Foresight, adaptability keep job profile strong for accounting seniors
Successes reflect nimble and effective pivot by Saint Michael's faculty across majors in face of pandemic challenges, maximizing a liberal arts edge for employment prospects
More than half of Saint Michael’s College’s accounting seniors have already landed good full-time jobs across the Northeast to start in summer or fall, said Professor Steven Doyon ’88, instructor of business administration & accounting.
Given how readily Saint Michael’s accounting seniors are still finding good jobs, business faculty at Saint Michael’s — emblematic of faculty across the College — feel affirmed in effective adaptations this past year to meet the enormous challenges of new instructional landscapes while effectively preparing students for the future.
Flexible faculty, widespread willingness by successful alumni to help, and vigorous career education and alumni office initiatives are pieces of the College’s and his department’s productive formula, in Doyon’s view. He sees accounting as a strong case-in-point for what Saint Michael’s is doing right to stay relevant in such times with networking and a practical view to career success.
Doyon, a veteran instructor and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with extensive field experience before joining academia, said his strong perception from speaking with internship mentors and future employers in the field is that, for accounting — traditionally one of the College’s most employable majors — the well-roundedness and breadth of a Saint Michael’s liberal arts education bolsters resumes and job-market prospects. Saint Michael’s administrators and faculty feel such might be said of other majors at the College too, given the solid career paths that unfold.
“What’s more, our new graduates this year bring technological skill-sets to the marketplace that historically have not been necessary, but now are vital in doing business in accounting, as in other fields” Doyon said. “From their experience with this past year’s online classes, our students will graduate having acquired now-essential abilities and comfort-levels with Zoom meetings, online collaboration and working in video breakout groups, giving synchronous or recorded presentations via Zoom or Echo 360, working remotely instead of in an office, and more.”
In Doyon’s estimation, a key element to present seniors’ good job fortunes has been the successful rapid pivot toward online accounting internships this past spring, summer and fall, instead of the traditional on-site variety – largely made possible by already long-established partnerships with major and smaller firms, including locally, regionally, and the major international “Big Four” public accounting firms: EY, PwC, KPMG and Deloitte.
A big job destination for Saint Michael’s accounting graduates and seniors also is RSM, the nation’s fifth-largest firm, which has more than 20 Saint Michael’s graduates working in its large Boston office, including three of last year’s graduates.
“Many of our students complete summer internships between junior and senior year in a non-pandemic year, and those often lead to employment opportunities,” Doyon said. “So what many of the firms where our students had interned in years past did this year was to alter the experiences to make them entirely remote. That meant some students who would have had full-time, on-location internships last summer moved to, say, remote leadership development programs.”
An example of that was Callahan Hughes ’21, a senior accounting and international relations double-major, who completed two weeks of remote leadership training with PwC as a sort of quasi-internship this past summer. “While we were initially going to act as new associates and get to work on client engagements, the shortening of the internship led PwC to instead focus the internship on relationship building, introductions to PwC and the industry, and especially tech upskilling. This tech upskilling exposed us to a variety of software that we will use in the course of our job,” Hughes said. He will join the firm’s Hartford, CT office after graduation.
Like many Saint Michael’s accounting graduates – about half of this year’s senior class, Doyon estimates — Hughes had the advantage of having opted to earn as an undergraduate his 150 college credits required to be eligible to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure exam. The standard credit requirement for a bachelor’s degree is 128 credits at St. Mike’s and 120 at many colleges.
For Saint Michael’s accounting majors, the challenging but very doable option of completing 150 credits in four undergraduate years is an advantage entering the job market, permitting earlier employment and access to that important professional credential for promotions within major firms or for certain accounting jobs that require the CPA. Doyon stressed, however, that there are also many other accounting-oriented career opportunities in corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations that do not require licensing as a CPA and are therefore not subject to the 150-credit hour requirement.
“The way we promote it to advisees is that earning 150-credits while here at Saint Michael’s will eliminate the time and cost of an additional year of graduate study. Saving that cost, along with related living costs and commuting, coupled with the opportunity cost of the foregone salary of that year right after graduation, graduates could be looking at high double-digits or even a $100,000 benefit to reach the 150 as an undergraduate — so completing those credits here as an undergraduate is getting that head start with a major financial impact.”
While some students may wish someday to go on to earn a master’s in business, tax or finance, those earning 150 credits as undergraduates are eligible to sit for the CPA exam earlier (and thereby become more promotable within firms), he said. Saint Michael’s advisers recommend accounting majors start planning for that goal early, though, as with 128 total credits in the usual four-year sequence, “it’s easy to earn 22 additional credits in four years if you’re deliberate and thoughtful about it – for instance, students can earn 18 credits a semester for the same cost as 16, they can complete a summer internship after junior year for credit (these often also lead to employment opportunities, directly); and, many Saint Michael’s students use the Accelerated Summer College offerings to get up to the 150 credits.”
Doyon says another differentiator for Saint Michael’s business students is an emphasis in their courses on learning software applications and other information technology skills that contribute to professional readiness, including a two-credit Microsoft Excel course offered each semester and the chance to learn a host of business software applications such as Excel, Access Database, statistical applications, and Tableau to name a few; he mentioned in particular the valuable expertise transmitted to business and accounting students from his colleague Prof. Alaba Apesin in her Analytics in Operations course in these areas.
Also, he said, business and accounting faculty at Saint Michael’s have a wide range of credentials and prior professional experiences, “and that helps since the diversity of our experience among accounting faculty can give career insight to our students for any number of pathways.”
Doyon and other business instructors also routinely invite Ingrid Peterson, director of the College Career Education Center (CEC) or her colleagues to present about how students can create and work toward “SMART Goals”: (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely). They also learn through the CEC about mock interviews and networking with alumni through SMC Connect, and receive valuable resume tips.
Adaptable Alumni Making it Work
Courtney Larson, CPA ’17 is a senior accountant at McSoley McCoy & Co. in South Burlington. She interned with the firm her senior year at St. Mike’s, leading to a job – something that is quite common for accounting interns. Larson has stayed connected to St. Mike’s since graduating (as do so many alumni), including as a Career Symposium Panelist on campus in 2019, and by taking on and training interns in her office, even before the pandemic.
Larson said early last spring with the onset of the pandemic, her office went remote almost completely, so when it was time for summer interns to start on May 18 with virtually everybody in the firm working remotely “we worked … to ensure the interns had all the necessary equipment to work from home.” Larson explained that, rather than cancel the internships in the past year’s unusual circumstances, her office did what it took to keep the experience useful and manageable, though in an untested situation.
“Training in general is tough, but doing it remotely was a different ballpark” Larson said – “it involved scheduling calls, setting up screen shares to walk through questions.” But a mid-June return to the office for her firm allowed interns “to experience somewhat an office environment.” A difference was that normally interns might visit clients in the field with supervisors, but that was mostly not possible this year, “though I did bring one intern to a day of fieldwork at a local client and she thought it was a great experience,” Larson said.
Larson recalled feeling fortunate when, as a senior in 2017, she connected with her future employer. “Within my first week I was onsite with a manager at an employee benefit plan client in Montpelier,” she said, adding that while ‘it was overwhelming,” it also is best to work hands-on and learn in the field. Larson encourages every accounting major to complete an internship if possible to get a sense of working in an office and to try both audit and tax accounting to see which feels like a better fit. “At my firm we like the internships to lead to fulltime positions and that’s exactly what happened with me,” she said.
Tenley Mazerolle ’21, an accounting major with minors in economics and gender studies, serves as secretary of finance for the campus Student Government Association and as student chair for the Fix It with Five Committee to support community service.
She will join the Boston practice of the aforementioned RSM after graduating summa cum laude this May. In addition to her own summer 2020 internship with RSM, she did a research project for that internship about “The Accounting Industry’s Response to COVID-19,” under direction of Ingrid Peterson, director of the College’s Career Education Center, who also teaches the summer internship class. Among Mazerolle’s findings was that “at-home productivity exceeds expectations” in many cases, though still less than with traditional in-office operations, and that “experts predict many successes and lessons learned from the pandemic will stick as changes in the future.”
A few other experiences:
Branden Young, CPA ’19 is now an assurance senior with Roselli, Clark & Associates, licensed in the state of Massachusetts and a senior for a firm that audits municipalities. “It’s been going really well and I’ve been learning a lot about fund accounting and how towns and cities operate,” he said. Young was in the business honor society as a student and a member of the student-team that won the 2019 Vermont CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) Institute Research Challenge intercollegiate competition.
Tim Decker ’20 was a double major in accounting and economics as well as a goaltender for the men’s ice hockey team; he now works full-time for RSM in Boston, having recently passed his first section of the four-part CPA Exam. He has been working remotely during the pandemic, and took advantage of the Saint Michael’s Accelerated Summer College in working toward 150 credits while an undergraduate.
He is one of three 2020 graduates – Rachel Sullivan and Will Moriarty were the others — to join RSM in Boston. Says Doyon, “Will is second generation Saint Michael’s alumni to join RSM. Will’s late father, James Moriarty, was my ’88 classmate, and he recruited Will Meconi and Monica Meunier, both ’03 graduates who are now RSM partners, and among more than 20 current St. Michael’s accounting graduates there — forming our own alumni chapter at the firm!” Meconi and Meunier have been very active recruiting and mentoring St. Mike’s students and joining alumni events.
Doyon reports that the pathways for this year’s accounting seniors who are discerning professional interest or seeking positions now include: a few anticipating a wealth management/advisory financial services related path; one student interning now for Gallagher Flynn accountants in Burlington; one pursuing a public accounting path after a recent change in professional goals; and one who plans to seek a private company accounting department position rather than a CPA path.
“Engaging alumni support through informational interviews and networking always proves beneficial to the variety of possibilities that we can offer in career planning and job opportunities” Doyon said, adding that this alumni engagement works hand-in-hand with the many extensive campus supports that are “preparing our students for bright futures of doing well and doing good.”