One way CPAs give back: The Career Fair Skills Workshop at North Carolina A&T

CPAs help students build the skills they need to land their first accounting jobs.
By Kevin L. James, CPA, Ph.D., and Lisa Owens-Jackson, CPA, Ph.D.

NC A&T State accounting graduate DeSean Jordan (left) conducts an interview with student Charles Chisley IV.
NC A&T State accounting graduate DeSean Jordan (left) conducts an interview with student Charles Chisley IV. (Photo by Howard Gaither/Howard Gaither Photography)

CPAs can play a tremendous role in enhancing the professional competencies of accounting students to prepare them to meet the current demands of the profession. One way CPAs are involved in student development at our institution, North Carolina A&T State University, is by participating in the Career Fair Skills Workshop.

Like many universities, we experience a flurry of activity around campus recruiting in the first four to six weeks of the fall semester. For us, this includes a large campuswide career fair, a Beta Alpha Psi Meet the Firms event, an event for employers in industry, and numerous company information sessions. To prepare students for these opportunities, we host our Career Fair Skills Workshop in the first few weeks of the semester. CPA volunteers are integral to this program.

The first hour of our program is divided into three 20-minute segments. A CPA volunteer discusses professional presence and confidence using students to demonstrate handshakes, body language, and professional image. A second CPA discusses professional attire. A local retailer provides clothing for display and uses students to demonstrate several looks. Here students gain clear and detailed information on what constitutes professional interview attire and what mistakes may cost them an internship opportunity. Because a primary challenge students have is what to say when they first meet a potential employer, a third CPA describes the key components of an elevator speech and has volunteers demonstrate. Student feedback on this program has been very positive, and students have noted that using current students to demonstrate the principles discussed is impactful.

The second hour of our workshop is a résumé review session. During this time, students receive individualized critiques and recommendations on their résumés. The individualized attention provided during this hour requires more volunteers. We normally use about 12 to 15 professionals to review about 125 résumés. The professionals are encouraged to be critical and direct in their analysis and feedback. Students' comments indicate that they do not want to be coddled; they want to leave with the most competitive résumé possible.

An important companion to the Career Fair Skills Workshop is the opportunity for students to participate in mock interviews to sharpen interview skills. We allow students to sign up for this opportunity in the days after the workshop, offering slots based on how many CPA volunteers are available. We encourage freshmen and sophomores to participate in both the workshop and mock interviews so they have time to develop prior to junior year when critical internship opportunities generally become available.

CPAs benefit from participating in this program just as students do. As a result of this and other workshops, our recruiting partners have significantly enhanced their brands on our campus and have obtained early access to our most talented students. Firms will benefit from developing relationships with students ahead of their competition and can identify "diamonds in the rough" to target during future recruiting efforts. Participating CPAs also express a great sense of fulfillment from investing time in emerging professionals.

The Career Fair Skills Workshop accomplishes a great deal with a commitment of just two to three hours from a group of CPAs. Such a workshop draws on training and experience practicing CPAs already possess, so the preparation required is minimal. However, workshops like this can provide great impact by helping talented students learn how to best present themselves to employers.


About the authors

Kevin L. James (kljames@ncat.edu) is associate professor and chair of the Department of Accounting and Finance at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, N.C. Lisa Owens-Jackson (laowensj@ncat.edu) is associate professor and associate dean of the College of Business and Economics at North Carolina A&T State University. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4125.

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