Monday, May 29, 2017

Recap: Deloitte Envision, McLean/Greater Washington

     After a long two and a half days, I have my first externship under my belt! As promised, I'll be giving a recap of my extern experience with each of the firms I'm attending programs with. First up was Deloitte. In short, I loved Deloitte headed into this program, and heading out, I love Deloitte even more; the bar has been set pretty high for the next two programs I'll be attending in the next two weeks. Before I get started with the recap though, I figure I should explain the criteria I'll be "judging" these programs on.

     I'll be describing/evaluating each externship based on:

  • Application/interview process
  • Pre-conference logistics
  • Program Content

     Let's get started!

Program: Deloitte Envision, McLean/Greater Washington Program

Application/Interview Process
     Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?) I can't speak to the application and interview process for Deloitte Envision because I didn't have to apply. After winning Deloitte's regional Audit Innovation Campus Challenge in December 2016 with a team of other students from my college, and subsequently competing at nationals, the Deloitte partner that worked with our team graciously gave all of us offers to attend the program without having to apply. Moral of the story? Always take advantage of firm-sponsored competitions! Additionally, as you're reading this recap, keep in mind that I already really liked Deloitte, so that probably influenced my perception of the program. 

Pre-Conference Logistics

     Firstly, I received an email in early April inviting me to attend a lunch and networking event in mid April at the Deloitte office in McLean, VA in order to get to know the other externs/some of the Deloitte employees ahead of time. Although the email said they'd be willing to fly students in to attend the event, I didn't think I could swing the six hours of driving it'd require to get to McLean and back considering finals were in just two weeks, so I wasn't able to attend this event. Other students I talked to that did attend said that it was a lot of fun, though! In early May, we received a link to officially register for the conference as well as a template to create a "look book" page about ourselves including a picture, our university/major, hometown, favorite food, and a fun fact about ourselves.

   The week before the conference, everyone received an email with information about parking, hotel reservations, and the agenda for the program. The email also contained the PowerPoint "look book" of all the conference participants using the slides we had made earlier. Browsing through the PowerPoint, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were five other students from my school coming to the event. In total, 43 students were participating, which also surprised me because I assumed that these programs were larger/more impersonal. I also received an email from a woman who was assigned to be my "mentor" for the duration of the externship. She had attended my school for her Masters of Accounting (MAcc) program and we exchanged a few emails before the conference, mostly regarding her work with a financial service client.

    Fast forward to the week of the conference. Envision began Thursday morning at 8:30 am, so I drove down on Wednesday afternoon. When registering for the conference in early, there wasn't an option to request a room for the night before the conference, so I had had to email the program coordinator separately to request a room. For the night before the conference, I had to stay in a different hotel (the Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner Center) than I would be staying in Thursday night but it was actually right across the street from the Deloitte office which was convenient. I checked in, grabbed some dinner in the mall attached to the hotel (any other fans of Shake Shack?) and then spent the rest of my evening attempting to get some homework done for my online classes but mostly just binging Bravo shows.

Program Content

     Let me just start by saying the content of the program was a great balance of scheduled activities and down-time just chatting with Deloitte professionals. When we arrived on Thursday morning, we were greated by super cute welcome cookies followed by a catered breakfast from Chick-Fil-A. After breakfast, we heard from three high-ranking employees (two moms and an Olympic athlete!) about their journey with Deloitte and how they managed to balance work and other priorities at different stages of their lives. They had a lot of good advice about managing work-life balance and I appreciated their honesty when they told us that although flexible work arrangements (FWA's) are available, they typically only go to those who are performing well because the company wants to ensure that they're still getting a good return on their investment in you as an employee. I especially enjoyed hearing from the moms, though, because balancing work and a family is definitely something I'm worried about for the future.

     After hearing from those professionals, we participated in "Deloitte Downhill Drift" as teams-- not much interesting here, just a run-of-the-mill teambuilding activity that you've just gotta power through. We built mini race cars and although my team's car was pretty slow, we did come in 2nd for appearance. The exciting part was up next, though. For the afternoon session, each extern was assigned to one of Deloitte's clients in the D.C. area to visit their office. Within a matter of minutes, four of us externs and an audit senior were chatting and laughing in an Uber XL bound for D.C.'s Chinatown to eat lunch and visit the Nando's US office. Nando's is a international casual dining chain that's known for its chicken; I had heard of it before and was super excited to (hopefully) get to try their food. 

     Stepping out of the Uber just a few blocks from the Verizon Center, I couldn't help but feel giddy-- this was a far cry from sitting around the Deloitte office, which was honestly what I had been expecting from an externship. We met up with a first year and a partner at the Nando's Chinatown location (their first US location) and ate lunch while asking questions about the client and the type of work the audit team does with them. One of the perks of working on that engagement, they told us, is that the audit team gets free Nando's for lunch every day! I could definitely get behind that, because the food was delicious.   

      Upstairs, the Nando's office was bright, airy, and cheery; the fact that a dog was wandering around definitely contributed to the fun atmosphere. Although there were only about 30 employees, they all seemed very friendly and apparently invite the Deloitte team that works for them to participate in social events on a fairly regular basis. Poking around the office was followed by settling into a small conference room to talk to the audit senior and first year about the work they do generally and for Nando's specifically. We spent almost 3 hours just asking them questions, which may sound torturous, but it was actually extremely helpful, especially considering I've never taken an audit course before. The Deloitte employees were very open and honest and encouraged us to ask tough questions. I felt a lot more confident about picking audit over tax after talking to them because it sounds like the work done by auditors is varied, complex, and requires a lot of client interaction. 

     At 4 pm, we snagged an Uber back to the office so we could move our cars/check into the Ritz-Carlton and check in. Although it took me 20 minutes to find my car in the super confusing parking garage, in just a matter of minutes I was feeling less stressed in the oasis that is the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner lobby, complete with rich wood panelling and an employee handing out fresh peanut brittle. We dropped our bags off in our rooms and then everyone boarded a bus back to the Deloitte office. Originally, we were supposed to have a barbecue at a partner's house, but thanks to the crappy weather the East coast has been having, we got rained out. Still, eating catered barbecue in the office and having a huge trivia competition with teams of externs and current Deloitte employees was lots of fun. At the dinner, I met the mentor who had emailed me before the program started and she played on my trivia team as well. I was amazed at how natural it felt hanging out with these adults-- the employees treated us like peers rather than college students. These were people I would choose to hang out with. Our team won the entire trivia competition (we all got wireless headphones as a prize), and then it was off to bed back at the Ritz; the bed was by far the prettiest I've ever seen in a hotel. 

     The second day of the internship had a more relaxed pace. In the morning, we had a "leadership breakfast" where small groups of externs sat with partners in order to ask questions. The partner I got to talk to had a ton of helpful information about transferring offices and had also worked at the Deloitte national office which sounds like it was a very unique and helpful experience. Afterwords, we worked in teams to create a dog bed, tug toy, and cat scratching post for an animal shelter in Arlington. Deloitte seems to place a big emphasis on giving back to the community, and it was a lot of fun to make the projects for the animals and then here about the awesome work the shelter is doing not just in Northern Virginia but across the world. 

     Our final activity had us leaving the office to hang out at Top Golf in Alexandria-- a sort of celebration of the externship experience we had just gone through. I got paired with my mentor as well as another extern and their mentor. I'm no golf pro, but I liked to think I held my own at the driving range, and the good food definitely helped too (unlimited buffalo wings? win for Alex). Again, I was struck by how natural it felt hanging out with the Deloitte professionals. I even realized that one of the younger employees with us went to the same high school AND college as me, so we had a ton to discuss. At 2:30 pm, I looked around and realized that most of the other externs had already left-- I hadn't even noticed because I had been so busy talking! Once we finished up the round of our driving range game, I reluctantly said goodbye to my team and hit the road. My only complaint about the conference is that it ended at 3 pm on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend; the traffic headed up to New Jersey was unreal.

The Verdict
     All things considered, I had an amazing time at Deloitte Envision. I enjoyed the "work hard, play hard" mentality that a lot of the professionals exhibited, and the fact that we had so much time to chat really allowed me to get a good sense of the company culture. Additionally, talking casually rather than just being talked at gave me the opportunity to think of questions that I didn't even know I had. I loved my experience and I definitely have high expectations headed into my next externship on Thursday morning this week. 
Tuesday, May 23, 2017

What the heck is a "summer leadership conference"/externship?

     It's rainy this morning which seems appropriate since I'm not very peppy myself; today marks the start of my 9 credits of online summer classes that'll help me reach the elusive 150 credit threshold required to sit for the CPA exam when I graduate in May 2019, and I can think of a million other ways I'd rather spend my summer. On the bright side, though, I'll be leaving for my first of three externships or "summer leadership conferences" with accounting firms on Wednesday! The application process for these programs was definitely a little stressful when piled on top of my hectic spring semester and I can't wait to see my efforts pay off.

     What even is an externship though?? To be honest, the first time I heard the term as a freshman, I thought someone had made a typo while trying to type "internship"-- you can imagine how silly I feel now.

     In general business terms, and "externship" refers to a short program (anywhere from a day to a few days long) which helps you learn more about working with a specific company and often involves shadowing a professional who already works in that field. In contrast with internships, externships usually do not offer hands-on experience or academic credit. However, externships are unique in that their short length allows you to explore many different/companies fields without having to commit to an entire internship. In the accounting field, externships, or "summer leadership conferences" as all the accounting firms like to refer to them as, are basically the same but very formal.

     From what I've been told, these programs have emerged over the past 5 years as firms have become more and more competitive with recruiting. The idea is to get students interested in accounting and engaged with firms as early as possible so that the firms are guaranteed a new generation of fledgling accountants each year.

Which firms offer summer leadership conferences? 
     Most sizable public accounting firms offer summer leadership programs. Seriously, I think my school's accounting society advertised at least 10 different programs with various firms and I'm confident I could've found even more if I had tried.

When should I be applying for these programs?
     Accounting firms are generally looking for college students majoring/minoring in accounting who are 2 years away from being ready to take the CPA exam/begin working. That means sophomores in a 4 year program or juniors who plan to complete a one year Masters of Accounting (MAcc) program after undergrad. The application process typically begins early in the spring semester and may continue as late as the end of March/early April.

When/where do these programs take place?
     Summer leadership conferences usually take place at the local/regional in late May/early June. Many firms also offer a national leadership conference which usually takes place later in the summer. From what I understand, the content of the programs is essentially the same. You can't attend two summer leadership conferences with the same firm. I choose to apply for regional conferences because I wanted to get a feel for the specific office I'd be working in. You can, however, attend multiple leadership conferences with different firms; in fact, they encourage. The Big Four work together to make sure that students can attend conferences with all four firms if they want to.

What's the application process like?
     Pretty lengthy. Here's a step-by-step overview of what I experienced and what I've heard from other students:
  1.  Firms usually post applications on university career sites where you can submit a resume/cover letter/etc; additionally, there may be a longer application on the firm's own website that you have to complete in addition to the application on your school's career site. 
  2. If a firm is interested, you'll be contacted to schedule an interview. Most applicants receive interviews from what I've observed. At my school, the firms travel to the college and conduct interviews at our career center.
  3. The firm will probably contact you about a "pre-night" or reception held the night before the interview date. These receptions usually take place at a restaurant and they're an opportunity for you to network with incoming interns and professionals from the firm. The people you network with are great resources and they expect you to ask questions and act engaged-- some of them even went through the same summer leadership program that you're applying for, so they can provide lots of useful information. 
  4. Your first interview is usually conducted by a partner who asks behavioral questions. These interviews were a lot more casual than I expected!
  5. If there's a second round of interviews, the firm will contact you to let you know if you made it to the next round. This interview may be with a younger member of the firm and they might be conducted in person or via video chat.
  6. FINALLY, the firm will contact you if they'd like to offer you a spot at a leadership conference!
What actually happens at the conference?
     The firm will pay all of your travel and lodging expenses and provide meals. Based on the various schedules I've received about the conferences I'll be attending, the conferences usually include various activities including client site visits, community service projects, and fun games. The whole aim of the conference, though, is to help you get a feel for the respective firm and what it'd be like to work for them. I really hope this is true, because right now I feel like I could see myself being happy at any of the three firms I'm attending conferences with!

So why should I go to one of these conferences? Sounds like a ton of work.
     If nothing else, applying for a conference will be a great professional experience. It'll force you to work on your resume as well as practice your networking and interview skills. From a career standpoint, though, these conferences can be pivotal in securing a job at a firm in the future because from what a lot of my peers have told me, these conferences usually result in an internship offer, and of course internships often result in job offers. Update after completing my externships/talking to other externs during Summer 2017: summer leadership conferences ALMOST always result in an internship offer. 

     Hopefully this sheds some light on the mystery of "summer leadership conferences" for accounting students! Within the next 3 weeks, I'll be attending these programs with three of the Big Four firms in the Washington, D.C. area. After each conference, I plan on writing a post explaining my complete experience with that firm's program: the application process, coordinating travel/lodging, and of course, the program itself. Keep an eye out for my first review to be posted early next week!


Friday, May 19, 2017

Another college student starting a blog? How original.

If you’re reading this right now, the title probably summarizes your thoughts. Yep, everyone and their brother has a blog these days, covering a variety of thrilling topics from random collections to scathing analyses of freshmen hallmates (you know who you are). Should I really be adding to all the noise on the Internet? Probably not, but I’m going to do it anyways. According to my Google research, the best way to start a successful blog is to choose a popular topic to write about that appeals to a wide audience. Naturally, I chose accounting *ba dum tsh*.

     In all seriousness, though, I want to blog about accounting for two reasons. Firstly, there’s a massive lack of honest information about the accounting field for college students. As a former accounting minor/newly-minted accounting major, I’ve had to rely on word-of-mouth to find out more about the industry. Try searching for information about accounting externships, internships, and the recruiting process, and you’ll find “Students” pages on the top accounting firms’ websites that look slick and shiny but only provide vague descriptions of programs and prompt you to “contact your campus recruiter” for additional information—not exactly helpful for busy college students. I want to create a resource where students can get REAL feedback from a fellow recruit without all the fluff and ambiguity. Additionally, I think blogging will be a great way to look critically at my own career decision process as I attend externships this summer, interact with firms at recruiting events during the upcoming school year, and (hopefully) intern in Summer 2018.

     Although I could talk about financial statements and depreciation methods all day, I realize that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. To make my blog a little bit more relevant to non-accountants, I plan to also dabble into more general tips and info for business students and maybe even non-business students. Seriously though, if you have any non-accounting blog topic ideas, hit me up.

     So there you have it, the reasons I want to write about accounting despite its “boring” stigma. Starting up this blog is arguably more terrifying than interviewing with a Big Four, so thanks for coming on the journey with me!

An accountant is born...Winning the Deloitte Regional AICC