Over the past three semesters, many accounting students have grappled with going to school in a virtual environment — and conducting their job and internship searches virtually as well. The gatherings or one-to-one interactions that used to happen in person, including career fairs, firm information sessions, and job interviews, now take place remotely.
Employers and accounting firms have come up with some creative solutions to introduce themselves to students. For example, an entirely virtual BKD Live roadshow showcased different offices and allowed students to choose which ones they wanted to “visit” online. “Students could move around to get to know the people and get a sense of what was appealing in any location,” said Molly Davis, BKD campus recruiting manager, who is based in Springfield, Mo. The firm circulated information to students via email or BKD social media platforms encouraging them to sign up. Dates for the office visits, which were held mainly on Zoom, were spread throughout a semester so that students could visit multiple locations. At Somerset CPAs in Indianapolis, the firm let job candidates take part in virtual games with staff members who are alumni of their schools to help them feel at home, said Karli Azar, talent and acquisition senior associate.
Though many employers will want to reestablish an in-person presence on campuses when it’s safe to do so, the pandemic has allowed virtual recruiting to gain a foothold at colleges and universities. It has spurred most schools and employers that had not already begun using virtual platforms for career information events or interviews to adopt them. Students who are a year or more away from graduation should be prepared to navigate both virtual and in-person formats, recruiting personnel say, and faculty and students are likely to see a hybrid model going forward.
As students search out their own career paths, faculty can help by preparing them for both virtual and in-person career events. Here is some advice for students to keep in mind:
Prepare for interview questions about remote work. Since employers are still seeking many of the same skills as before the pandemic, their interview questions generally are the same. Questions may evolve, however, if a significant number of staff continue to work remotely after the pandemic is over. Employers can determine how successful a candidate will be in a remote role using questions that offer a sense of how well they can work independently while also maintaining good communication with their manager or team, said Rod Adams, talent acquisition and onboarding leader at PwC.
Work harder to make an impression. Given the limits of online interaction, “it’s 10 times harder to stand out than it used to be,” Azar said. She recommended that students attend as many employer information sessions, virtual coffee hours, or any other events as possible to show their interest. “Following up is key,” she said, advising that students send a polite email to people they meet online and add them on LinkedIn, just as they would after an in-person meeting.
Have an elevator pitch. Some schools are restricting interactions at virtual career fairs and similar online networking events to as little as five or 10 minutes, said Davis. If there are time limits at your school, advise students to perfect an “elevator pitch,” or a short summary of their background and strengths. “This approach will help them make an impression in a hurry,” said Kaylan Vrana, campus recruiter at BKD in Kansas City, Mo.
Put in the effort to learn about firm culture. At an in-person career fair, students can scout out organizations that seem to have a good energy or especially welcoming representatives. At online recruiting events, “it’s harder to get to know each other and get a gut feeling about whether it’s the right opportunity,” Azar said. “Eye contact and body language are lost. You also miss the chance to build a relationship or grab a coffee when you’re next on campus to show you’re interested.”
As a result, students may want to go online to get a sense of an employer’s unique culture and opportunities before interviewing or accepting an offer. They may want to spend time considering what they’re looking for in a workplace — an emphasis on teamwork, great mentoring opportunities, flexible schedules, or whatever matters to them — and ask about those factors in their interviews.
Create a professional impression, even remotely. Before interviews, in addition to researching the employer, students should try to do a mock interview online to get ready, and they should still dress for success. They should also ensure that their video backgrounds look professional and that they minimize the chance of noise and interruptions. Students also need to ensure their connectivity is up to speed and that they are comfortable with the platform being used for each online interview or recruiting event, said Mike Theobald, director of career services at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo.
Prevent online fatigue. Since students spend so much time staring at screens, Theobald also cautioned them to avoid what he calls “Zoom fatigue,” which might sap their energy at a time when they need to be their best. That may involve avoiding or shortening online meetings as much as possible on the day before an interview or turning off the camera or the self-view option during the days beforehand so that they get a break from being “on” all the time. Students may then feel fresher and more alert when they appear on camera for the big interview.
Students can check out ThisWaytoCPA.com for more advice and resources on finding an accounting job, including virtual interviews.
— Anita Dennis is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.