Tuesday, February 19, 2013

One JMU Student's Leaders' Institute Experience

The VSCPA's annual Leaders' Institute connects top accounting students to potential employers and mentoring and networking opportunities. James Madison University (JMU) student Samantha Burch recently wrote an article about her Leaders' Institute experience for the university's accounting newsletter Applications for the 2013 Leaders' Institute at George Mason University (GMU) are due April 1.

Read on to learn about how Samantha (second from left in the picture at right) benefitted from the Leaders' Institute and click here to learn more about the program.

During the summer I attended The Leaders’ Institute, a program for the top rising junior accounting majors in Virginia, hosted at Virginia Tech by Baker Tilly. Throughout the program, I had the opportunity to hear several professionals speak about various topics, such as "Maintaining Your Personal Brand" and "Leadership Core Competencies". I also attended a networking dinner and an etiquette luncheon. There were two panels: one addressed the CPA exam and the other talked about how to make the school to work transition. All the speakers and panels were very informative and answered questions that I hadn’t realized I needed to ask.

As always, there were plenty of opportunities to network with fellow students and professionals. Firms of all sizes were represented during "Meet the Firms" night. It was very beneficial to walk around to different tables to get a sense of what size firm I might want to explore. There were small firms with only one office, like Wall, Einhorn and Chernitzer. Large firms like KPMG were also present. This event was probably the most beneficial because I was able to get a sense of each firm’s philosophy and begin thinking of what kind of firm I may want to intern with. With such diversity represented, I realized that the firms weren’t only interviewing me, but that I should ask critical questions to see if a particular firm was a good fit for me as well.  
My favorite part of the weekend was a presentation titled "How to Interview Your Future Employer". This was given by Heather Sunderlin, the director of employee services at Wall, Einhorn and Chernitzer. She helped me compile a list of important questions that I should ask both during the interviewing process and after I gain employment. She also gave me an insight about what she looks for when she is conducting an interview. She addressed less frequently covered topics such as how to proceed if two firms want to hire you, and how to politely decline an offer. She genuinely seemed interested in helping me get the most out of my decisions on a personal level. She spoke at length about incentives and benefits, and how best to pursue the ones that I want.

The weekend was really about getting a chance to test my networking and professional skills in an environment where I could get honest feedback and criticism. We were put into groups and each group had a team leader who was newer to a firm, not necessarily a partner or manager. This made the environment a safe one for asking questions that we wouldn’t feel comfortable addressing with a partner, and receiving candid answers from people in positions that we expect to hold in just a few short years. I was able to get an inside look into the accounting profession, which could be helpful to someone in deciding if accounting is for him/her. I would absolutely recommend the program to every rising junior with a declared major in accounting.

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