Office Hours: Tips On Hatching Your Accounting Career With Grant Thornton

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On September 17th, TalentEgg hosted Office Hours with Grant Thornton, a professional services firm providing audit, tax and advisory services to clients across Canada.

Office Hours is an hour-long live chat with representatives from top employers for TalentEgg members.

Paul Peterson, Blair Thompson, Sumira Duggal and Adam Melnyk, four egg-cellent representatives from Grant Thornton, were on hand to answer your questions about hatching your accounting career and how to stand out to Grant Thornton recruiters.

If you missed the live event, you can read the complete transcript below.

TalentEgg Hayley: We have four representatives from Grant Thornton joining us today! Please welcome Paul Peterson, Sumira Duggal, Adam Melnyk and Blair Thompson. Paul is a National Talent Resource Manager, Sumira is a Talent Attraction Specialist, Adam is a Human Resources Consultant and Blair is a Human Resources Assistant at Grant Thornton.

Over the next hour, you can send them your questions about career opportunities at Grant Thornton, learn how to stand out to recruiters and get tips for successfully hatching your accounting career. You can start submitting your questions now.

Paul, Blair, Sumira and Adam, could you please tell the audience a bit about yourselves?

Sumira Duggal: Good afternoon Talent Egg-ers! My name is Sumira Duggal and I am the Talent Attraction Specialist for Alberta. I have the exciting job of sourcing and attracting new talent to our offices. We have four offices in Alberta.

Blair Thompson: Hello! My name is Blair Thompson and I am the HR Assistant for Nova Scotia. I am located in the Halifax office and aid in recruiting efforts for 12 Nova Scotia offices. I have recently just celebrated 3 years with the firm and enjoy getting to meet some of Canada’s best students!

Adam Melnyk: Hello! My name is Adam Melnyk and I am the HR Consultant for South Coastal B.C. I’m excited to chat with the best and brightest from across Canada. I work a lot with students across Canada and I am excited to see your questions.

Paul Peterson: Good afternoon from sunny Toronto. Paul Peterson here. I work out of our National office in Toronto and am responsible for the Talent Acquisition strategies and employer branding across English Canada. I’ve been with the firm for almost 4 years.

TalentEgg Hayley: Let’s kick things off with a question that was submitted in advance:

Cathy, an accounting student at the University of Toronto, asks: “What is the most important quality Grant Thornton looks for in potential candidates?”

Paul Peterson: The most important quality we look for is the ability to build meaningful relationships. We work in a relationship industry and in order to succeed one has to have the ability to build relationships both with clients as well as co-workers. In its essence, we want people who have a genuine interest in understanding and helping others.

TalentEgg Hayley: Here’s another question that was submitted in advance:

Gabriel, an accounting student at the University of Waterloo, asks: “What can new hires expect to work on in the first 2-3 months? What is expected of them in terms of performance, in order to advance at the firm?”

Adam Melnyk: In the first 2-3 months you will go through training modules to familiarize yourself with our in-house auditing software. You will be placed on an engagement with a Senior Accountant who will guide you on your first audit. Ask lots of questions, no one assumes you know how to perform and Senior Accountants are happy to answer your questions. In terms of advancement you can show you have a clear understanding of auditing procedures in the first 2 -3 months. Once you’ve demonstrated that the Senior Accountants you work with will assign you more complex sections of the Audit file and in turn you will have more responsibility and opportunity to show you are ready to advance.

Stephen: Does GT hire students who specialize in finance instead of accounting? What kind of experience are you looking for when hiring for coops?

Adam Melnyk: We will hire a finance student for a co-op position in our Advisory department but not into our Assurance department.

In terms of experience a co-op student should have some work experience on their resume but it doesn’t have to be an accountant role. Serving experience is valuable, it shows you can interact with people.

Shauna: I know that Grant Thornton places a big emphasis on culture. Can you elaborate on how your culture differentiates you from other firms?

Sumira Duggal: Hi Shauna, great question! Grant Thornton prides itself on “working hard and playing hard.” We are all friends at Grant Thornton and socialize amongst our service lines. We are very supportive of one another and enjoy spending time together.

Farhan Kabani: As an entry level staff accountant how could I help Grant Thornton meet its company goals?

Blair Thompson: Hi Farhan, entry level accountants are very important to Grant Thornton in meeting our deadlines and goals. In Nova Scotia we hire roughly 20 new CPA students a year and these students have the opportunity to work with our clients. Even in the early weeks of their hire, they’re helping our clients unlock their potential for growth.

Samantha: I’m pursuing an accounting career but also love working with people. Are there specific accounting streams that deal more with people face-to-face than others? Can I expect to work with a variety of different people in a role at Grant Thornton?

Sumira Duggal: Hi Samantha, thank you for your question! The great thing about working at Grant Thornton is you have the ability to start your client relationships as a junior accountant. As you grow your rapport with our clients and build a relationship you will find your interactions will become more frequent and meaningful. Client interaction is very important in all facets of accounting, no matter what stream you enter into, you will be involved at a client level.

Mark Azmy: I was reading through the Grant Thornton website and it stated that Grant Thornton has a “brand on the move.” I was wondering if you could describe this statement?

Paul Peterson: Hello Mark, we are indeed a brand on the move. The firm is executing a growth strategy that is proving to be very successful. We have more offices across Canada than any other professional services firms. Also just today we were recognized by Universum as one of the World’s Most Attractive Employers: http://universumglobal.com/2013/09/hot-off-the-press-the-worlds-most-attractive-employers-2013/

Amanda: Hi there, can you tell me about the hiring process for your co-op positions? How many interviews are there, and also how long does the process take? If a candidate is successful, what are the steps they would go through before starting?

Adam Melnyk: Hi Amanda, in BC we treat our co-op interviews like our articling students while recruiting. They meet with an HR representative and a Manager they would be working with for a face-to-face interview. If they are successful they will be brought back for a second interview which is a group interview. In Vancouver we host a cooking class, and no you aren’t judged on how well you can cook – I wouldn’t have a job if that were the case.

yan056612: Is internal audit experience considered valuable for the firm?

Blair Thompson: Hi Yan, Absolutely it is. When looking for potential hires, we would definitely factor in any accounting-related work experience whether in internal audit, experience in payables, audit or other accounting related work experience.

Yibo Sun: Hi, my name is Yibo Sun from the University of Toronto. I understand that Grant Thornton tends to focus on mid-sized firms, can you tell me about the differences in working on mid-sized firms in comparison to large public firms?

Paul Peterson: Yibo, great question. We actually focus more on privately owned firms, not just mid-sized. Many are very large. One difference is that you are one of 3-5 people on a typical engagement instead of 100.

TalentEgg Hayley: Let’s hear from another student who submitted a question in advance:

Jessica, an accounting student at Queen’s University, asks: “What advice would you give to students who are looking to gain more accounting work experience? What type of experience does Grant Thornton look for in its student hires?”

Sumira Duggal: Hi Jessica, thank you for your question. The great thing about being a new graduate is there are no preconceived expectations for experience. Very few new graduates have actual accounting experience. It’s absolutely not required. Any and all experience you bring to the table will be a factor to setting you apart from the rest of the students. When I review resumes, I look for students that have customer service experience: roles that are client facing, which encourage you to communicate effectively and deliver exceptional service. I am looking for students who are able to balance the demands of full time school and a part time career, while maintaining a good GPA, volunteer experience is always an asset.

Raoul Chopra: If applying for a position in Tax, what specializations can a new entry level accountant choose from in order to attain his or her CPA, CA?

Adam Melnyk: Hi Raoul, we would like everyone to work towards their CPA through the Assurance stream.

Safia Yousuf: Hi Paul! In regards to your earlier answer, what sorts of activities does Grant Thornton engage in to attract new clients and build meaningful relationships?

Paul Peterson: Safia, We do things like CEO round tables, involvement with professional associations, sitting on corporate boards, sponsoring events. Our people are very involved in the communities in which they work and live.

Gerome Abaca: Hi everyone – thank you to Paul, Blair, Sumira, and Adam for taking the time to share your insights. My question is: Based on your experiences, what kind of compliments/comments do your clients share with you that make them want to continue to work with your firm?

Sumira Duggal: Hi Gerome, thank you for your questions. Clients keep coming back because we don’t just hand them financial statements, we give them valuable advice to grow their business! We take time to understand our clients business operations, therefore earning their trust and building a relationship that extends far beyond an accountant – client relationship.

John: What exciting changes do you see in the next 5 years at Grant Thornton that new hires can look forward to? And in the accounting industry for that matter? Thank you!

Adam Melnyk: In the next 5 years I see the accounting industry becoming even more competitive in terms of retaining clients. It will be a firm’s relationships with their clients that keeps the business at the firm. I also expect to see more work with fellow GT offices around the world so we can utilize their expertise in certain industries.

Sumira Duggal: Hi John, we are focused on executing our brand promise, which is, unlocking our clients potential for growth. It has proven to be very successful to do more than just the technical accounting work. We give valuable business advice to our clients. This is how we grow our practice and our clients’ businesses.

Boglarka Agnes Uzoni: Hi there, with regards to the mentorship that is provided, what is the most common support entry level Staff Accountants need other than preparation for the CPA and CA examinations?

Blair Thompson: Hi Agnes, we offer support to our new staff in a number of different ways. When they first start in the office, they are given a coach that will work with them on meeting their individual goals including working through the CPA program. Additionally, each CPA/CA student is matched up with a peer that has recently gone through the program to help them navigate through the change from student life to professional life at Grant Thornton.

Sumeet Kaur: Hi, thank you for holding Office Hours today. I was wondering how much of an emphasis your firm puts on who they’ve met during networking events when deciding who to call in for an interview? I go to a university in the GTA that didn’t have any events with Grant Thornton, but I do have a strong interest in the firm.

Paul Peterson: Sumeet, we are interested in students from all over, not just the ones we do a formal presentation at. We want the best students, where ever they may come from.

Also every year we hire students from universities that we did not formally visit. We can only get out to so many schools. We just can’t cover them all in person. That’s why we do events such as this.

Rick: How does Grant Thornton measure success for new hires? How can one stand out in order to come back after a co-op or continue on full-time?

Adam Melnyk: Thank for the question Rick. Co-ops have the opportunity to show the firm they are able to learn and can work in a professional services environment. Co-ops should expect to be learning a lot and to make a few mistakes. Learning from those mistakes and showing a genuine interest in the profession should put that co-op in a position for another co-op or full time offer.

Zeeshan: Hi Paul, Blair, Sumira and Adam. My question is regarding full time positions. How long does it take for students to be allowed to work on other sections of the file to be able to see the full picture? Like working on complex accounts, for example?

Sumira Duggal: Hi Zeeshan! That is a great question. Once you start working, you will discover that competence is rewarded with more work! In the most positive sense, that is what Grant Thornton does too. We don’t have a threshold of a certain amount of months required before you can see more complex files, it is based on your ability to learn and grow. If you are able to master simpler files, our management group are happy to assign you more complex files and lend you the support to successfully complete them!

TalentEgg Hayley: Here’s another question that was submitted in advance:

Steve, a finance student at Western University, asks: “In a co-op or student training position at Grant Thornton, what level of exposure to different industries can I look forward to?”

Adam Melnyk: In the Vancouver office you would see clients in mining, the film industry, not-for-profits, manufacturing and development, brokerage firms, publicly traded companies and many other sectors.

Xuan: What kind of projects would I work on in one of your audit co-ops? Would I be able to work with lots of different clients or just one or two?

Adam Melynk: The best part about working for Grant Thornton is that you aren’t placed in a certain sector. You are a shared resource for many Partners who will expose you to their diverse clients.

Blair Thompson: Hi Xuan! To expand on Adam’s point. Our co-op staff have the opportunity to work on a number of different files in several sectors. We have a very diverse client base at Grant Thornton and encourage our co-ops to take the opportunity to work with different clients to expand their knowledge base.

Farshad: What is the UFE preparation/training like at Grant Thornton?

Paul Peterson: Farshad, The Firm invests a significant amount of money and people resources each year to train our people for passing the UFE. We want to set you up for success. We have been doing it a long time and have produced gold medal winners as well as region

Jeff: What are you looking for in particular in a cover letter so that we’re not just repeating what’s in our resume?

Blair Thompson: Hi Jeff, this is a great question and one that I hear often from students. In your statement of interest, simply let us know why you are interested in Grant Thornton and what makes you stand out from your peers. Best of luck with your application!

Brandon: Will the CPA merge affect how Grant Thornton hires, or how they look at potential candidates?

Paul Peterson: Brandon, there is not a major difference as we’re still looking for the same key attributes in people.

Billy Kwok: My name is Billy, 4th-year accounting student at Rotman Commerce. The deadline of UofT was on Sept. 11 and I am wondering how long does it take to process the screening section until the phone interview?

Paul Peterson: Billy, cool picture 🙂 The screening and phone interviews have started. I suspect it will take us about another week to get phone screens all lined up.

TalentEgg Hayley: This seems like a great time for our poll!

What are you hoping to learn from Grant Thornton today?

  • Mentoring and training offered to students and new grads at Grant Thornton (13%)
  • Insider tips from Grant Thornton recruiters on what makes an ideal applicant (44%)
  • A better understanding of Grant Thornton’s corporate culture (6%)
  • Projects that interns and new staff have the opportunity to work on (38%)

TalentEgg Hayley: Let’s hear from another student who submitted a question in advance:

Michelle, a BBA/accounting student at the Schulich School of Business, asks: “What is your favourite thing about working at Grant Thornton? What are you most excited about working on each day?”

Blair Thompson: Hi Michelle, my favourite thing about working with Grant Thornton is the people I get to work with on a daily basis. We have an amazing group with a wide variety of backgrounds, however we are all committed to working hard and to ensuring everyone is successful. Even though I am not an accountant, I still feel like an instrumental part of the team. In terms of what I am most excited working on each day, every day is different and presents new challenges to work through. I always enjoy knowing what is happening across the firm and being a part of introducing new and exciting initiatives that will help our people grow and succeed.

Alyson: Are we allowed to apply to more than one location? Do recruiters look at where you are from or can we indicate that we’re interested in relocating?

Sumira Duggal: Hi Alyson! You can absolutely apply to more than one location. You should state a preference or a primary location that you would like to work at. We are able to see, on your profile, which offices you have applied to. If you are interested in relocating, you should declare that in your statement of interest.

David: How can someone who doesn’t attend one of the more prestigious accounting programs in Canada get noticed by recruiters?

Adam Melnyk: Hi David, I know in Western Canada the Institutes have some controls in place to address this issue. In BC a National Firms recruitment event is held where a student from any school can attend and meet the National Firms. If your school has an Accounting Club you should try and join it and see if they host any events where you have the opportunity to meet people from the firms.

Eloise K.: What’s a typical work day like for someone in an articling position?

Adam Melnyk: Hi Eloise, that’s a difficult question because there isn’t a typical day for an accountant. You may be scheduled to work on at a clients but the working papers may be delayed and you may come to the office and start working on a different engagement. You could also be asked to attend a recruitment event or assist a different department if they have a need for someone.

Scott: How does work experience vs. volunteer experience compare when your evaluating candidates?

Paul Peterson: Scott, the best experience is typically client or customer facing experience. You can get this through a paying job or volunteer experience. The key, in my opinion, is how you sell your experience as being in line with what we indicate we are looking for.

Joseph: Does Grant Thornton look at the overall well-roundedness of the person? Or is there more emphasis on the GPA?

Sumira Duggal: Hi Joseph, thank you for your question. We do look at GPA, more specifically the accounting marks. We do look for more than just marks, we are looking for someone who we can develop into a business advisor. So customer service experience is important, as is the ability to lead and work within a team. I personally, look at students who work (at least part time) while in school. It is usually a good indicator of ability to handle the demands of the CPA process and working full time.

Gurpreet: I love how Grant Thornton involves students through social media contests like the #whatwillyouradvicebe through twitter. What my question is what will your advice?

Adam Melnyk: To error is human, to arr! is pirate.

Sumira Duggal: My advice is: don’t go to a recruitment event without breath mints and hand sanitizer!

Blair Thompson: My advice is: it’s always the small pieces that make the big picture!

Paul Peterson: Gurpreet, I tell my kids all the time to “do as I say not as I do.”

TalentEgg Hayley: That’s all the time we have for questions today. Thanks for participating in Office Hours and a big thank-you to Paul, Blair, Sumira and Adam for taking the time to answer everyone’s questions! Do you four have any final comments?

Adam Melnyk: Stay classy.

Paul Peterson: Thanks for taking the initiative to participate today.

Sumira Duggal: Firstly, thank you Hayley for moderating and thank you to the students for all your questions! I will leave you all with this thought, choose the firm that is right for you and that you feel most comfortable in!

Blair Thompson: Best of luck to everyone with your courses this fall and good luck to those applying for articling positions!

TalentEgg Hayley: If you’re looking for more information on careers with Grant Thornton, check out their TalentEgg profile (http://talentegg.ca/employer/grant-thornton-llp/company-profile/) – they’re hiring now for a ton of co-ops and student training positions! And be sure to follow them on Twitter (@GTCanadaNewGrad) for more insider info.

Thanks again for joining us today TalentEgg-ers! Keep your eyes on our Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/TalentEgg) and Facebook page (http://facebook.com/TalentEgg) for upcoming Office Hours events!

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