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How Can a Prospective Intern Relate to a Partner During an Interview?

Welcome to the International Women’s Day edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, an accounting major at UI and prospective Big 4 intern is having trouble relating to partners in his interviews. Can we help this future coffee gopher come up with some better ice-breakers?

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Hi GC,

I am a junior majoring in accounting at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign set to graduate in May 2012. I am in the process of applying to our school’s MAS program to get my 150 hours to sit for the CPA in the state of New York. Last fall, I had an office visit with PwC in NYC for their Summer 2011 Audit Intern. I was not given the job. A few weeks ago, I interviewed for Deloitte for their Winter 2012 Audit internship in NYC as well. I moved onto the second round but my second round interview was a 30 minute phone call from a partner. I thought the interview went well with him but I was not given an offer. I am now 0/2 in second round interviews with the Big 4. What am I doing wrong? I read somewhere about the facial hair article that partners generally do not come into contact with associates much and I am only interviewing for an internship. How can I connect with a partner who seems disinterested in interviewing college kids? I connect easier with HR and managers that do first round campus interviews but it’s hard for me to establish rapport with a partner. I do have another office visit scheduled in mid April for NYC EY-FSO so maybe the third second round interview will be the charm. These are the questions I usually ask managers and partners:

• Where did you see yourself 5, 10 years down the road when you first started?
• Did you take it step by step or did you know you wanted to become a partner?
• What has been your most rewarding moment or biggest accomplishment here?
• What are your plans for the next 5 years and what about the firm’s goals?


Dear Intern with no Ice Breakers,

Rather than complain about your lack of partner relations, you should simply be thankful that you’re not a grad assistant at UI. Since you didn’t ask for perspective I’ll let your lack of gratitude slide and address your query directly. Here goes.

You listed four questions that you ask of managers and partners and frankly, they’re terrible. They are trite, predictable and shallow. Plus they’re nearly identical, as they all are related career path. There are other things to consider, after all. Partners and managers want to know that you’ve really got something going on upstairs, not if you’ve read all the listicles on the Internet that have job interview tips. Also, partners are human (well, most of them) so asking them strictly business questions make you seem stiff and impersonal. If you can demonstrate an ability to relate a partner on a personal level, he/she will see you as a team player and someone who has interests outside accounting. You do have interests outside accounting, don’t you?

If you don’t have interests outside accounting: A) GET SOME and B) ask a question that isn’t about career path. What about work-life balance or volunteer opportunities sponsored by the firm or studying for the CPA exam and working OR what he/she likes best about their job? ANYTHING other than re-asking the question you just asked.

So next time you go into an interview and it comes time to ask a partner or manager questions, ask a diverse set of questions. If your questions are one a single track, your interviewer will think your brain is on a single track.