University of Vermont

University Communications

Accounting: Futures and Options

Release Date: 09-22-2010

Author: Jon C. Reidel
Phone: 802/656-8206 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Senior Bridget Vanzo completed an internship at Johnson Lambert & Co. in downtown Burlington this summer, an experience, she says, that let her try on for size the role of a first-year accounting associate. (Photo: Sally McCay)

A recent survey of college recruiters by the Wall Street Journal showed that more than 50 percent of their new-graduate hires had started as interns at their companies. This news wasn't a surprise to Sean Riley. It's the main reason the partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Boston, where he's worked since graduating from UVM in 1990, has been teaming with faculty in accounting to help students land internships at PwC.

"The current effort at UVM is very important for job placement," says Riley. "If we can maintain it, it will only get better and lead to more job opportunities for students. It starts with relationships between people at firms and professors like Susan Hughes (associate professor in business)."

The trend toward intern-pool hiring has increased during the recent recession as firms look to cut costs and hire students who have already been trained, according to the Wall Street Journal survey. General Electric, for example, hires 2,200 summer interns with upwards of 80 percent of its new-graduate hires coming from its internship pool.

Hughes says she and her colleagues in accounting have worked hard over the past few years to develop better relationships with "Big Four" and other accounting firms. Their renewed efforts helped students land key internships this past summer at PwC in Boston and Hartford; KPMG; General Electric at various nationwide locations; Boeing in Missouri; Kodak in Rochester, N.Y.; local firms such as Johnson Lambert in Burlington; and others.

"There's no question that internships are important in the accounting field, because the best ones really do lead to good job offers," says Hughes, who prior to coming to UVM helped students at Butler University land internships as a member of the faculty. "We've worked really hard to renew our recruiting relationships to show employers that our students are worth a look."

Trying to compete with 'key' and 'priority' schools

Corrine Santos, PwC's college recruiter for the northeast market, says PwC divides colleges into three categories -- key, priority and non-visit -- based primarily on the number of students in their accounting departments (100-plus per class for key schools) and location relative to PwC's offices in larger markets such as Boston and Hartford. There are about a dozen "key" schools in the northeast that meet those criteria including Bentley, Babson, Northeastern, Boston College, Boston University, and UConn among others. Despite being a non-visit school, Santos says UVM has a history of sending PwC high quality employees and is currently building on that reputation..

"We have a presence on certain campuses with large departments, but we also have some non-visit schools like UVM that have some true shining stars," says Santos. "We have relationships with specific faculty like Susan Hughes who keep us informed about who they are."

The number of accounting majors at UVM has doubled to about 40 since 2005, thanks in part to recruiting efforts by faculty. Accounting faculty Stephen Dempsey, Barbara Arel, Cathy Beaudoin, Chris Hodgdon, Martha Woodman and Hughes brought in a member of the International Accounting Standards Board in the spring to spend a day talking with faculty and students about various career and accounting issues. The Accounting Club took an internship tour of Vermont National Life, the Boston offices of PwC and Caturano and Company in April, where they networked with recruiters and staff members.

Rebuilding past relationships

Riley says there was a time when more accounting firms came to UVM but that a few factors contributed to the erosion of those relationships. One issue was a new rule by The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) requiring 150 academic credits to become a CPA, assuming a candidate passes the CPA licensing exam.

"When we came to the UVM campus in 2005 there was a feeling that most students didn't have a real sense for what the 150-credit requirement was or how they planned to reach it," says Riley. "That definitely didn't help UVM's recruiting efforts. (Big Four firms) have long-term memories, so it can take a long time for them to circle back. I think that's starting to happen with the renewed efforts of faculty."

The School of Business Administration responded by encouraging students to take more than 15-credit hours per semester as well as summer courses. It also added a one-year master's program in accounting (MAcc) that requires at least 30 credits beyond a bachelor's degree. Christine Morgan '10, who was offered an internship at PwC in Boston as a result of an Accounting Club trip, is currently in the MAcc program and will have the 150 credits she needs when she starts full time at PwC next year.

"I had a great internship experience and was able to do a lot of work with many different clients," says Morgan. "It gave me a good idea of what it would be like to work there full time." Matt Jankow, a senior on the men's lacrosse team who completed an internship at General Electric, agrees, adding that it can also give a student a better idea of what working in the accounting field is really like compared to other possible options such as finance. "No one really knows what a job is going to be like until they work in it," he says. "These training programs show you what you'll be doing at the entry level and beyond."

Not everyone wants to work for major firms that often require longer work days in a more competitive work environment. Bridget Vanzo '10 interned at Johnson Lambert, where she says she was treated like a first-year associate from day one and gained hands-on experience completing corporate tax returns, planning for an upcoming audit, and proofing final audited financial statements before they were sent to clients.

"The overall atmosphere of the office was extremely welcoming, and I felt equally comfortable talking to first-year associates as I did with the partners," says Vanzo. "All the interns were also given mentors to talk to if we encountered any struggles or just needed someone to talk to. Regardless of whether or not I get an offer, I feel like this experience will undoubtedly help me get a job after graduation. I also learned that public accounting is not only something that I want to go into, but something that I can excel in."