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Tracy Crevar Warren

2012 Busy Season’s ’Round the Corner: Do You Know Where Your Temp Workers Are?

Don’t miss out on discovering these untapped hidden treasures.

October 11, 2011
by Tracy Crevar Warren

With the 2012 busy season just around the corner, it’s not too early to start sizing up your staffing needs and options. This year it may be more critical than ever, as you and your hiring budgets are likely stretched to the max.

  • Will you turn to seasonal professionals who have off and on filled the extra demand in your firm?
  • Will you stretch your budget even thinner by hiring experienced unemployed professionals still looking for high wages? or
  • Will you consider unknown resources from a temp agency?

While these are all good options, have you considered retaining top accounting students from your local college? This often overlooked option could be valuable to your practice by opening up a new avenue for talent that is eagerly waiting to be discovered. Putting them to work may be the answer to short-term needs, while providing additional benefits that will last long after busy season is gone.

“Utilizing college students has been a regular part of the landscape in our firm for over a decade,” said Margaret Thompson, a partner with North Carolina-based Dixon Hughes Goodman. “More than bringing on a student simply to fill a gap, we view these types of relationships as an integral part of our ongoing recruiting process.” 

“Not only can an accounting student provide a firm with additional manpower at a reasonable price, they can be a pipeline for bringing the best talent into a firm,” pointed out Kristen Eakes, owner, of Greensboro, NC-based Kristen Eakes CPA. “Providing students with a positive, enriching experience builds the firm’s reputation among fellow students, and can help position it as a place where they want to go when they finish college.”

I first discovered the unlimited possibilities that college students can bring to the professional services world when I needed extra help years ago. That’s how I came to know Kristen, who was then an accounting student at the University of North Carolina. Not only was she smart, eager and organized, but she was always willing to tackle the tasks at hand with enthusiasm and poise. The arrangement was so successful that this undergrad went on to get her masters in accounting before joining my firm in a full-time audit capacity. There she quickly climbed the ranks before starting her own practice.

Benefits

“Offering these types of work opportunities provides many benefits both to the firm and the student.” noted Thompson. “Not only do we get the chance to work directly with some of the best new talent out there, [but] they can [also] create a buzz for us among their peers. News of their experience with us is more powerful than anything we could say internally.”  

“In school, you study a lot of theory and technical accounting, but there are certain parts of a public accountant’s job that you just can’t grasp until you actually do it,” remarked Eakes. “Having the opportunity to travel with an audit team to a client’s office, and work on an audit really opened my eyes to how my studies would apply in the real world. It also helped me understand that being a CPA was more than just technical expertise.”

The good news here is that this type of arrangement can be a win-win situation for everyone involved. Consider the benefits that your firm can reap:

  • Access to smart, eager staff at a reasonable price.
  • Ability to get to know the next generation of accounting professionals.
  • Provide potential employees with a jumpstart on invaluable on-the-job training.
  • Gain first-hand knowledge of a student’s abilities.
  • Enable students to become a cheerleader for your firm.
  • Build a pipeline for hiring the brightest new talent.

What Roles Can They Play?

“Not only did I get the chance to work on several audits as an accounting student, but I got a unique opportunity to work with a firm’s marketing director,” quipped Eakes. “This provided a completely different perspective on the role that marketing and sales plays in any public accounting firm. What I learned has been an asset to me throughout my entire career.”

There are many roles that accounting students can play in your organization including:

  • Research
  • Field work
  • Entry-level roles that new hires typically perform
  • Assistance with simple tax return preparation
  • Business-development tasks such as research, event preparation and tracking

What Can You Learn From Them?

“It’s so helpful to be able to see a student in action,” said Thompson. “Not only do we get to evaluate them in the work environment, but they get to do the same with us. Lots of times we will make a hiring decision for full-time employment based on a student’s contributions during an interim assignment with us. It is just a good learning process for everyone involved.”

Students are not the only ones who will learn from these work experiences. This arrangement can provide educational opportunities for you and your colleagues as well. These include the following:

  • How the individual performs on the job;
  • Insight on the best ways to communicate, manage and motivate this new generation;
  • A better understanding of the special skills they possess such as social media; and
  • Ideas for ways to strengthen your firm’s college recruiting efforts.

Tips for Success

“Don’t just give an accounting student the grunt work that no one else wants to do. Expose them to all aspects of a CPA’s job,” said Eakes. “Take them on sales calls, involve them in firm meetings and take them along on client meetings. Most importantly, provide accounting students with the support and supervision they need to make the experience a successful one for the student and the firm.”

“It’s important to set standards for qualifications and duties, just like with full-time hires,” added Thompson. “It’s also important help each student to have the best experience they can have. This involves matching the assignment with their personal interests and the classes they are taking.”

Some tips to get you started include:

  • Define what roles you have to fill;
  • Select students who will fit well into your firm’s culture and environment carefully;
  • Provide training for the work to be done;
  • Offer needed support and supervision;
  • Encourage regular questions. Be willing and available to provide answers; and
  • Consider a buddy system to match students with similar-aged full-time staff.

“We realized that students need a little extra TLC as they get acclimated to life in a professional environment,” said Thompson. “That’s why we implemented a Buddy System. Each student we bring on board has a staff-level professional to connect with throughout their time with us. It helps them feel more comfortable to have someone about their age [with whom] they can talk.”

Getting Started

To get started, contact the chair or dean of the school’s accounting department or the placement office. Let them know what type of person you are looking for so they can put the word out to top students who can fit nicely into your organization.

Don’t be surprised to find a number of good candidates from which to choose. Just like regular staff recruiting, identify the people in your firm who you would like to interview the potential candidates. Their involvement and feedback will help you find the person best suited to your organization.

Is it time to put this untapped talent pool to work in your firm?

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Tracy Crevar Warren, founder of The Crevar Group, helps professional services firms win more new business and build more profitable practices. A sought-after consultant, author and coach, she advises clients on practice growth through marketing, sales and client service. With a proven track record and positive high-energy style, she empowers practitioners to do more of the work they love. You can reach her at 336-889-GROW (4769).