While technical skills are always important, at Meet the Firms, the recruiter is looking for individuals with personalities that will match the atmosphere in their company. They will be interested in your goals and ambitions, communication skills, leadership skills, ability to get along with others, and your poise and confidence.
What should you be looking for? Although you want to make a good impression, you should remember that the firms want to impress you, too. After all, if you have great things on your resume, the firms will be coming after you. Therefore, you want to choose the right firm to work for. You want to be working with people you like at a firm that offers opportunities that interest you. One of your goals is to learn about the potential employees. You should try to learn about the types of work you will be doing, the types of clients you will be working on, the atmosphere of the office and the type of people you will be working with, and the things you can do to enhance your opportunity of getting hired by the firm.
Go to events put on by various student organizations designed to prepare you for Meet the Firms and speak with other students.
Prioritize the firms you want to talk to (There are so many firms represented that you will be unable to talk with them all.)
Have a few questions in mind that are good openers to conversation and prepare a quick repertoire of who you are (This is sometimes referred to as the “Elevator Interview” and should be no more than about 30 seconds long.)
Have some resumes with you just in case you are asked for one. Your resume should also be listed in the booklet given to the firms by the promoters.
Your main goal is to find out about the different career opportunities available, the differences between the firms, and what the profession is all about. If you treat this event as a learning experience, you will be less nervous about the whole event.
Take note of what is important to you in a career. It is difficult to get what you want if you do not know what you want. Think about your likes and dislikes and develop a checklist of questions about the firms that match the items you consider most significant. Some items you might include:
- The work environment – such as: the culture, the atmosphere, the size of the firm, and the people.
- The challenge of learning, solving problems, and attaining responsibility.
- The variety of working with different clients, on different projects, in different departments, offices, or field locations.
- The prestige or recognition associated with recognition, title, or responsibility.
- Growth opportunities in developing new skills or specialization.
- Income potential and job security.
- The lifestyle you will be able to enjoy while taking advantage of the career opportunities available.
Tell firms what you have to offer. Think about your strengths and be prepared to talk about them. Remember the classes you did particularly well in, and those that you found the most interesting. Consider your work experience, if any. Experience in supervising others and in dealing with the public are particularly helpful.
Active involvement in AA, BAY, MISA, or another organization is also valuable. This is especially true if you were an officer or director. Even if you were not, just being active is a plus. The firms are also interested in your hobbies and other interests. Employers are looking for well-rounded individuals, not necessarily those that are focused exclusively on accounting.
Find out which firms will be attending and learn what you can about them. Learn about the firms’ size, office locations, client base, and other information that is readily available. Visiting the firm’s web site is a good idea. While it is not necessary to know everything about a firm, a little knowledge will make a favorable impression.
It is extremely important to be well groomed. The dress code for this event is business formal or professional. Cologne or perfume should be applied lightly, if at all, and you should avoid smoking before or during the event.
Men should wear suits – preferably a dark neutral color such as charcoal, navy blue, or gray. A white shirt is generally best, with the collar pulled down smoothly and buttoned down, if appropriate. Make certain that your tie is knotted neatly and that the knot is pulled up to the center of your collar. Dark shoes, a matching belt, and black socks are also desirable. Generally speaking, your shoes should match your belt, and your socks should match your pants. A well-tailored suit is more important than an expensive one, but quality will show. This is a formal event, and you should avoid removing your jacket. A quick rule of thumb for buttoning jackets is Sometimes, Always, Never (for 3 button jackets), and drop the Sometimes for a 2-button jacket. This allows for comfortable movement (without pulling) while maintaining the formality of the suit.
Women should wear business suits, preferably in dark colors. A light colored blouse or a tailored button down shirt complements nicely. Either a pantsuit or a skirt suit reaching your knees or just below will be fine. Closed toe shoes that match your suit should be worn with heels that are not too high. Do not wear stilettos. Little or no jewelry should be worn and dangling earrings should be avoided. Women should wear make-up, but appropriately-this is not Friday night at the club. Hair should be trim and pulled back or styled for women.
Remember that you are entering an industry that is very conservative. You do not want recruiters distracted by your appearance or by your accessories. You will feel more confident if you are dressed appropriately and neatly and have a finished appearance. Invest in a reasonable quality suit-you will use it often throughout your career.
Although it is natural to be nervous at the event, there are many things you can do to make yourself feel comfortable when you arrive. Going to the event with one or two friends will make it easier to mingle. You will feel less intimidated if people you know are around you. Arriving on time or even early will make you less nervous than walking into a room that is already crowded. It will also give you the opportunity to talk to more firms. Also, try not to go immediately to the firm that you want to work for. Practicing on others you are more comfortable with will help get you in the mood for conversation.
Determine who you would like to talk to. Knowing who you want to talk to and actually talking to them will make you feel that you have made the most of your experience. Therefore, go around the room once or twice and see who is attending so you make sure you get the opportunity to speak with all the firms you are interested in. Remember that the reason the representatives are there is because they want to help you make the right choice. These people are willing to tell you everything you want to know about their firms and share their experiences, so take this opportunity to speak with as many professionals as you can.
Keep your options open. There are so many opportunities within the accounting profession. Even if you think you are certain about the type of firm you want to work for, you should consider other alternatives and talk to representatives of other firms. Different types of firms offer different benefits, advantages, and opportunities so make sure you explore various alternatives to make sure you are making the right choice.
Know when to join a group. It is generally appropriate to join a group at any time, however, make sure you observe the conversation before joining a group. Sometimes individuals might be involved in private conversation and you may seem to be intruding. Avoid joining large groups, because you might not get any special attention. It is best to join a small- or medium-sized group that consists of both students and professionals. Just walk up to the group, listen to the conversation they are having, and introduce yourself.
Rather than joining a group, you might find it easier to approach someone who is standing alone, waiting for someone to talk to. Take the initiative. Simply walk up to a professional and say “Hello”. Remember to smile, make eye contact, and extend your hand. Offer a firm, business-like hand shake. Since most individuals shake hands using their right hand, it is best to put your name tag on your right side, so that they can see your name tag when you extend your hand.
It is often best to be prepared with a variety of questions you can ask. Start off asking about an individual’s position in the firm and how long they have been working for the firm. These types of questions give individuals an opportunity to talk about themselves and the firm. Try not to ask questions about things you should already know, such as things that are located on the firm’s website. This will show the individual that you have not done any research. Do not ask questions that are too general in nature. Also, do not ask about litigation, layoffs, or other setbacks the firm may have experienced.
Depending on the level of the individual you are talking to, there are various types of questions that might be appropriate.
- When talking to partners or managers, you might ask about their expertise in an industry, the role they serve for their clients, some of the choices they made during their career, and what opportunities they see for themselves in the future.
- When talking to a senior, you might ask about the transition from being a staff person to planning and running jobs.
- When talking to a first or second year staff person, you might ask about their day-to-day responsibilities, how they are assigned to jobs, how they are evaluated, how their experience matches their expectations when they entered the firm, and why they chose the firm they did. It would also be appropriate to ask about their experience during the recruiting process.
- When talking to a recruiter, you might ask about the recruiting process, the transition from student to staff person, or any of the items above.
Work-related items that are most frequently discussed include the firm’s client base, career or advancement opportunities, the work environment, day-to-day responsibilities, the variety of work performed, differences between offices within the firm, trends within the profession, the interviewing process, and what the firm might expect of you in your first year.
While it is a good idea to be prepared with questions about the firm and the profession, small talk can also help build a relationship with the individual. Small talk may relate to a variety of subjects including the weather, sports, movies, food and restaurants, travel or vacations, current events, school, your campus organization, your current job, or your hobbies and other interests. If you find you have something in common with a recruiter, even if totally unrelated to the profession, you will establish a bond that will be very helpful to you. It is best to avoid controversial subjects including religion, politics, and personal or family problems.
Make sure you listen to what the recruiter is saying. It is easy to become so preoccupied with the question you want to ask next that you do not listen to what the other person is saying, especially if you are nervous. Remember that listening is a very important skill. Asking follow-up questions based on what the individual is talking about will let them know that you are listening and will help extend the conversation.
As you are ready to move on to make contact with another recruiter or group of individuals, close the conversation in a professional manner. Extend your hand in a friendly hand shake, tell the individual that you enjoyed speaking with them, and thank them for speaking with you. When finishing the conversation, you should ask for a business card, and indicate your interest in speaking with the person again in the future.
When you are done talking to someone, take a few moments to jot some notes down on the back of their business card. Write down some details to help remind you about the person and what you talked about. Make note of items that came up in conversation, a specific story you may have shared, and any items that may require follow up. By the end of the evening, it may be difficult to differentiate one conversation from another.
Within a few days, follow up with a personal note to firms you made a connection with. Keep your correspondence brief and to the point. You should thank the person again for speaking with you and tell them how much you enjoyed meeting them. If possible, you should refer back to something that came up in your conversation to remind them about you, and express interest in a future meeting.