded the program by adding five spots (25 students now attend the program for a total of 70 attendees over the past three years) and offering “partner roundtables” to give students a chance to ask questions of the partners and learn more about their career paths. We try to keep each year fun and fresh. This year, we swapped the bowling outing for a “Chopped-style” challenge at a local cooking school. It was so cool see accountants jump into the role of creative leader — in the kitchen, no less!

Of course, Experience AEM has greatly benefitted our firm, too: Over the past two years, we’ve hired 11 standout interns from the program, and we hired several more from the 2015 program.

Experience AEM has been so successful, in my opinion, not only because it gives students an inside look at public accounting but also because it builds relationships — something we’ve found to be key in our college recruiting strategy.

We work to connect with students across several channels: accounting club presentations, mock interviews, on-campus recruitment fairs, scholarship banquets, and golf and other networking events. Usually it’s our younger accountants who represent the firm at these events. They enjoy serving their alma maters and being recognized (occasionally!) by students, but, more importantly, they’re very relatable to students. We’ve also made it a point to encourage and welcome students to reach out to us aside from campus events. If any student wants to learn more about our firm, we invite him or her to contact us to arrange an office visit.

Giving students the chance to experience our firm has been one of the best initiatives we’ve ever undertaken. How could you offer students an opportunity to experience life at your firm?

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