Recruiting Newsletter, Fall 2018

Interviewing Skills (Part 3 of 3)

By Jennifer Matsuura
Managing Director of Recruiting and Training  

Tips for the First Time Interview
First time interviews can be intimidating, especially in the early stages of your job search and that’s okay! Before the interview, pick the top three things that you want the interviewer to know about you and make sure you work those elements into the conversation. It could be a leadership role, an accomplishment, or an obstacle you overcame in order to graduate. If you want the firm to know you are a very hard worker, talk about a time when you went above and beyond the call of duty to get something accomplished. Describe what was so challenging about that situation. If you want the firm to know you are detail-oriented, describe a time that you had a very complex project requiring a thousand entries and how you organized it into manageable chunks and completed it on time.

Talking vs. Listening
During an interview, the candidate should be talking about 80 percent of the time and the interviewer should be talking only 20% of the time. If it seems that I’m the one doing all the talking during an interview, I might ask questions a little differently when interviewing a candidate. I can sense when they are nervous, and for whatever reason, they aren’t going into detail or fully answering my questions. That’s not helpful for either one of us, and we want you to be successful. We’ll give you every opportunity to put your best foot forward, but you have to come prepared and show us in your unique way that you really want the job.

Calming your Nerves
You don’t have to come to the interview with a joke or funny story to break the ice. It’s the interviewer’s job to break the ice.

I once interviewed a student who was so nervous that my head was spinning trying to keep up with her answers. In the middle of the interview, she blurted out: “I’m not going to get this job am I?” Instead of telling her she was right, I said, “just relax. Let’s start over and tell me about your weekend.” Finally, I got her into the right frame of mind so I could continue asking questions and she was able to respond well.  Again, it’s part of a skilled interviewer’s job to help the candidate relax. It doesn’t do the firm or me any good to have a group of candidates that are too afraid to answer questions or that responds with a one-line answer.

Expect the Unexpected
You never know what questions you’re going to be asked during an interview. Sometimes even the interview setting or circumstances change without warning. You have to go with the flow and do your best to stay composed. There could be a fire drill or power failure during the interview. You might have to vacate the room mid-interview because a senior partner needs the space for an urgent client meeting.  Take a pause, relax and talk about your weekend or unusual fire drills you’ve had in the past. And then when the interviewer gets back to serious questions, try your best to shift gears and get back into interview mode. Take your cues from the interviewer. You can make humorous asides when the interviewer is casual, but when he or she shifts into professional mode, you need to do the same.

Instead of lamenting the fact that your big interview got derailed by a fire drill, try to spin the situation into a positive. Remind yourself that you got to spend more one-on-one time with the interviewer than most candidates and that can only help your chances. The interviewer certainly isn’t going to forget the candidate with whom they walked down 12 flights of stairs with during a fire drill.

When we bring new candidates to our office for second round interviews, we typically have them go to lunch with our staff or with peers who are at the same level. They’ll often be walking or driving together to a restaurant, but that’s still part of the interview process. We’ll certainly take note if a candidate is rude to a receptionist or rolls his or her eyes at the support staff. We’ll notice if the candidate’s etiquette at the restaurant is lacking or if he or she is rude to the hostess or wait staff. Yes, this happens from time to time, and it’s a good indicator of how a candidate will treat other people in the workplace.

So much of the hiring process is determined before and after actual interviews take place. The more you come prepared, be confident, show your enthusiasm for the job and go with the flow, the better your chances of landing the career of your dreams. Everything during your interview time counts. Pay attention to the details as that’s what our profession is all about.

Interviewing Skills (Part 2 of 3)

By Jennifer Matsuura
Managing Director of Recruiting and Training  

Keeping track of what was said
Interviewers don’t mind if you take notes during the interview. Many will encourage note-taking as long as they sense you are listening to the conversation and not just scribbling or texting. Again, it’s okay to have questions written down in advance. That shows a candidate has done their homework and really wants the job. Just keep in mind that you’re having a professional dialogue—you’re not reading a script.

Feel free to take hand-written notes. Don’t record the conversation with a smartphone camera or audio app. Many interviewers will expect you to bring a professional portfolio to the interview—or at least a clean manila folder--with extra hard copies of your resume inside. Remember, you’re interviewing for a position at a well-respected firm in a conservative industry.

Know your resume and experience
You don’t have to have every word and number on your resume committed to memory. Just make sure you are truthful and not exaggerating about everything you have stated. If your resume states that you planned, led or organized something, you will probably get quizzed about the leadership role that you said you had. If you really didn’t do what your resume claims, then you are going to have a difficult time answering questions. You never know which detail on your resume is going to stick out and catch the eye of an interviewer. Since you’re a student without extensive work experience, good interviewers will be looking for other evidence of your ability to enhance your skills, adapt to new situations and learn new things quickly.

If nothing else, be sure you can expand on any of the experiences and activities you listed. If you say you have been an active member of an accounting society, but the firm’s recruiters don’t remember seeing you at any recent events, then that’s going to raise concerns.

Confidence vs. Overconfident
We have found over the years that confident candidates will acknowledge the many people who helped them be successful in a project, team or organization. By contrast, overconfident people tend to only talk about themselves. Blake Christian, one of our senior partners, talks extensively about the importance of being humble in his new book, “Becoming a CPA-Preneur.” Humble and confident people will openly talk about what they learned from their failures, as opposed to finding ways to disassociate themselves from their failures.

It also comes down to your demeanor—your tone of voice and your body language. Skilled interviewers pick up on these types of things. Leaning forward, making eye contact and occasionally nodding your head are all visual clues to your interviewer that you are confident in your answers and that you are engaged in the conversation. It’s also good to show emotion from time to time. It’s okay to laugh if something is funny. You shouldn’t sit there without showing emotion or give single sentence answers to every question the interviewer asks; as this makes the interview time go slowly and may cause the interviewer to end early

Listen to the conversation rather than plan your next question. Know your resume facts inside and out. Maintain an aura of confidence and share credit with others who helped you become successful. Those attributes will not only impress hiring managers; they will impress future co-workers and clients as well.

Interviewing Skills (Part 1 of 3)

By Jennifer Matsuura
Managing Director of Recruiting and Training  

Ask 100 CPAs how they landed their first job (or got through their first interview) and you will likely get 100 different answers. No two firms—or interviewers—are the same. But, my team and I have been hiring accountants in the early stages of their careers for many years. We’d love to share some tips so you can be at your best when you meet with HCVT or other leading firms on your list. As with so many things in life, a successful performance starts well before you take the stage or the field.

You always want to come prepared, but at the same time, you don’t want to sound over-rehearsed. Reviewing the firm’s website and learning about the firm’s growth, its recent history, its strongest practice areas, and industry niches are great places to start. You don’t have to know a great deal about our firm’s founding partners (Phil Holthouse, Jim Carlin, and John Van Trigt), but if you tell me: “Oh, I see that all three named partners are still practicing.” That shows me you’ve done proper preparation and gives us a chance to transition into the culture of the firm. The fact that all three named partners are involved in the firm’s daily operations is one of the things that distinguishes HCVT from other large firms

Once you have a general overview of the firm, you could tell your interviewer, “I noticed you’re a Top 50 firm. How did you grow so quickly? Is that from organic growth or did you make acquisitions?” To an interviewer, it is more impressive to ask: “How did you get there and what’s the plan for the future?” as it shows you did your research on the firm than to ask a general question such as: “Do you have a training program?” or “How soon will I get a mentor after I’m hired?” 

Sometimes a candidate is nervous during an interview that they’re just thinking about the next question on their list rather than listening to what the interviewer is saying. This is a very common mistake. For instance, we might have been talking about our firm’s culture for five or ten minutes, and the next question that the candidate asks is: “What is HCVT’s culture really like?”

Time Management
If you sense that you’re approaching the conclusion of your interview, don’t worry about getting to every question on your prepared list. Make sure you ask some specific follow-up questions based on things we talked about earlier in the interview as this shows you were listening carefully. It indicates that you are sincerely interested in the position and not just reading from a script. You could ask something like, “I know we talked about the firm’s culture, but do you have any organized informal after-work events?”

Remember, recruiters know that you’ve had several opportunities to meet the firm on your campus and ample time to research the firm before the first official interview. Try not to waste valuable interview time on the basics. We expect you to have more thoughtful questions in mind, including follow-up questions to what you may have discussed with us at a recruiting event. Another red flag is when we ask candidates which of our offices they’re most interested in and they reply: “How many offices do you have?” or they ask: “Where are your offices located?” Our office locations are right on our website. Asking these types of questions indicates that you haven’t done your homework or haven’t spent much time on our website.

Also, it’s always good to have backup questions at the ready. People get nervous in interviews which is natural. Sometimes they blink and forget what they were going to ask next. If you have some fallback questions ready, you can avoid those awkward pauses in the interview and continue confidently without appearing flustered.

Interview Etiquette
The etiquette for an interview is similar to the decorum for a “Meet the Firms” event. We expect you to show up 10 to 15 minutes early, ready to go. If you arrive late, please don’t make excuses. It’s your responsibility to get to the interview on time, but don’t come excessively early either. You won’t score extra points by arriving an hour early for your interview. Chances are your interviewer is meeting with another candidate or has a client meeting. If you find yourself more than 30 minutes early, find a local Starbucks and come back 10 minutes before the appointed time.

When you are called into your interview, look enthusiastic. Make eye contact, show lots of energy and have a firm handshake when you introduce yourself. Stay engaged with your interviewer throughout the meeting and make sure your cell phone is off or silenced. Remember that the interview is a professional setting. It’s a formal process, and it’s your shot at a great career opportunity. You want to take the interview seriously. Even if your interviewer seems only a few years older than you and seems pretty casual, don’t let your guard down. It’s good to appear comfortable, but remember, you’re still in a professional interview setting, and you don’t want to do or say things that you wouldn’t do in front of co-workers or clients at the office.

Come prepared, manage your time and maintain your professional demeanor no matter what the interview situation throws at you. That’s not only great advice for the job search process--it’s a great dress rehearsal for real-world client interactions.

Meet the Firms

By Nancy Choi
Associate Director, Recruiting

It’s easy to feel intimidated when first going to recruiting events. You’ll see hundreds of ambitious students buzzing around a large room trying to connect with representatives from dozens of firms (and vice versa). If it is your first time at Meet the Firms, consider bringing a fellow accounting student to ride shotgun with you. A friend can help you relax and prevent you from feeling like you have to come up with every question or remark to keep the conversation flowing with firm professionals. If you’re attending alone, don’t camp out at the snack table or stand on the sidelines waiting for an invitation to meet with a firm. Every firm is there to meet you. The following are some tips to make your Meet the Firms experience more interesting and rewarding for you.

Setting the Foundation
Before the event, do some research about the firms you’re most interested in joining. Make a “must-see” list of five to seven firms and then research a few more firms that you’ll plan to visit if you have enough time. Always have a few thoughtful questions prepared in advance such as:

Don’t try to “wing it,” as a spontaneous approach rarely works for most students. Make sure you review the firms’ websites, so you have some basic knowledge about each company prior the event, such as where their offices are located, what industries they serve, and what services they provide.  When engaging with firm professionals, be honest and be yourself. A good opener is: “Hi. I’m {name]. I’m a junior and I’m looking for a tax internship. I know a little bit about your firm through your website, but I want to talk to you about the culture in your tax practice.” That’s a great way to break the ice, and the conversation usually flows from there. You can talk about things on your resume and what you’ve been doing outside the classroom. Maybe talk about some of your hobbies and interests. As firm professionals, that’s how we want the conversations to go because we don’t want to leave your campus without remembering something unique about you. You want to leave us with something more than just: “I’m a junior. I take accounting courses. I’m part of VITA and Beta Alpha Psi.” We want to know what would make you a good fit for our firm.

Working the Room
Be realistic about how many firms you can meet during a three-hour event. If you map out the event ahead of time—both the floor plan and the location of firms you’re most interested in—then it will be easier to estimate how much time to devote to each firm on your list. Don’t go down the line of recruiting tables in order. With that approach, you’ll end up with a large stack of business cards, but few useful insights about firms that could be a good fit for you.  As Napoleon Hill said, “Plan the work and work the plan.”

Do Your Due Diligence
Google, Glassdoor, and the target firms’ websites are good places to start learning about each organization. However, it’s very helpful to talk to fellow students from your school or accounting clubs who may have interned at a firm you are interested in. They will be happy to help you. Ask them what it was like and the various things they liked and disliked about their experience. Ask them how likely they would be to return to that firm.

We check sites like Glassdoor on a regular basis and I’m pleased to say we have over a 4-star rating. Just remember that many of the comments are one-offs. An experience someone may have had in an individual office (whether good or bad) doesn’t necessarily represent the entire firm.

Social media is also a helpful tool. Most firms frequently post on their Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn accounts. Those channels are great for gaining insight into the firm’s culture. You’ll also see links to various articles in which the firm’s partners were recently published or quoted. Media coverage gives you great clues about the firm’s expertise. It’s also great when you can tell a recruiter or interviewer: “I noticed in the recent article in [name of publication] that your firm does a lot of work in the [name of industry]. Tell me more about that practice niche.”

I’ve been doing this for a long time. Believe me, a good handshake still counts. Don’t give professionals a limp handshake and don’t overpower them with a bone-crushing one. Smile, make eye contact and give a nice, firm handshake. Always be mindful of the impression you are making and how you will be remembered.

We know that some schools coach their students very well in professional etiquette and others do not. Un-polished etiquette is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but why give a firm any reason to doubt that you’ll conduct yourself accordingly around clients and co-workers?  Also, make sure you take time to listen and to ask some relevant questions about the firm to show you are truly interested. And please don’t monopolize the professional’s time. If you notice that a line of students is building up behind you, have the courtesy to wind up the conversation and move on to the next firm. You can always ask more questions in your follow up email.

Many students are unsure about what’s appropriate to wear to a Meet the Firms event since it’s not a formal interview. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a recruiter beforehand to find out what they recommend. You’re not imposing on them, and the recruiter will appreciate your initiative. Even if you’ve been in class all day, you still want to show up to the event wearing something that’s presentable and professional. Casual is okay, but your first impression counts! How do you want firms to remember you?}

Post-Event Follow-up
E-mail is an acceptable method for following up with a professional, but don’t send a bulk-email or form letter. Make sure you follow up within one or two days and be sure to include something brief in your message that specifically relates to the conversation you had with that person. A one-line reference regarding your conversation is fine. It lets us know that you were listening and heard what they were sharing with you about our firm.

Make sure you have a current (and professional) email address and phone number on your resume. You should also make sure your voice message is appropriate and that you check your emails and voicemails frequently as you do not want to miss any communication from a firm.

Firms attend events like these so they can find talented students who would be great additions to their firms. They’re on your side, and they want to get to know the real you. You owe it to the firms, to your school, and to yourself to put your best foot forward. A little preparation will go a long way and could lead to the career of your dreams.

Don’t Gloss Over the Cover Letter

By Sarah Kim
Campus Recruiter

Like most leading firms, we request a professional resume with a cover letter from all of our candidates; we don’t only use an online application. Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, a well-crafted cover letter helps us learn much more about the “real you” that would normally fit into a standard resume.

What to Include
If the firm you are targeting has a specialty or a niche that interests you, or there is something about the firm’s culture, client list or office locations, make sure you highlight those items in your cover letter. For instance, our firm specializes in tax more so than audit. By letting us know you’re interested in tax and that you’ve done VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), can be a big plus. Also, based on your research, you should customize the cover letter to highlight the reasons why you think you would be a good match for the firm based on your technical skills and background. Including things such as your travel experiences, community involvement, or hobbies. That will eliminate guesswork on the firm’s part and will help you stand out from the crowd.

Your cover letter could be used to explain difficult situations you overcame or a career change. The cover letter is the place to describe what motivated you to switch to accounting from another major and how your prior work experience could be an asset to the firm. The cover letter also gives us a chance to see how you communicate in written form. Formal communication—both with clients and with co-workers – is very important in our profession. It’s not just about working with numbers.

What to Avoid
We receive over 2,500 employment applications per year, so believe me, we’ve seen just about everything. It may sound obvious, but always spell and pronounce the firm’s name correctly. Our firm’s name is not easy for some to pronounce. It often comes out “HC-TV” and sounds like we’re a cable network. That’s a red flag in both written and spoken form. It shows a lack of attention to detail, which is not the best idea when you are seeking work in a VERY detail-oriented profession. Also, take a few moments to ensure that you are sending the right cover letter to the right firm. I can’t tell you how many times we have received cover letters that begin with the name of another firm.

We’ve also seen countless instances of the wrong recruiter’s name on a post-interview follow up note--i.e., “Dear Marie,” when the person you met was “Mary.” Mental fumbles like that are not going to help your chances. Another faux pas we often come across is disclosing too much personal information in a cover letter. You don’t want to go into detail about your recent break-up or disparage a former employer, even if it was a temporary or part-time job. 

Finally, we realize that today’s students are accustomed to truncated communication since they text, tweet, and post. But, you still have to use complete sentences when communicating with clients and co-workers in a professional setting and your cover letter is no different. Take the time to spell words correctly and use those words in the proper context. You wouldn’t use slang or text-messaging acronyms such as “LMK” or “IDK” when communicating with business professionals—they’re not appropriate on your resume, cover letter or thank you note, either.

Applying for a Real Job is Different than Applying to College
When you applied to colleges, chances are you worked hard on a standard essay for the common application and also had to write additional essays for many schools that were specific to each school’s application requirements. Those schools wanted to know something unique about why you wanted to attend, what special skills or interests you had, and how you felt you could contribute to the school’s overall student body. As you probably learned, the cookie-cutter approach to supplemental essays didn’t work, and you had to spend some time customizing each to be considered for admission.

Think of your professional resume as the “common application” and the cover letter as your “supplemental essay.” Again, it’s worth the time and effort to customize each cover letter for the firms you are targeting.

Writing, editing, and wordsmithing can be stressful for many students, especially those who consider themselves “numbers people.” But, when you apply for a real career opportunity, even at the entry level, you are talking about a much longer time horizon than a four-year stint in college. The position you land could account for a very large portion of your working life. It’s a big decision, and you want to take it very seriously. Put your best foot forward even if you don’t consider writing your strong suit. Before attaching a cover letter to your resume, read it out loud to yourself. See if it flows and sounds like you. Make sure there are no grammatical errors. You may want to run your cover letter by a trusted friend, professor, mentor, or career counselor.

Investing the time to work on your cover letter can increase your opportunity to land an interview with your top firms.

What Does HCVT Look for in a Candidate?

By Jennifer Matsuura
Managing Director of Recruiting and Training  

Key Takeaways

At this stage of your career search, you have probably met with a wide variety of firms with different organizational cultures. Just as no two candidates are alike, no two CPA firms are alike. HCVT is a highly diverse firm that prides itself on having large-firm resources with small-firm collegiality. When it comes to candidates, there is no HCVT mold we’re trying to fill. But, we do find that certain traits and qualities that will greatly boost your odds of having a successful long-term career here (see below):

STRONG ACADEMICS. Grades are important, but they’re not everything. What strong grades do show us is that you have the aptitude to comprehend complex material, including accounting concepts. If your grades are lower than what we typically expect, we’ll consider extenuating circumstances that could have affected your GPA. For instance, you may have started college as a biology major and then switched to accounting. Maybe you had to work 30-40 hours a week to help pay for school. Maybe you had to help care for a sick family member.  We’ll take those factors into consideration if your GPA is consistently trending upward and you possess many of the other traits we seek (see below):

MOTIVATION. We like to see candidates who are self-starters--people who take the initiative. Can you be a problem-solver? Can you go beyond your current skill set and reach out to others at the firm for help? Can you take a complex concept to its conclusion? If so, there could be many great opportunities for you here.

RAPPORT. HCVT seeks candidates who are comfortable building relationships and finding others at the firm who can help them—i.e., not just limiting themselves to the immediate team members to which they have been assigned. This can be a challenge for some talented young people today, but if building relationships sound like you, there could be a great potential fit for you at HCVT. You will need these skills to develop relationships with your team members, and equally important, your clients. A quote from Martin Bissett, author of Winning Your First Client, summed it up quite nicely—“Accounting firms are in the relationship building business”.

ADAPTABILITY. Sometimes assignments can change at a moment’s notice because a client’s priorities have changed. Can you shift gears easily and move to new projects on short notice? Can you adapt to working with new teams and clients easily? Many associates enjoy the fast-paced, somewhat unpredictable dynamic of our firm because it gives them exposure to so many different engagements and management styles. This variety is what ultimately provides you with a much more enriching career experience than working on the same assignment day in and day out.

PERSEVERANCE. Are you the type of person who pushes themselves to get to that next level of understanding when dealing with a complex calculation, new accounting pronouncement or new tax legislation? Are you the type of person who is okay with being outside their comfort zone, doing something you haven’t done before? Can you really focus on what the issue is and look for ways to get to the right answer without giving up? Are you willing to do some independent research if needed or to seek out others at the firm who can help you address an issue? Our profession will undergo significant change in the future with technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. This will require a strong focus on developing new skills and adapting to change. If this sounds like you, then we’d very much like to meet you.

CAREER FOCUS. We look for people who are committed to building a career in the accounting profession. Have you taken the initiative to ask yourself, “What do I need in order to be successful?”  If so, we’ll provide you with the training and resources to soar. Success is about more than just the technical side of the job. Some associates know early on that they want to become a partner. They know that means bringing business into the firm, not just doing the work they’re assigned. They’ll ask how soon they can get business development training and we’re happy to provide it.  

OUTSIDE INTERESTS. Are you well-rounded? What contributions did you make to your school outside the classroom? We also want to see that you are capable of juggling other commitments and responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to share your story about student groups you led, part-time jobs you held, teams you belonged to or community service work you did. We’re looking for people with different backgrounds from all walks of life. We really value the diversity of our firm.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS. We look for people who communicate effectively with co-workers, supervisors and with clients. We like people who get out of their cubicles and build relationships with co-workers, managers and the firm’s partners. Empathy and good listening skills are critical to your success in this profession. Our profession is about a lot more than just numbers. Many successful associates had part-time jobs growing up that required lots of real-world customer interaction—working in retail, in food service, for instance.  This tells us you know how to deal with people who can be demanding at times which is a plus in the accounting profession.

As you have probably surmised, a successful career in the CPA profession is as much about relationships and communication skills as it is about technical competence and the numbers. If you are an adaptable self-starter with strong communication skills, a strong desire to learn, a willingness to meet myriad people throughout the firm and to immerse themselves in a wide variety of engagements and teams, then we’d very much like to meet you. Connect with us at!

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