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You're a what? Corporate recruiter.

In midautumn, queues of students snake through the halls outside college placement offices, anxious to trade their blue jeans for the gray flannels of corporate America. It's the recruiting season. On a dozen different campuses in the mid-Atlantic States, hundreds hope for a slot on Lisa Carro's interview schedule. Lisa directs recruitment for the Washington office of Coopers and Lybrand, one of the country's largest public accounting firms.

While the students compete against each other, the companies vie for the Nation's top students. It's a contest played out on campuses. in corporate offices, and in expense-account restaurants where the premier candidates are wined and dined. "We definitely feel a sense of competition," says Lisa. While she also conducts searches for candidates for mid- and senior-level positions in the firm, "recruiting for the entry level positions takes the most effort. It's a cyclical process. We begin to identify candidates in the second semester of the junior year and sometimes before," she says.

Her pace can be measured in hours of overtime and miles traveled. This November morning, she awoke in State College, Pennsylvania, near the campus of her alma mater, Penn State. By mid-day, she was at her desk in downtown Washington. The clock had struck 8 before she returned to her home in suburban Virginia, and the straining seams of her briefcase told that the lights would burn for awhile still. The visit to Pennsylvania was the last stop on this season's campus tour. Now, she must sift through the paperwork generated by nearly 450 interviews conducted on more than a dozen campuses to narrow her list of candidates. Another series of interviews and more paper confront her yet.

This is Lisa's second recruiting season at Coopers and Lybrand. She enjoyed a successful debut with the firm. "This year's group of new accountants is top notch," she says proudly. But, in this business, last year's successful don't matter much. Accounting is a demanding profession, and accountants are demanding professionals. They work long, hard hours and expect the same from others. While many in the office participate in recruitment, final responsibility rests with her.

She enjoys the work and believes that her experience in the business world has prepared her for it. Before accepting this job, she worked in personnel development and recruitment for Kinney Shoes and Blue Cross of New York. But the hours are wearing and so is the need to be "upbeat all the time. I enjoy meeting new people. That's my job. Sometimes, though, I wake up and say |I don't want to see anyone.' But I have to."

Coopers and Lybrand has identified 180 universities around the country that the firm regards as having excellent programs. Lisa focuses on 12 schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. "Formal, on-campus interviews take place in the fall," she says, but the firm has already begun to court top candidates by then. She and her counterparts in other firms make a first round of the schools in the spring, attending functions sponsored by the schools' accounting departments, accounting societies, or fraternities. "A lot of socializing goes on," she says, and how students handle themselves at these functions is important. "Client service is an important part of public accounting. It's obvious that you need strong professional credentials. But you need good interpersonal skills, too." These skills are best assessed in a social setting.

In the autumn, corporate recruiters descend upon the campuses. It's a hectic few months. Lisa and a team from her firm will visit the 12 key schools on their list plus several others that offer accounting programs. She coordinates all details of the visits, from contacts with school officials through student interviews and evaluations, even the travel and room reservations for members of her team.

The size of the firm's retinue that visits each school varies. In large part, it depends upon the number of students they expect to interview. Sometimes it may be three or four; other times, more. For example, when Coopers and Lybrand visited William and Mary in Virginia, the recruiting team numbered 13. Occasionally the Washington office may augment its numbers with staff from another of the firm's offices. For example, says Ms. Carro, "when we visited George Washington University, where much of the student body comes from Long Island, several recruiters from the New York office participated in the sessions."

Generally, only a limited number of students are interviewed at each school. Time plays a major role. Employers usually spend 2 days at most interviewing on each campus. Schools adopt different methods to determine which students get the slots. Sometimes, it's first come, first served. "A few schools allow us to screen candidates," says Lisa. The factors Coopers and Lybrand uses include grade point average, "an indicator of intelligence or the student's dedication to school work," says Lisa; extracurricular activities; and work experience. Other schools assert that any student who successfully completes their program is qualified and deserves consideration. "We do out best to accommodate them."

The firm tries to accommodate the students, too. Job interviewing can be a stressful, intimidating process, so "we use a couple of methods to put the students at ease." Before interviews commence, most companies present programs that profile the firm and highlight the kind of work it does. "What we do is offer some tips on the interviewing process. We try to make it light and relaxed," says Lisa. "We'll do some role plays or demonstration interviews, with members of the staff playing both roles. We exaggerate the things that a person shouldn't do in an interview, play it for laughs. We've gotten good feedback from the students on these skits." In some cases, the company also brings along some younger staff accountants who are alumni of the school. These staffers don't conduct any formal interviews, but they're available in the reception areas outside the interview rooms to answer any questions. "Sometimes, it helps to see familiar faces," says Lisa.

The interview lasts about 30 minutes. It's structured so that each interviewer asks pretty much the same questions; this way, the firm can judge candidates against each other. "In the first few minutes, we try to establish rapport with the student; then we review the resume; next we set up a scenario, kind of a "what if" situation, to see what kind of judgment the student has; then we ask some personal questions as to why the student chose to attend this school and to major in accounting. In the final part, the student gets the chance to ask questions about the firm."

When the interviews are completed, the team meets to review and evaluate each candidate. Lisa conducts the session. "The assessments are very candid," she says. "We discuss what we liked to disliked about the student and why." If the conversation begins to wander off the subject, she guides it back gently but firmly.

By the end of October, Lisa has concluded her campus visits. "The next stage is to select the candidates who will be invited to Washington for another round of interviews," she says. At the beginning of each recruiting season, the firm determines how many new accountants it will hire. "We've found that we have a 50-percent acceptance rate of job offers," says Lisa. In 1989, the plan was to hire 50 new accountants. So Lisa, with the assistance of a few others, chose 100 candidates to invite.

Letters go out to the students, "each one containing some personal note gleaned from the interview," says Lisa. It's important to nurture this personal contact, because it's likely that the same candidates are being courted by other firms.

A dual purpose exists when students visit the firm's office for the interview--to assess the student as a possible employee and to sell the firm. If a student is invited to the office, a job offer will probably be extended. "Students are clearly aware of this," says Lisa. "They'll tell you flat out what the interviewers at Price Waterhouse, Touche Ross, or other firms have said," says Lisa. "There's a lot of gamesmanship involved. These students can get swelled heads very quickly." No job is assured, however. "A very stressful series of four interviews" awaits each candidates. And, finally, evaluation.

By the time students reach this stage, they have clearly demonstrated many of the qualities that the firm seeks. Other factors come into play now. "It helps if you're a good golfer," she quips. Although joking, she does acknowledge that "a corporate mentality" prevails in the office, and a necessary consideration in the hiring decision is whether a candidate "is the right fit for the firm," says Lisa.

Many on the Coopers and Lybrand staff participate in the evaluation of the candidates. Again, Lisa directs the discussions. And, because she's probably spent the most time with each prospective new employee, other generally defer to her when the final decision is made. If an offer's to be extended, she extends it and negotiates salary and benefits.

After graduation, the students become employees. She helps coordinate staff training and development. "I enjoy it," she says. "I find that many are less guarded, less coy than they were when we were recruiting them." Now, it's their turn to produce, and Lisa is available, sometimes, to hold their hand when the pressures of the job and the hours it requires begin to get them down. But she can't be there for long. Recruiting season has begun again.
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Author:Stanton, Michael
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1990
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