No matter your year in college, it’s never too early to start meeting and connecting with firms. As a freshman and sophomore, college students can use these connections to get summer internships and gain experience; as a junior or senior, networking with firms can lead directly to a job.
But meeting firms is only the first step. If you really want to make a connection that lasts, you need to know how to stand out. To help you start off on the right foot, we’ll give you 5 ways you can connect with firms and 5 ways you can stand out and get an offer.
Where Can You Connect with Firms?
This a great way to connect with firms, whether you’re a freshman or a senior. Be sure to bring your resume and dress professionally. Let firms know if you’re interested in a job or internship, and approach as many firms as you can. Try to be open minded; talk to companies you wouldn’t normally consider since they might have an opening fitting your skills.
Beta Alpha Psi Events
If you haven’t joined Beta Alpha Psi yet, it’s time to get an application in. The group sets up events to meet firms or to have career professionals come in and talk with students. This international honor organization is a great way for college students to get one-on-one time with firms they want to work with, as well as get information about certain positions. This is a great way to get one-on-one time with firms you want to work with, as well as get information about certain positions. Your school might also have an Accounting Society, an NABA chapter, or an ALPFA chapter. Be sure to find out what resources and extracurriculars you have available.
Meet the Firms Events
Often organized by Beta Alpha Psi or the accounting department, these are also a chance to meet one-on-one with firms. Keep an eye on event boards in your college building or website to see when they’re happening.
State Society Events
State Boards and State Societies of CPAs put on various events, from CPE events to dinners to student events. Keep an eye on each respective website as well as any social media to see when events are.
This is the most intimate way to get to know a job, a career or a firm. It’s also a great way to find a mentor if you’re looking for one. Informational interviews are just like they sound: you find someone you’d like to interview to gain more information on a subject. In this case, you can reach out to local professionals at firms and ask them if they’d like to meet with you for an informational interview. Bring relevant questions and ask to have the interview somewhere offsite of the firm, such as a local coffee shop. This shows you’re interested in the firm but aren’t all business.
5 Ways College Students Can Stand Out
Research the Firm
This is the one aspect of getting your foot in the door many people forget. Before you start talking to anyone from a specific firm, do some research. Get a copy of the firm list for career fairs or look up firms before Beta Alpha Psi events. Do thorough research by getting on their website, and looking at press releases or blog posts. Find areas they’re working in that interest you and bring them up when you talk with firms.
Focus on Soft Skills
Soft skills are qualitative skills that aren’t generally taught. These include time management, adaptability and critical thinking. When meeting with firms, it’s unlikely you’ll have much on-the-job experience. At this stage, firms are looking for new candidates with critical soft skills that will help them succeed in the organization. Highlight a few of these skills by giving examples of how you use them. If you’re a college athlete, note you’re really good at time management and give an example. If you’re curious and open-minded, highlight any classes you’ve taken that prove that skill.
Firms can glean much of your “book” knowledge from what’s on your resume, but it’s hard to judge personality without meeting someone. Accountants tend to work in teams, so firms are looking for candidates who are relatable and get along well with others. If you’re in a group setting, don’t try to run the conversation, but rather be inclusive of what others are saying and truly listen before speaking your piece.
Highlight Your Experience
While you can note experience on a resume, it doesn’t always tell the whole story. Let firms know you have experience in their field if you’ve interned in the past, and share with them why you enjoy a specific area of accounting. If you don’t have internship experience, highlight any other experience in your past. If you worked in fast food in high school, let them know you have customer service experience and give them examples of how you’ve worked with customers in the past.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Remember, this is as much an opportunity for firms to get to know you as it is for you to get to know firms. Ask about work-life balance, what people do in their free time and if there’s an inclusive culture at the firm. Feel free to ask these questions to several people as the same firm, and compare answers to see how the culture truly is across different employees.
Meeting with firms is an exciting time, and it’s crucial you go to events and stand out. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to interviews and, with the adoption of the stand-out skills above, on your way to a career.
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Jessica Sandhu is the Market Development Manager for Surgent CPA Review. Jessica graduated with degrees in Accounting, Finance, and Business Management from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and ultimately pursued a career in Accounting. Before joining Surgent CPA Review, Jessica worked as an Auditor for a large regional accounting firm and spent a few years as a Retail Accountant. Jessica is currently sitting for the CPA Exam.