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What’s the Deal with These Public Accounting Sophomore Leadership Programs?

Recruiting events and firm slogans may change over time — even year to year — but one thing is constant: competition for top talent. Long gone are the days when firms scrutinized a candidate’s grade in intermediate accounting to see if they could make the cut. Today some firms aren’t even waiting for candidates to complete a single upper division course and are instead trolling the campuses for sophomores to fill their summer leadership programs.

The Big 4 have been embracing summer leadership programs for several years now and the trend shows no signs of waning. Now that internship offers are being extended to participants in these programs, regional and local firms are being forced to put on their own programs to remain competitive and stay in the game.

The good news for students is these programs are a great opportunity to get a glimpse inside the firms, while also learning about career paths in accounting. Unlike a traditional internship, students can participate with more than one firm during the summer because the programs are only one to two days long. The other plus is participation in these programs is a resume booster for those who choose to continue on the public accounting career path by seeking out an internship or fulltime position.

There are challenges in landing a spot in these programs. For starters, recruiting for these programs happens really early in one’s academic career. The recruitment typically takes place in the winter or spring of a student’s sophomore year. Personally, it took me more than three semesters to find Career Services and I can assure you my resume was not ready at that point either. For those going for a fifth year of school, many firms also accept those who are a junior. The greater challenge in landing a spot is there isn't as much information out there on how to be invited or hired into these programs because they are relatively new and space is limited (I.e. the masses haven’t been through the process, so fewer people are available to share their experiences).

From what I do know, the Big 4 have different types of programs for different calibers of candidates. Yep, that’s right — prepare to have your mind blown — not all accounting majors are created equal. There are national programs for all-stars and it is from these programs that offers for internships are extended.  Depending on the firm, there also may be a regional and/or local program.  

The smaller the firm, the more likely they have a single program. Market conditions likely influence whether internship offers come out of the regional and local programs or not. The fiercer the competition, they earlier the offers are extended.

As I didn't participate in a sophomore leadership program, I'm missing one important piece of information to share here: the personal experience. That's where the GC faithful comes in.

For those of you who completed a sophomore leadership program or were recently admitted into one, let us know how you did it. What was the recruiting process like? How many interviews did you have? Were the interviews in-house or on-campus? What time of year was/is the program and where was it located?  What did you gain from the program?   

Just like Whitney Houston, I believe the children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the — oh forget it, you get it.