Baker Newman Noyes, a Top 100 Firm based in Portland, Maine, held its first in-person recruiting summit since the pandemic, hosting 18 students who learned about the accounting profession, careers at the firm, and spent time volunteering at a local soup kitchen.
The three-day recruitment event took place in mid-May and revived a tradition begun by the firm in 2015. Traditionally the firm brings in college sophomores and juniors to participate in group and one-on-one discussions with BNN staff, get some professional headshots taken, explore the city, and experience the firm’s commitment to community service by volunteering with the city’s United Way chapter and YMCA facilities. This year, the students volunteered at St. Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in downtown Portland. The program attracted 17 students from across New England and one from Texas. Over 40 BNN employees met with the students. Recent interns described their experiences at the firm, heard from BNN leaders in audit and tax panels, and spent an evening networking with food, trivia and games.
Accounting firms, like other industries, have been experiencing acute hiring shortages since the pandemic, and the number of accounting students has declined in recent years, making it harder for firms to compete for talent as their baby boomer employees reach retirement age. Recruitment events like the one BNN hosted give firms a chance to make their case to students and interest them in the accounting, tax and audit profession.
“A lot of our recruiting is done through college, whether it’s through internship programs or from first year staff just after graduating with their bachelor’s and master’s degrees,” said Jessica Laverriere, the firm’s talent acquisition specialist who organized the summit. “Part of our strategy is making sure we’re getting started early with these students and giving them an introduction to accounting. We talk a lot about the pipeline and enrollment numbers. Colleges are seeing low enrollment numbers for accounting students, so part of what this Culture & Career Summit is allowing students to be introduced to the firm and get a feel of who BNN is and also to really introduce them to the field of accounting, and show them what their career opportunities look like within this major and this field.”
The AICPA trends report from 2021 found accounting graduates trended downward in the 2019–20 academic year, with decreases of 2.8% and 8.4% at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, respectively. The number of new CPA exam candidates entering the CPA pipeline declined in 2020 due to short-term closings and the various restrictions at Prometric test centers, with overall COVID-19 concerns carrying forward into 2021.
The summit gave some students who haven’t been majoring in accounting a chance to learn about the field. While the participants this year were largely accounting majors, some of them majored in finance and economics.
“I personally come from a nontraditional background,” said BNN principal Andy Smith. “I was a finance major in college and didn’t really consider a career in public accounting. At the time, I just didn’t know what a public accountant did. I certainly had a vision for what a tax accountant or a CPA did, but when I did an internship at Baker Newman Noyes, I found it was much different than my perception, and that it was a much more dynamic and interesting job than just sitting in a room and preparing tax returns and tabulating receipts and creating spreadsheets.”
The summit exposed students to what a career in an accounting firm could look like. “One of the goals we tried to do with this program was to let college students get a peek behind the curtain and actually see what our employees do on a day-to-day-basis,” said Smith. “We do a lot of job shadowing, as well as talking to them about different ways we interact with clients and different things we do for clients, that it’s a lot more than just preparing financial statements or tax returns.”
Since the summit occurred in May, BNN has already extended offers for internships and received acceptances from a number of students at the end of the conference. Some will be starting their internships in January and next summer.
Like other firms competing for scarce talent, BNN has needed to raise starting salaries. “We’ve increased our starting salaries over the last two years,” said Smith. “It’s partly in response to the demand. There’s fewer people going into the industry, so there’s more competition for all of the graduates at this point.”
The first day of the program focused on getting to know what a career in public accounting looks like and getting to know more about Baker Newman Noyes. The second day dove deeper into the differences between BNN’s tax, audit and consulting practices. The third day focused on the community service aspect of the firm.
“We sent 30 volunteers to the soup kitchen including students and some current employees as well,” said Laverriere. “They got to pack lunches for the soup kitchen as well as do some organization projects, asking for donations and things like that. Volunteerism is a very important aspect of Baker Newman Noyes’s culture, so introducing them to that and helping our community was really important to us as well.”
The event gave BNN employees a chance to meet the students in person for the first time since the pandemic.
“We’re just really excited to have this program back in person and to give these students a lot of one-on-one time and introduce them to who we are, and give them that experience to meet different professionals from the staff level all the way up to the level like Andy,” said Laverriere. “Giving them that exposure was important to us.”