According to the American Association of CPAs, African Americans and Hispanics, who together constitute about 30% of the U.S. population, make up just 4% of partners in the accounting profession. However, efforts are underway to support diversifying the field.
PwC, one of the Big Four accounting firms, is making a difference with its 12-year-old Start Internship for college students that have completed their freshman year, as well as Start Master, a second internship opportunity.
Start interns are smart; a 3.3 GPA is needed to apply.
“We look for academic excellence, whether students have just a year of college under their belt, or even just a semester,” says Derrick Roman, PwC’s program champion, who leads the second-year interns.
Academic prowess is one criterion, but it is, by no means, the only one. Applicants are interviewed and assessed. Rod Adams, who leads PwC’s U.S. recruiting, looks for students to have the same attributes that he seeks in employees.
“We’ve identified key dimensions or attributes that we believe predict success at PwC, so we interview [interns] against those as well,” Adams says. These characteristics include relationship building skills, global acumen, business acumen, leadership skills, and so forth. It appears that PwC is really looking for basic social skills, which can then be developed and refined.
The goal is to convert interns and guide them to “the next internship [the Start Master], and ultimately to a full-time post with PwC,” says Roman.
An Intern’s Perspective
Is the program successful? “Yes,” Roman says. This year, PwC had just over 600 Start interns—an increase of 30% from the previous year.
I spoke with Cynthia Lopez, a junior at Marquette University, about her experience as a Start intern and Start Master. “My mother does tax work for a small company, so I thought I’d like to go into accounting professionally,” Lopez says. “But, I had never heard of PwC until my senior year of high school. Then, when I got to college, I heard that PwC was holding a Q&A session.”
At the session, Lopez connected with a recruiter. “She said we should grab coffee. I didn’t even know that getting coffee was a thing!” says Lopez, who admitted not knowing what a Big Four accounting firm was either, until she met with the recruiter.
After her freshman year at Marquette, Lopez enjoyed an “amazing” six-week summer internship at PwC’s Chicago office. She says her co-workers were all helpful and welcoming, so she was never afraid to ask questions. The key to succeeding in the program? “Communication,” says Lopez.
For more information about the Start Internship program, visit this website.