Talent acquisition in the profession seems to be aperpetual area of concern for many firms. While traditional recruiting methodsdo well to find transitional talent, most firms need to also implement aninternal program for identifying and nurturing young talent. Internshipsprograms are one method firms use to access, identify and acquire youngprofessionals coming into accounting.

While larger CPA firms generally all have establishedinternship programs, many smaller firms either don't have a program or arestill working on refining it. To help firms who are contemplating launching aprogram or optimizing existing efforts, I spoke with Shawn Frier, a CPA and thedirector of recruiting at Freed Maxick Battaglia CPAs in Buffalo, N.Y.


Tell me about your internship program.

Frier: The Mentored Accounting Experience (MAX) Internship Program began in the summer of 2008. It is a six-week, full-time, intense program in which a small group of interns receive one-on-one mentoring from the MAX Program Coordinator and other members of the firm. Throughout the program, the participants network with FMB staff and directors, interact with members of the engagement team and clients, share ideas, ask questions and learn from the best. In addition, they gain exposure to a variety of service areas, both from audit and tax perspectives, work on challenging assignments from the diverse client base and attend firm-sponsored CPE sessions to refine their technical skill set. MAX program participants have the same responsibilities as full-time staff members, and are compensated accordingly.

The MAX program benefits the firm by giving it the opportunity to meet and work with top-performing accounting students before they graduate. By developing these professional relationships early on, FMB hopes the students will return as Level II MAX candidates, and eventually choose to accept a position with the firm upon graduation.


What process does the firm use to identify potential interns?

Frier: FMB applies the same processes, practices and standards for hiring interns as we do for regular employees. The firm attends numerous "Meet the Accountants" events at local colleges and showcases information about the MAX program to interested candidates. Program participants or graduates attend these events and provide testimony about their experience. The firm conducts regular speaking engagements or "technicals" for accounting students and societies where the MAX Program is introduced. Internship information is communicated directly to college career centers and accounting professors.

In order to be considered for the program, candidates must have a minimum B grade average in Accounting Principles I and II, a minimum overall GPA of 3.4, and two letters of recommendation (one from a professor and one from a working or volunteer experience). Additionally, they must provide a current transcript and a resume. This ensures that only the top accounting students, who are really committed to all the program entails, will apply.


What is the curriculum for interns?

Frier: Each MAX Program participant has the opportunity to work in as many departments as possible during the six-week period. This allows the interns to learn about the different types of opportunities and to see what type of work they might be interested in pursuing.


How does your firm ensure effective communication and feedback?

Frier: Throughout the program, the interns receive prompt and detailed feedback from the MAX program coordinator through weekly meetings. At the close of the six-week program, interns and members of the firm fill out detailed evaluations. The suggestions of the interns are incorporated to make the program stronger each year.


What type of resources are involved?

Frier: A lot of time is spent each year implementing and managing the MAX program as it evolves. Since it has built an outstanding local reputation, the MAX program commands a high number of resumes for only a few spots. The interview process is thorough, and requires time and input from numerous people within the firm. Each year, a lot of time is also spent designing the program, creating the training, setting the schedule and creating the evaluation forms and forums.

Initially, preparing for the MAX program was an involved process that began nine months before the start of the program. A group that included a partner-in-charge, a MAX program coordinator, and members of the professional staff, human resources and marketing teams developed the necessary curriculum and materials. The MAX program coordinator is assigned as the point person to help promote the program and review incoming applications. Applications are due six months before the program begins each summer, and candidates are usually selected within a month. Maintenance of the program relies on this same core committee of FMB employees to interview prospects, provide assignments and feedback, and handle all HR and marketing-related aspects of the program.


What advice can you offer other CPA firms seeking to establish an internship program?

Frier: Before establishing an internship program, accounting firms should make sure they have buy-in from the top. It needs to be a worthwhile experience for both the firm and the interns, so the program should include relevant accounting work, which is both helpful to the firm and a good learning experience for the interns. An accounting internship should focus on actual accounting work, not on tasks like photocopying or filing.

Pay the students what they're worth - if they are billable, they should be paid accordingly.


Brian Swanson is with Flashpoint Marketing (www.flashpointmarketing.biz). Reach him at bswanson@flashpointmarketing.biz.

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