Clint McDonnough doesn’t recall ever having an internship himself. In fact, when he joined Ernst & Young LLP then Ernst & Ernst you simply got your four-year degree and started working right after graduation.
But the Dallas office managing partner acknowledges that things are a little different these days at the accounting and financial services firm. Now, students must go through a five-year program, and internships are nearly required to get in with the firm. While things have changed, it’s definitely for the better.
“The process is much different than when I got hired, …” McDonnough says. “Nowadays, probably about 95 percent of the people we hire have had an internship with us and have had the opportunity to see us up close and personal on a day-to-day basis.”
And that means that he and his 1,400 people have also had the chance to see them, so when they go to hire full-time employees, they have a better picture of a candidate than just what’s on a piece of pretty resume paper.
“It’s one of the best things that we’ve come up with,” McDonnough says. “It takes the guesswork out of hiring so when you make a full-time offer, you’ve had experience with the campus activities, the interview process, the in-office interview you’ve had them for eight weeks of full-time employment basically. You’ve had an extended period of time to get to know and work with them, so it really takes the guesswork out of the recruiting process for us, and it takes the guesswork out of that student’s mind of whether this is a good place for (him or her) to work.”
Creating a strong internship program entails getting on campus to build relationships with professors and students, and then offering students a meaningful work experience.Get on campus
If you want to have the best interns, then you have to have solid relationships with local colleges and universities, and to do that, you have to invest both people and time.
“It starts with making certain that you have our folks who spend time on campus getting to know the students as well as making sure that the students have the opportunity to get to know us and what we stand for,” McDonnough says.
When he’s sending people out to campuses, it’s not just simply something he asks an employee to add into the schedule. Instead, because it’s an important role, assign it as a full-time position. In most cases, a partner serves in the role of campus coordinator along with a team of client-serving professionals, and that team is augmented by full-time professional recruiters on staff. All of these team members and recruiters have had experience working with clients throughout their careers at the firm, so they know what it takes to be successful in E&Y’s culture.
Typically, it’s one partner per campus, although if schools are small, a campus leader may have two schools that he or she oversees, and the company often tries to match alumni up with their respective alma maters, so they already have an idea of the school.
“We like to have long-term consistency in our key campus leaders,” he says. “We’d have someone who has spent many years on that campus so they know the campus, and more importantly, they know the professors, so they’d have the rapport with those professors to know what type of person a specific student would be, and then have a dialogue and discussion around, ‘Do you think that person would be successful in the type of culture that we have?’”
Campus leaders should be focused on building relationships with faculty and staff.
“Spending time with them on campus is key,” he says. “Making certain that they have access to our thought leadership that we provide, that they can use in their classrooms or their lectures is also a critical part.”
Acknowledge the importance of the role those professors play.
“I think it’s just being respectful of the role that they play, and it’s a critical role in the development of the key people who will be a key part of our future, …” he says. “When you go on campus, make certain you understand and are being respectful of the role that those professors are playing in the development of those students that will be your future is something that we need to do and still need to do when we reach out to them. Sometimes there’s a view that we take them for granted, and we never, never want to do that.”
Your recruiters also need to know the students. E&Y’s staff first does this through having social hours on campus two to four times during an academic year.
“One thing that we don’t do is we don’t have alcohol on any of our recruiting visits,” McDonnough says. “That’s not part of the social time. We believe that the social time is really business time, where we get to have meaningful interaction with the students, be able to properly evaluate that student’s social skills and interpersonal skills and use that as another piece of information that we utilize in evaluating that student along with their abilities that they’ve demonstrated in their classroom.”
During these socials, recruiters are looking for students who have qualities that could make them successful at the firm.
“It’s the ability to carry on a conversation, eye contact, feeling comfortable in a discussion and willing to participate in a discussion,” McDonnough says. “Those kinds of things that we can identify that are consistent with somebody who could be comfortable in dealing with people. We are a technical business, but no doubt about it, that technical business is done by people, so it’s important that you have the ability to interact with folks both in our company at Ernst & Young and our clients.”
Look at their intelligence and awareness to find the right fit.
“You also get a sense for just the whole general business knowledge,” he says. “Are they able to demonstrate that they have a good knack for what’s happening in the business community, what’s happening in the economy? That kind of discussion is part of a dialogue that our people have with the students during those activities.”
The next step after the socials is on-campus interviews with the standout students, conducted by the recruiting team.
“That interview, in a lot of cases, is a validation of what we had known,” he says. “In a lot of cases, because we know the students so well, it’s us making sure we know what they want to accomplish in both their internship and where they want to go on a full-time basis. That includes, what city are you looking at? What kind of service line are you interested in doing? What kind of industry are you interested in, if you want to focus on an industry? That’s the kind of dialogue that’s happening in the interview process.”
This provides them with another opportunity to see how that student will handle him or herself, only this time in a one-on-one situation.
After campus interviews, the individual campus teams meet, and they’ll come back and meet with the other schools’ teams to compare notes between campuses.
“Then, depending on our hiring needs from an office perspective, we then go back and decide who to make offers to to come into the office,” McDonno ugh says. “By and large, if you get an offer to come into the office, again, given the amount of history we have had with these students, we will offer an internship after their office visit.”
The number of interns varies based on the work needed, but this year, 90 bright-eyed interns started. Going through this entire process helps reduce the possibility of surprises when they actually get working.
“Because of the amount of due diligence that our campus coordinators do, both in the pre-interview process, talking with professors, getting to know these students on campus, we have a really good idea,” he says. “You combine that with how well they’re doing in their studies, we have a really good idea of who we would like to bring in before we even go into the interview process, so we do a lot of homework.”Provide a meaningful experience
A lot of people think of fetching coffee and spending hours standing at the copier when the word internship comes up, but McDonnough cautions that you can’t have this if you want to have a successful internship program.
“What you wouldn’t want to have happen is somebody to come full time and be surprised by the culture, the workload, the work requirements the work,” he says. “You just want to avoid that, so it’s really important that they get a real experience during their internships, and that includes work demands, deadline demands, etc., that would be a normal course when they start with us. It would not be a good use of their time to make coffee and copies. That would be a wasted experience for an intern.”
So if you don’t want to waste your interns’ experience, how do you set up a meaningful one?
“A key of a successful internship program is making sure that they have opportunities to work on clients,” McDonnough says.
To do that, E&Y elects to have its internship program not during its slower summer months when most college students intern but during the first couple of months of the year or the busy season.
Now doing this also goes back to having successful relationships with the college campuses who will work with both students and the firm to make this happen.
“It’s really because of the accommodations with the schools here in Texas,” McDonnough says. “It’s critical that you get the schools that you’re recruiting at to agree to that kind of time frame for the internships.”
If you don’t have interns when you’re busiest, then you run the risk of them not having enough work to do and not learning.
“Yes, it’s a great opportunity to know the firm and to know you, and you get some sense of what it means to go to work every day and what kind of firm you’re going to be working for, but it’s not as true of an experience of what the work life will be like the rest of the year,” he says.
Once interns start, they go through orientation for approximately three days, which is led by either a staff volunteer or someone from the recruiting team. That orientation is followed by more technical training, and just a couple of weeks into an eight-week internship, they’re ready to start in the field.
“Try to get them different experiences with different people,” McDonnough says. “We like for them to work on a couple different engagements in a couple different industry groups. When they move within the engagements, we try to get them to work with different people. It’s important because it gives us a couple different touch points on how they’re doing not just one touch point and secondly, it gives them an opportunity to experience different leadership styles.
“The leadership style we develop is based on the experiences that we all had in working for other people. This is just an opportunity for them to see some different leadership styles and personalities and grow in their personal development.”
Each engagement could involve as few as three people or as many as 15 or 20 people, so the interns have the opportunity to work with many people.
In addition to the engagements, each intern is paired up with a counselor or buddy during his or her time at the firm.
“That’s important so they have another reach-out point of someone that they know and have a chance to dialogue with,” he says.
Lastly, they also have a contact in HR, who is involved in running the overall program. This gives them at least three points of contact internally during their experience, but it also gives you the chance to have several points of evaluation.
“For every engagement they work on, they’ll get feedback from the person that’s above them on their performance and what they can do well and what they can do better,” he says.
Most of the people who intern at E&Y are juniors and will receive a full-time job offer at the end of their eight weeks, contingent on them maintaining their grades through the last two years of their five-year program.
“We’ll do an evaluation before they leave based on the feedback they had on their engagements, but because of the amount of work that we do before we bring somebody in in making sure we believe they’re a good fit, we’re seldom surprised if someone doesn’t live up to the performance standards of the firm.”
This process allows the student to focus on school, knowing he or she has a job upon graduation, and it takes the guesswork out of E&Y’s hiring. It’s also made E&Y a standout employer.
“One of the things that is a good indication of how well we’ve done in the recruiting process … is that we have been now ranked in the top three in Business Week’s list of best U.S. employers for new college graduates,” McDonnough says. “The list came out in September 2009, so it made us feel good, and it validated all the hard work that I have just talked about, about the importance of spending time on campus and finding those opportunities.”
How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (214) 969-8000, (214) 979-1700, (817) 335-1900 or www.ey.com