What it takes for accounting firms to recruit Gen Z: Organizational culture and opportunities for career growth are the top factors today's students seek in an employer.

Author:Brown, Owen
 
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Firms should communicate to prospective student-interns the opportunities they offer to grow and contribute professionally.

Attracting and recruiting accounting graduates is critical to the long-term success of public accounting firms. A new generation, Generation Z--or more simply, Gen Z--is entering the workforce, placing additional pressure on firms to review and, as necessary, update their recruiting practices to ensure that they remain effective at attracting top-performing students. Understanding and connecting with a new generation of accounting students can be an important factor in improving the effectiveness of recruiting programs.

In this article, we present the results of an online survey of 132 current undergraduate and graduate accounting students on the factors they consider when making an internship decision. We also identify a set of recruiting "do's and don'ts" that accounting firms should adhere to when updating their recruiting strategies to attract Gen Z accounting students.

CHARACTERISTICS OF GEN Z

Gen Z is often described as those individuals born during the years 1996-2010. Gen Z is the first group of true "digital natives" or "screenagers." While Millennials quickly adapted to the rise of social media and mobile messaging, Gen Zers were born into a world where the internet already existed. Compared with prior generations, Gen Z individuals are better multitaskers--shifting seamlessly between apps, devices, and conversations --and are more entrepreneurial. In fact, recent studies indicate that nearly 3 out of 4 teenagers wish to start their own business in the future. For potential employers, this entrepreneurial spirit can prove difficult to harness, leading to higher levels of turnover than previously experienced.

This group is now reaching adulthood and entering the workforce, and they bring a unique set of career expectations. For example, a recent EY survey of 1,400 Gen Z workers found that 70% believe it is more important to be seen as having a "curious or open mindset" than to have a specific skill or expertise. The EY survey also indicates that an overwhelming majority (77%) would prefer a Millennial manager to a Gen Xer or Baby Boomer.

A SURVEY OF STUDENTS' ACCOUNTING INTERNSHIP RECRUITING EXPERIENCES

Throughout the summer of 2018, we, along with recruiters from multiple public accounting firms ranging in size from single-office to Big Four, emailed a survey link to current undergraduate and graduate college students who were previously recruited for a professional internship. In total, 132 accounting students attending 27 four-year colleges, primarily from universities located in the southwestern and southeastern United States, completed the survey.

The survey asked respondents to rank in order of importance 17 factors they might evaluate when choosing an internship, such as firm size, location, work/life balance, and opportunities for advancement. Additionally, we gave respondents the opportunity to answer open-ended questions where they could elaborate on a ranked factor, discuss a factor they considered important that was not previously included in the survey, or...

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