On Campus Recruiting Techniques - with Christy Matheson
Christy Matheson began her career in marketing and advertising at an in-house agency for a physician search firm. She later entered the technology field through her position as a Regional Sales Manager for Data Storage Marketing in Dallas.
Ms. Matheson served as lead instructor at ExecuTrain, where she gained software training and development experience. During her tenure she worked on standard desktop application and proprietary software rollouts for many national companies. She joined AtWork Solutions as the Vice President of training service lines and managed large training implementation projects, including a proprietary software rollout for a Federal agency. Currently, she serves in the role of Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for the firm.
Christy holds a BBA with a double major in management and Marketing from Baylor University. And, with that, I'll turn it over to Christy!
Christy Matheson: Thanks!
Welcome to the on line chat for Accounting Web. I will be talking about Campus Recruiting today. Are there any specific questions related to this topic that you already know you'd like to have addressed today?
The main areas I will present today are:
With the tight job market that we are all facing right now, it has become increasingly difficult to find and retain quality employees. This is true of all industries, including Accounting.
One of the best ways to find great talent for your organization is recruit on campus at schools that have strong programs and candidates in the field that you are seeking.
Obviously, you are not going to hire a new partner from a college campus, but for entry level accounting positions, recent graduates allow you to get the skills and behaviors that you want as well as a malleable subject you can mold to the culture of your organization.
Lara Niles: We just hired someone that interned for us last spring. We made him an offer before he went back to school that fall. He just graduated in December.
Session Moderator: Internships allow you and the recruit to 'try before you buy,' right Lara?
Lara Niles: It worked well for us.
Christy Matheson: Lara, that is great input, we have done that internally for AtWork as well, only with different types of employees.
There are four main steps that you will want to take to begin your campus-recruiting program and make it successful.
First, you will first need to identify the essential skills and behaviors that a new accountant will need to have in order to be a successful player in your firm. When deciding on these traits, find out what behaviors the partners consider valuable. You may also want to compile the traits of your top performers in this process.
Session Moderator: Christy, what are some examples of valuable traits?
Christy Matheson: Some of the traits that we hear quite a bit are flexibility, ability to work with a team or independently, action orientation.
Generally, you are looking for things aside from skills and experience.
The second step will be to choose schools with strong accounting programs. You may find some great candidates at other schools, but your best chances are there. An important part of this step is to establish relationships with the career centers at these schools. Many universities have stringent deadlines and procedures for their job fairs.
Depending on available resources, the location of these schools may be important to consider as well. Remember that if you hire someone from a university in another state, you may be facing some relocation expenses.
According to US News, the top five accounting programs in the US are 1) University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, 2) University of Texas Austin, 3) University of Southern California, 4) University of Southern California, 5) University of Pennsylvania.
The third step is to develop a specific interviewing process. Be certain that the questions you are asking are truly going to identify the traits and behaviors that you developed in step 1. You will want to ask more situational, real experience types of questions.
For example, instead of asking, "Tell me what you learned from your college internship." You might ask something like? Tell me about an experience in your internship where you had a difficult deadline. Were you able to meet the deadline, if so, how did you do that and what did you learn?? These kinds of questions will help you to develop a picture of behaviors and character traits of this individual and how they will fit into your culture.
Also be sure to do a thorough background screening of each applicant. Career centers do not necessarily do this for you. You certainly don't want to end up with someone who doesn't really have the experience that they claim to have.
Finally, be sure that you have the right kind and amount or resources to perform these activities. I would strongly recommend allocating a HR resource that has experience with campus recruiting or retaining an external consultant.
Many firms make the mistake of just sending someone young to campus to attract recruits. These people may be able to draw crowds at your table but make sure that they truly have the human resources experience that will allow them to make accurate recommendations.
A concern that I have heard is that smaller firms may have a more difficult time recruiting on campus because they are competing against larger firms.
Michael, I believe you had a specific question about this at the beginning of the workshop.
Session Moderator: A basic question, to me, is how to compete against Big 5 firms during the interview.
Lara Niles: I will agree with that Christy. The larger firms have a lot more $ to toss to new recruits.
Christy Matheson: The process that I have outlined for you should help to combat this issue. Remember that you are not only looking for graduates with the top GPAs, but also someone will skills and traits that will make the successful in YOUR environment. You want someone to work for your firm that wants to be there.
Lara Niles: Our newest hire - who was also heavily recruited from Big 5, was intrigued by our casual atmosphere, fun environment and not having to work 70-80 hour weeks.
Session Moderator: So, basically, you aren't recruiting the same people in a sense, right?
Lara Niles: Probably not. I think our clients like the way we do business and don't need to see a coat and tie when they come in.
Session Moderator: Christy is having a small technical difficulty getting back in our room. I'm going to fill in until she gets back.
The generation of business students that are currently graduating are looking for more than a paycheck or a big name firm. There are many benefits that a smaller organization can offer that would actually make you a far more desirable choice. For instance, more flexible environment, fun culture, opportunities to work in something besides audit right out of school.
Today, you are working with Generation X and soon, Generation Y. Lara's example shows the power of knowing this difference. It's not the battle of paychecks anymore, it goes far beyond that.
MWB: I think often you are recruiting the same people as the Big 5 as you are also looking for the top candidates - GPA, people skills, etc.
Annie: Yes, the Big 5 are just as desperate as the rest of us these days.
Session Moderator: I agree MWB, but you are also looking for the person who will STAY and grow with your firm and if all they are looking for is the big paycheck, chances are they will end up somewhere else anyway. So really what you are looking for is a good fit for YOUR firm - personality, career direction and motivation wise.
Lara Niles: I would much rather find someone with a low GPA and great work ethic.
Christy Matheson: I'm back!
Lara, it has been our experience in technical and HR environments as well that the work ethic and the behaviors are what make people stick.
Lara Niles: Many young graduates are looking for their hours to get CPA and are out-of-here. It's a matter of making them want to stay.
MWB: I agree but why not look for both the high GPA and work ethic?
Session Moderator: There are many high GPAs out there that would rather make a difference at a small firm than be a number at a big firm.
Your chance to market what's different about your firm differs than what a Big 5 can offer.
Lara Niles: MWB - I would like to find that - but have had a really hard time!
Annie: I think that the hardest part is convincing the students that you really are just a number at the larger firms but you are able to see the "big picture" a little bit more clearly at a smaller firm.
Session Moderator: Christy, would you agree that's part of the "recruiting" process - the language that really "speaks" to the students?
Christy Matheson: Although I understand that things are tight in terms of recruits, I can't stress enough "quality over quantity"- someone who does see the big picture like Annie mentioned will be a better fit long term.
Moderator, yes, you need to be educated about the types of students that are out there. This goes back to making sure that you have a dedicated resource, either external or internal with the time to research or the expertise to appropriately recruit these candidates
Here is one place that I found helpful http://cso.bus.utexas.edu/employers/main_02.asp . As mentioned previously, The University of Texas at Austin is one of the top accounting schools so this information can be very helpful in understanding what you are competing against and the demographics of students you are trying to recruit.
MWB: Do you feel that you must now identify students earlier than in previous years?
The earlier you get started on your campus recruiting, the better. Just like recruiting for more experienced hires, the company you hear about first will make a lasting impression
Annie: Now once the ideal candidate is identified, how does a smaller firm compete regarding "schmoozing"? Even interns are being flown to exotic destinations these days. What college student wouldn't be overwhelmed by all that?
Lara Niles: No kidding Annie - I can't believe some of the things these students are getting to do!
Christy Matheson: Obviously, the "schmoozing" is a money issue and it is would be impossible for a 22 year old to be unimpressed by that.
MWB: Are others finding that a "signing bonus" is more the norm than the exception?
Session Moderator: MWB, I know of one firm in a major market that pays less than its competitors and never offers a signing bonus. They never have a problem with recruits.
Lara Niles: We give a signing bonus - it varies on the person and position. I think it is a nice "addition."
Christy Matheson: Above all, you need to honestly identify what your firm has to offer and market that on campus.
Lara Niles: What does that firm have to offer?
Session Moderator: That is, they are able to hire the "right" people for their firm. They offer a "place" for everyone and a great culture. There's a place for the career senior accountant, there's a place for the part-time mom, there's a place for the fast-track high achiever.
Christy Matheson: Do not underestimate the power of culture. Spending time and doing research with current grads shows again and again a desire for a more flexible and "fun" environment.
Lara Niles: I think we do that also - but even with someone that really wants to work with you, it can be a battle to convince them of that.
Session Moderator: It's a mix where everyone competes against themselves, not others.
Christy Matheson: We are seeing more of a focus on that type of culture in many industries, including Accounting.
Session Moderator: It offers "fun" as a core component of the workday. People become friends with each other and do things in their off time. You can "feel" the difference when you walk in the door. As Christy said, it's hard to compete against a great atmosphere. It beckons the recruit.
Christy Matheson: One thing to focus on while you are on campus is selling your culture. Don't assume that the recruits will see it through your materials, you need to make a conscious effort to present yourself in the best light.
Session Moderator: As Christy as said several times, if it's a battle, it's probably not the right fit at the right time. Chances are if you let the recruit walk, they will come back if they aren't happy with their first choice.
Christy Matheson: That is so true. We have had several experiences where that exact situation occurred. A recruit would turn down a position with a client and would take another job where they weren't happy. They have called back and taken a job.
Lara Niles: We have even invited students to come visit our office.
Christy Matheson: Lara, office visits are very important to the recruiting process. These allow the recruits to see the firm first hand. Some of these recruits may not have spent a great deal of time inside of a firm at all so it can be very impressive. Not the Bahamas, but impressive.
Session Moderator: Christy, how can firms identify what to sell? What about interviewing new hires to ask what they liked about the firm that tipped the scales in your favor?
Christy Matheson: Moderator, interviewing your top performers is a good way to identify desirable traits but also what drew them to your firm. That's a great point.
Atlas: I am a student and will graduate this May and I am interested in talking with you.
Lara Niles: Be careful Atlas - there are a lot of us here that are DYING to have you!
Lara Niles: We're talking about how hard it is to find good candidates and when you do - it's hard to "schmooze" them away from the Big 5 - $ and trips, and fancy dinners, etc.
Atlas: I will get a Masters Degree in Accounting in May and just don't know where to find employers!
Lara Niles: Atlas, what are you looking for? Culture? Money? Opportunity? Fun?
Atlas: Opportunity and fun people!
Christy Matheson: Atlas, I think you have just help to prove some of my points on smaller firms. Thanks!
Christy Matheson: Just to wrap up, if you are in need of assistance with a campus-recruiting program, AtWork Solutions can help in several ways. We can completely plan and implement your program or help you with specific areas of the program.
You can read about one of our successful campus recruiting programs on our web site at www.atwork-solutions.com 
Session Moderator: Would that plan help with the "selling points" we just discussed?
Christy Matheson: Absolutely, we can either partner with a firm for one piece of the process or help you plan and implement start to finish.
Session Moderator: Sounds great! I have a couple of questions I've "stored" for the end. Does anyone have any other questions? We are just about to the end of our hour.
Christy Matheson: No problem, you don't have to worry about recruiting. :)
Session Moderator: Yes, can you address the critical incident technique you use in interviewing college applicants?
Christy Matheson: I may have mistyped but we use a critical behavior model in interviewing on campus. Basically, this is the gathering of specific behaviors that would make someone successful in your firm and building questions around that.
As I mentioned earlier, these questions are typically more example driven vs. yes/no types of questions.
Session Moderator: In our last few minutes, do you have any examples of ways companies get students' attention so they can tell their firm "story?" Crazy or tame... examples help others.
Christy Matheson: To Lara's comments earlier, office visits are great once you get into the process with a recruit. Actually, an all expense paid trip to Dallas, San Antonio, etc. can be exciting depending on where you are recruiting.
Session Moderator: Good point.
Christy Matheson: Also, make sure that you send dynamic individuals to recruit. I still think it's important to send qualified HR people to make good hiring decisions but sometimes you can send some of last year's new hires too in order to draw a crowd. Don't underestimate the power of a pretty face (or handsome).
Session Moderator: Thank you Christy! This has been a fantastic session. I know I've learned a lot! To contact Christy with further questions, check out our consultants' directory. Thanks for joining us today!
Christy Matheson: Thank you all for attending.
Session Moderator: Have a successful week!