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How to Have Recruiting Season Conversations Without Scaring People Off

You spent your entire junior year reading Going Concern horror stories instead of brushing up on your communication skills and now the heat is on. Recruiting season is here and you don't want to end up working for the firms that get made fun of all the time around here. Instead of hyperventilating, email us with your questions or concerns and we'll give you a bunch of free advice you paid your school for already.

Hello Going Concern! First off the articles you post on this website. Its good stuff. I am going into my 3rd year of university and recruitment season is around the corner. During the Big 4 info sessions, there will be a lot of firm representatives (from staff accountants to partners). I was wondering what would be some great questions to ask these people and get a great conversation going. I want to show these people that i have decent soft skills and hopefully they will recommend me to the HR recruiters so i can get an interview. Thank you!

Let me kick this off with a helpful suggestion. If your letter to us is any indication, you're a bit lacking in the written skills department so have someone proofread any emails you send to desired firms when you follow up after meeting them. I say that not to be an ass but to be helpful, I swear.

Anyway, one might hope your school would sufficiently prepare you for recruiting but if you're at one of those cheap and/or broke state schools that can barely afford a separate classroom for accounting let alone extras like career advice, we'll take a stab at this best we can. It should be fairly easy. Last year, Braddock also offered some general tips on not looking like a slob, making a good impression and other important topics related to this subject worth checking out.

The most important piece of advice should also be the easiest for you to pull off: be a human being. Not an accounting drone with no interests other than accounting programmed with the same five catch phrases ("I would be honored to spend my career working for a prestigious firm like yours!"), a real human being. Canned, safe responses are fine if not required to some extent but no college student is THAT interested in IFRS to build an entire conversation around it with a stranger. If you're horribly awkward in social situations first off don't worry about it because you'll be in a room surrounded by a bunch of equally socially awkward people and second, if it's that worrysome, try out your shtick in the mirror or on your friends before you attend any events.

Be prepared to discuss why you like their firm specifically and be sure to stuff your statement with lots of buzzwords like "prestigious" and "dynamic," they'll eat that stuff up. Do your homework ahead of time so you can identify specifics about that firm (like Jim Turley's stance on diversity and women in the workplace or Barry Salzberg's recent Forbes piece on Millennials) and show you do actually want to work for them, specifically, not just any old accounting firm that'll take you. This goes without saying but don't ask about compensation, benefits or travel immediately after shaking a partner's hand, or at all for that matter.

Safe topics: the weather, your alma mater if you find out the person you're talking to came from the same school you currently attend (many of them likely did), current events but no hot topics like politics, crazy nutjobs shooting up movie theaters or abortion.

Unsafe topics: politics, crazy nutjobs shooting up movie theaters, abortion, the McGladrey stigma, Romney's tax returns, Going Concern.

Borderline topics you should try to avoid: the latest FASB pronouncements (no one will be impressed that you Googled this ahead of time to make yourself look smart), financial scandals, the constitutionality of the PCAOB, IFRS convergence.

Oh and bring mints. MINTS, not gum, the tiny ones that disappear in your mouth in under a minute. It also goes without saying that it's easier to have a conversation at these things if you've taken care not to wear a wrinkled shirt with a stain on the front or the CFM heels you've been dying to try out at the club with your girls so keep it tight but not too tight. Have your elevator pitch ready to go but don't bombard every person you meet with your 4 minute mission statement.

The short version: don't be obnoxious, don't be a doormat, don't be too eager and don't be an idiot. Get business cards, follow up with people you meet and be personable. Simple, right?