Effective Campus Recruiting: The Faculty Perspective

By Bruce (Harv) Busta, D’Arcy Becker, P. Jane Saly, Richard S. Sathe, and Kate Mooney

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JULY 2007 - Current market forces such as the requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) have increased demand for entry-level accountants. While student enrollments in accounting programs have begun to rise in response to this demand, competition to hire college accounting majors remains intense. Both students and employers look to faculty for help in navigating these challenges. Long-term relationships between employers, faculty, and students are critical. Long-term relationships help employers make efficient use of recruiting resources, help faculty understand the needs of both employers and students, and help students identify suitable employers. Without long-term relationships, employers are less likely to attract students to their job openings and faculty members are less likely to recommend that students pursue those openings. The key factors in developing long-term relationships are the same factors as for other relationships: trust through respect, mutual benefit, and consistency.

Select Key Recruiting Campuses

Employers should concentrate their efforts on a few key campuses. This reduces the high cost of recruiting while maximizing results. The number of campuses will depend on one’s recruiting needs, but at least four is recommended. A diverse pool of schools, public and private, large and small, is an important factor. Employers should think of the schools as a portfolio and consider their ability to meet the firm’s long-term need for a diverse set of employees with varying backgrounds and interests.

Concentrating on a small number of campuses forces employers to think about the match between job opportunity and student before the recruiting process begins. The selection of campuses should be based on several factors, such as the location and profile of the firm and the type of services the firm provides. For example, if a firm’s clients are located in small communities, then choose some schools from small communities or schools in that geographic area. Students at those schools might be more eager than students from large cities to work in small communities. If a firm has a large tax service, recruiting at campuses with a strong tax faculty might be more important.

The alma mater of firm personnel is likely to be a factor in the selection of schools. A personal connection between firm members and a school has the advantage of providing goodwill with the faculty and good understanding of the campus culture. It also demonstrates to students (prospective employees) that they too can be successful at the firm. Frequently, firms use recent graduates as part of their recruiting efforts on campus. It is unwise to consider this factor, however, over the criteria outlined above.

Knowing the Campus and Students

When starting a relationship with a campus, the first contact should be the department chair. Discuss the firm and its recruiting goals, along with the firm’s desire to establish a long-term relationship, and the firm’s reason for choosing the school.

If a firm has not recruited at the school before, or if the chair is not familiar with the firm, provide information about the firm, send firm literature, and consider a personal meeting. The relationship is important to the success of recruiting efforts.

Remember that faculty members have a primary allegiance to their students, which means that their goal is to provide a wide and diverse number of opportunities for them. Don’t expect faculty to support one firm over another. Help the faculty to see the opportunities the firm offers, so they can inform students. Faculty members must remain neutral, but can help a student find the right fit. On-campus interviews are a good opportunity to meet with the faculty and describe the firm. The career services office can arrange lunches with faculty members.

The next goal is to obtain facts about the program that will be useful in setting the recruiting strategy. For each school one should know the following:

  • The size of accounting faculty and qualifications (e.g., PhDs, work experience, CPAs).
  • The number of students graduating at each term (fall, spring, and summer).
  • The types of degrees: undergraduate, MBA, MS, or MAcc.
  • The types of careers sought by students (e.g., audit, tax, corporate, small business).
  • The accreditations earned by the department and college (e.g., Association to Advance College Schools of Business).
  • If the curriculum qualifies students to sit for the CPA exam.
  • The potential avenues for students to complete 150 credit hours.
  • The curriculum, both for accounting (e.g., not-for-profit, international accounting) and other types of courses (e.g., ethics, communications).
  • The diversity of the student body (e.g., foreign, local, other U.S. regions).
  • The contact information (e.g., department chair, office administrator, internship director, and career services).
  • The contact information for the presidents of the accounting club; the national accounting-student fraternity, Beta Alpha Psi; and Beta Gamma Sigma, an international honor society of business students and scholars.
  • The dates that campus recruiting begins and ends.
  • The typical timing of an internship and permanent offers.
  • The dates of annual banquets or other important social events.
  • The dates of midterm and final examinations.

This information will help in deciding whether the school should be a key school. Each school will have its strengths and weaknesses, but as a group, the strengths should offset the weaknesses. If not, the pool of schools should be adjusted.

Building Relationships with Campuses

There are many ways to build a relationship with a campus, and the chair can help in suggesting activities. The following are some possibilities:

  • Provide guest speakers for classes.
  • Sponsor events with the accounting club or Beta Alpha Psi.
  • Conduct mock interviews, especially in years when not interviewing for full-time or internship positions.
  • Have a website designed specifically for recruiting.
  • Provide or sponsor seminars for students (e.g., professional dress and etiquette).
  • Teach a special-topics course in certain areas as needed by the school (e.g., SOX compliance, information technology auditing).
  • Provide subscriptions for students (e.g., The New Accountant, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, BusinessWeek) in accounting labs or other areas where accounting students congregate.
  • Provide scholarships.
  • Sponsor social events.
  • Attend the campus career fair, even when the firm is not going to be hiring, so that its name becomes known by the faculty and students.
  • Offer shadowing programs (these are especially popular in the summer).
  • Participate in campus fundraising (having a classroom or computer lab named after a firm provides high name recognition).

All of the above require resource commitment and coordination between the school and firm. These relationship-building activities are mutually beneficial. They can help a school educate accounting professionals and help a firm recruit effectively.

Activities that keep a firm’s name recognizable over time should be undertaken at all schools in the recruiting pool. Some of these are relatively low cost and include providing small scholarships ($1,000), conducting mock interviews, attending the career fair, and job shadowing. More expensive endeavors may be undertaken at selected schools, but on a less frequent basis. Perhaps a firm can commit to teaching one course every other term, or teach an etiquette seminar every two years, or raise money from alumni to upgrade a classroom or computer lab every five years. These larger commitments can have a big impact on students.

The most important factor in the success of any of these relationship-building activities is consistency. Be consistent with what is done, and to the extent possible, be consistent with the firm personnel involved. These activities should be done even when a firm is not hiring; students should perceive a firm’s consistent presence.

Consistency allows a school’s career services department, student leaders, and faculty to understand a firm’s “personality.” When career services knows a firm contact well, the office will notice changes in the recruiting pattern (interview schedules not filling quickly, students not speaking favorably about a firm, or campus recruiters missing deadlines or being disorganized during the recruiting season) and help a firm correct the problems. When the student club president knows the firm contact, it is easier to set up events. When faculty members know the contact person well, they are more likely to ask about classroom visits or to discuss other issues. This familiarity will help a firm fill late openings or deal with delicate recruiting issues.

A consistent relationship can help a firm through lean times on campus, such as when a firm holds interviews in which students do not show interest or when a firm has many offers rejected. Oftentimes, a firm’s success in recruiting students will come in waves. This most commonly occurs when a firm recruits one or two popular or influential students who, in turn, may be responsible for peers joining them at the firm. This ripple effect is good for the hiring firm and prompts other firms to ask how they can emulate that success. If a firm has built a long-term relationship it can recover faster. Take the example of a firm that failed to recruit any new hires and approached a department chair for help. The department chair convened a focus group of students who mentioned that the campus recruiter did not return calls. The students had other offers and chose the firms that paid more attention to them. Students spread the word about this firm and other students avoided it. The firm restructured its on-campus recruiting and concentrated on timely feedback and a quick turnaround on questions. It took three years, but the firm found greater success than it had prior to the episode.

Recruiting on Campuses

When possible, visits to campuses should be done by a consistent team from year to year. The recruiting effort should be directed by an experienced central contact who knows the firm’s history with the campus. The contact should get to know faculty members and career services personnel to facilitate relationship building. This person should also be responsible for keeping track of each school’s procedures for scheduling on-campus interviews, placing the notices of firm openings, arranging for space at recruiting fairs, and other activities.

Most firms use new staff as greeters for campus interviews, which is especially effective when done by alumni. New hires should facilitate recruiting, however, not lead it. Firms that do not send more-senior people to conduct interviews are viewed unfavorably by students. Also, a recent hire may not understand the importance of the recruiting effort and how to capitalize on relationships.

The authors suggest a recruiting model as shown in the Exhibit. Various versions of this model have been used with great success. The concept is that partner-level individuals provide continuity, a manager-level individual oversees the consistent execution of the details, and new staff provide the energy and enthusiasm for the numerous campus visits.

When a transition occurs within this model, the chair can contact either the human resources partner or the partner-in-charge for the chair’s campus. This prevents loss of continuity and impairment of the long-term relationship. This model does not base recruiting efforts on a single person. This is especially important if the recruiting contact (campus recruiter) is at the staff or managerial level or works exclusively in human resources. Another feature is that the chair of the department and career services will always know whom to call. If the staff or manager-level contact changes, recruiting efforts will not break down.

Interviewers should be consistent on job specifics, how the firm will proceed after the interview, and the requirements necessary from each candidate. For example, if some students are told grades are not important and others are told that they are, word will spread quickly that the firm does not treat everyone equally.

Plan campus recruiting efforts across the portfolio of key schools. The overall recruiting plan should feature the dates of key events (e.g., peak interviewing times, banquets, midterms, and final exams) on each campus. Knowing the schedule of events on each campus in advance will help a firm strategically make offers and modify recruiting efforts as offers are accepted and rejected on various campuses.

Internships

To maximize student interest, firms should think creatively by offering flexible internships. Summer internships can be an excellent way to develop a competitive recruiting edge over other firms. Firms have evaluated the timing of their staffing needs and offer internships at nontraditional times. For example, one firm had unusual staffing needs and offered an internship starting on April 16. This was an opportunity to recruit students who interned at a different firm during tax season and did not start classes again until June. Another firm used 1 Qs -year internships as an effective recruiting tool; students worked 10 to 20 hours per week during the academic year and full-time in the summer. This type of internship is quite popular, especially if it includes a well-defined job rotation schedule.

Be clear about staffing needs to prospective interns. For some firms, internships typically result in permanent job offers. In other firms, internships are strictly short-term employment or training experiences and a permanent job offer is unlikely. It is critical to communicate as clearly as possible to the intern the long-term job prospects. It is not necessarily negative that an internship is unlikely to result in a permanent job offer. Some students want to experiment with an unfamiliar work setting (i.e., governmental accounting, internal audit) where they are uncertain if they will enjoy the work, or just want experience in a specific area or company without the pressure of a job offer. Additionally, some students are not in a position to accept a permanent position for personal reasons and, consequently, an internship that is short-term is attractive.

After a student accepts an internship offer, there are three critical efforts that a firm must make to ensure the student’s experience will be positive:

  • Give regular and quick feedback. Without timely feedback on their work performance, interns can repeat errors, only to learn about them at the end.
  • Provide a formal training program covering not only technical issues, but also simple tasks such as operation of the phone system, technology (e.g., computers, printers, and photocopiers), and organizational structure. A mentor can be especially helpful for nontechnical issues.
  • Keep the intern or new hire busy with meaningful tasks. “Make-work” activities or unbillable time give a poor impression of the firm and dramatically lower the quality of the internship experience.

Students who have positive internship experiences are more likely to speak favorably about the firm to other students, improving prospects for future recruiting.

At the end of the internship, tell students about the firm’s hiring plans. If it is uncertain whether there will be a permanent opening, inform the student of the timeline for determining whether there are openings. If there is an opening but it is not offered to a particular intern, outline the reasons. This helps students improve their performance and reduces the negative impact this decision may have on other students. If students believe they were rejected for “no reason,” other students may be less interested in the firm’s future opportunities.

Firms should also anticipate that some students will be unable to accept a permanent offer immediately. If a student completes an internship and still has two years of school remaining, the student may not want to lock himself into a job far in advance. Keep this in mind when determining the characteristics of interns who are hired. If a firm wants to hire all of its interns into permanent jobs, it may not want to recruit juniors who are working on 150-credit degrees.

Pitfalls

A high-risk situation for any recruitment program is the departure of a campus recruiter. A firm’s long-term contacts must step in and manage the transition. Always remember that consistency is crucial for success.

A firm cannot rely solely on its image as a top firm or its history with a campus to reach the top talent. Successful recruiting requires persistent effort. Attend and sponsor campus events even in years the firm is not hiring. Keeping a firm’s name fresh in students’ minds is important to maintain interest.

Be careful about pressuring top students to make a commitment early in their college careers. At this stage, they are vulnerable and there is a responsibility to keep their best long-term career interests in mind. Early job offers may mean that a student forgoes a master’s degree or does not prepare fully for the CPA exam.

Do not hold major recruiting events, such as barbecues or parties off campus, and require students interested in the firm to attend. Students with jobs and other commitments will immediately lose interest.

It is important to distinguish between recruiting opportunities and working internships. While it is tempting to label job shadowing or baseball games as part of an internship experience to increase participation, students will be confused and angry when the distinction becomes clear.

Be aware of the student grapevine. A misstep with one student can have disastrous consequences for current and future recruiting efforts. Students share information and are likely to remember problems with individual firms. A firm’s reputation with students is similar to a firm’s reputation with clients: easy to lose and hard to regain.

Committed long-term relationships are the most effective way to prevent a recruiting pitfall—or to recover from one. Students, firms, and faculty all can rebuild and create new bridges when a trusting, mutually beneficial, and consistent relationship is in place.

Ongoing Recruiting

Recruiting new CPAs can be a costly and challenging process for any accounting firm. From the authors’ perspectives as accounting faculty, a successful firm must have a strategic plan and establish long-term relationships with several key campuses. Firms should treat recruiting as an ongoing effort over a long period of time, rather than as a one-month-per-year effort. At first glance, this approach may appear costly, but ineffective recruiting or the recruitment of mismatched employees imposes a much higher cost on a firm over the long term.


Bruce (Harv) Busta, PhD, CPA (inactive), CISA, is a professor of accounting and the chairperson at St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minn.
D’Arcy Becker, PhD, CPA, is a professor of accounting and the chairperson at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, Eau Claire, Wisc.
P. Jane Saly, PhD, is an associate professor of accounting and the chairperson at the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas, Minneapolis, Minn.
Richard S. Sathe, EdD, CPA, is an associate professor of accounting and former chairperson, also at the University of St. Thomas.
Kate Mooney, PhD, CPA, is a professor of accounting and the former chairperson at St. Cloud State University and a member of the Minnesota Board of Accountancy.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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