With the exception of a spine-tingling movie thriller, few people like unknown outcomes. This is especially true in the area of employment decisions, both from a tax and accounting firm and employee hire perspective. The cost of a poor hiring decision breaks both ways. Employers lose time, wages and human capital. Employees lose time they could have spent vesting in a 401(k), or gaining experience in their chosen field. However, no better system exists currently for avoiding these negative outcomes than a sound and effective internship program.
Internship programs across our industry are popular for good reason. The growing popularity of these programs amongst firms can be attributed to a number of factors including current labor market pressures and successful staff retention rates when interns are hired post-graduation. Interns, meanwhile, gain valuable experience in various aspects of public accounting firms, and get paid while learning which parts of accounting they enjoy the most.
As we discuss each of these factors and the impact internships have on both firms and employees, tax and accounting leaders owe it to themselves to consider how these programs are driving more successful talent acquisition outcomes.
Factor 1: Internships help secure talent in challenging labor markets.
The race for talent has always been competitive. Everyone wants top talent, but not every business has unlimited resources to market to that talent. In addition new potential hires have many choices available to them, whether it be one of the Big 4, regional / local firms and tax shops, not to mention public and private sector business opportunities. So what is one to do if you’re a small to medium sized accounting or tax practice? Should you just forfeit making the effort to ‘wow’ these top prospects? Absolutely not!
Internships are a perfect vehicle to engage with top candidates early, all the while vetting their fit as a future employee. Local universities and colleges are an ideal place to inquire about promoting your internship opportunities for their intern candidates. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of business, finance and accounting degree tracts now require students to participate in internship roles, for course credit and real-world experience.
Factor 2: Internships improve new employee onboarding and retention for participating firms.
Perhaps one of the emptiest feelings a business leader can have is that of the lost time and money spent on a failed personnel hiring. The interview, on-boarding and training process requires the expenditure of an already limited amount of time from leadership and staff. To have that effort result in a premature exit or termination of a job candidate can be demoralizing.
Fortunately, internships provide a ‘test before you commit’ opportunity to both the employer and the intern. Not only are hiring managers able to test a candidate’s skill aptitude, but they’re also able to measure metrics that would normally be a pre-hire blind-spot, such as whether or not personalities mesh, or current office culture is a good fit. And when it comes to the metrics that measure hiring success, we see that among the Big 4:
- Pricewaterhouse Coopers hires as many as 92% of their interns
- Ernst & Young hires around 90%
- Deloitte recruits 73% of their interns for permanent positions
- KPMG hires over 90% of their new employees from their interns
Don’t think that intern programs are only for large and national firms – regional and small firms and tax practices can experience these same positive dynamics. For example, Rödl & Partner currently operates a highly successful intern program in the majority of its US satellite locations. Firm partner, Priscilla Dowling, reaffirms the value of their program, “Starting your career in public accounting is a challenge. Not only are you finally getting to put into action your accounting knowledge (well at least what you can remember!), you also have to learn the Firm’s processes, communication, multitasking and working with others. What I see in our colleagues who previously interned, is a higher level of self-confidence. If they start to feel overwhelmed, they know to ask for help. They have seen how our Firm, Rödl & Partner, supports each other. Not one person has all the answers- we can accomplish more by working together.”
Factor 3: Internships provide numerous benefits to the students that participate.
To round out the factors that make internships a positive influence on all involved one need look no further than the benefits afforded the interns themselves. Chief among these benefits is the ability to obtain real-world experience that’s impossible to simulate in a classroom.
New dynamics such as the ability to meet deadlines, shift to new tasks and work within a diverse team are all indispensable experiences that help guide an intern for long-term success. Rödl & Partner intern Sunny Freund states it best, “I think that interning is a valuable experience. It’s really irreplaceable. There is so much to learn, not only from a technical aspect but also with regards to just learning how to work with other people and function in a professional environment.”