Attracting fresh talent isn’t an impossible dream, but get them while they’re young and still in school. Establishing relationships with universities and individual college professors helps Grant Thornton attract the best students. But even small firms without big budgets can focus on recruiting at the local level, especially if they start the process when the students are still impressionable sophomores. By the time they have their diplomas in hand, most grads already have made up their minds as to where they want to work, according to Ed Nusbaum, Grant Thornton’s CEO and executive partner. Investing in them for a summer internship—even when the workload is light—could pay off when they become seniors, he says. The good news is that many of those young prospects are making conscious decisions to start their careers on a smaller scale. “When I pursued accounting, everyone looked at the Big 8, and Grant Thornton was No. 9. Nobody went anywhere else,” says Nusbaum, an Ohio State University alumnus who began working for Grant Thornton nearly three decades ago. “Today, the top six to seven firms attract the majority, but people go straight into industry or with local firms. Back then, if you did that, professors would say you’re crazy—and they have a lot of influence.” The American Institute of CPAs is targeting an even younger audience, high schoolers. Start Here, Go Places, is the AICPA’s student recruitment campaign, aimed at “building awareness” and “changing perceptions” about the profession. It connects students to a Web site that speaks their language, using words like “awesome,” providing ways for them to “get a leg up” on other college applicants by taking business courses in high school and offering quick facts, such as the inventor of bubble gum was an accountant. There are even video clips with real-life CPAs who drive—get ready for this—Corvettes (That means they’re cool.) This content is relevant to its readers and feels more like something they’d find in Seventeen magazine than, well, an accounting publication. No one knows how many kids say “I want to be an accountant when I grow up.” But at least they are learning that the profession exists and that jobs are available. Enron might have made those jobs more difficult, but it also drove awareness and made the thought of becoming an auditor “more enticing,” Nusbaum says. But work-life balance is also important, as much of a cliché as that may be. There’s no denying the fact that most teens don’t envision themselves working around the clock. Thirty years ago, when Nusbaum began his accounting career, he worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, from January to March. On Sundays, he left at 5 p.m. “That was the easy day,” he says. Today, people put in a lot less time in the office. Kids don’t say they want “work-life balance.” They say they “want to have a life.” And the perception today is that accountants do have lives because people like Nusbaum are helping to influence their views and shape the next generation of CPAs.
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