By Matthew Biddle
The energy on campus was palpable this fall as students and faculty returned to the School of Management for in-person classes after more than a year of remote or hybrid learning.
But things haven’t exactly gone back to normal in the pre-pandemic sense. Instead, by leveraging the strengths of both place-based experiences and virtual meetings, the School of Management’s faculty, staff, student clubs and recruiting partners have found a new normal—and our accounting students will be better prepared for the ever-changing world of work because of it.
Among other responsibilities, the vice president of technicals for each of the School of Management’s accounting student clubs—Beta Alpha Psi and the UB Accounting Association—plans and executes weekly technical events, in which alumni and firm representatives speak on various topics and introduce students to their companies.
It’s an important role that requires leadership, teamwork, collaboration and time management skills—and, more than ever, resiliency and creativity, thanks to COVID-19.
“Historically, students had the opportunity to network and build better relationships with professionals through in-person events, and we wanted to bring this back after the hiatus from the pandemic,” says Christina Pham, a senior accounting student and VP of technicals for Beta Alpha Psi. “We also recognized that virtual events afford us opportunities to reach out further than the local network we currently possess.”
So, while the clubs held in-person social events, like a bowling night and visit to a local farm, their technicals were a mix of in-person and virtual opportunities, based on member preference, speaker availability and firms’ pandemic policies.
“We chose these formats based on what we believed would benefit students the most,” says Panda Tran, a senior accounting student and VP of technicals for UBAA. “If there is a firm outside of our local network, being able to leverage virtual events brings more opportunities to our members and broadens their views.”
Feedback from speakers and students has been largely positive, and with planning already underway for next semester, the clubs anticipate continuing to vary the format of their events in the future.
“We’re trying to find the right balance of in-person versus virtual,” Pham says. “Being online last year exhausted many of our members mentally, so they’re greatly enjoying being back in person and participating.”
“At the same time, we’ve also noticed some members are still getting acclimated to in-person events and may feel timid speaking up,” Tran says. “We, as student leaders, try our best to encourage our members to get comfortable with expressing themselves at these events, as it is the best way for them to gain recognition and build personalized relationships with professionals.”
Adrian Rangl, BS ’12, MS ’14, vice president at Goldman Sachs, began hosting virtual events long before it was a norm. For the past seven years, his team—the Controllers Division in the firm’s Salt Lake City office—has collaborated with the School of Management’s Career Resource Center (CRC) on virtual events to recruit student talent.
This fall, Goldman Sachs also hosted its first virtual technical with the student clubs to showcase the wide array of opportunities and functions for accounting students within the firm.
“Our strategy of engaging students virtually did not change during the pandemic,” Rangl says. “Virtual formats allow us to reach a large amount of students in smaller groups that facilitate meaningful conversations, which is only possible with the help of the CRC.”
Meanwhile, Constellation Brands has found in-person engagements to be valuable in introducing accounting students to the company, a Fortune 500 producer and marketer of beer, wine and spirits that just happens to be headquartered down the thruway in Victor, New York.
Company leaders visited campus this fall to present a technical on data analytics and technology, and to participate in Meet the Professionals Night, an annual event co-hosted by the student clubs to bring accounting, information systems and finance professionals together with School of Management students. Twenty-nine firms attended Meet the Professionals this year.
“Being in person allows us to use visuals to showcase our brands and to interact with many more students,” says Marisa Lobsinger, BS ’10, MS ’11, senior manager of technical accounting and controls at Constellation Brands. “The informal vibe also allows us and the students to get a better feel for if we were a good fit culturally.”
Through virtual platforms, representatives from Constellation Brands also participated in this year’s Management Career and Internship Expo, spoke to undergrads in the CRC’s two-part “Career Connections” course and worked with master’s students on a real-world auditing project last year.
“Traveling to Buffalo is not always super easy,” Lobsinger says. “The virtual format allows us to access a larger candidate pool and attend events without having to worry about travel restrictions or maintaining social distancing.”
In our new reality, flexibility has been paramount for accounting students, recruiters and the CRC alike. Companies can participate in on-campus recruiting both virtually and in person, and the CRC has even developed new opportunities to connect students with companies, like the Reverse Pitch event held via Zoom in December. There, students delivered one-minute elevator pitches for potential employers, who could then contact candidates for one-on-one conversations.
But regardless of the format, recruiters say students and job-seekers can stand out by heeding a few best practices.
If you’re interviewing remotely, Rangl says, “The key is to treat the virtual interview process as seriously as an in-person interview. Wear proper interview attire and ensure your responses are just as formal as if the interviewer was sitting across from you in the room.”
Lobsinger also recommends making sure your surroundings are quiet, clean, well lit and free from distractions, as well as researching the company you’re interviewing with.
“It’s also important to be professional, yet show your personality,” she says. “We want to hire someone who will fit in with our organization and culture, so maintain eye contact, smile and try to be your genuine self.”