I’m an accounting student at The University of Texas at Dallas and a member of the Institute of Internal Auditors and the National Association for Black Accountants. When I graduate, I plan to work in either risk advisory with an accounting firm or internal audit with a large corporation. To prepare for this role, I accepted two internships for this year—a spring 2017 co-op in internal audit with J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc., and a summer 2017 internship in business risk consulting with Crowe Horwath, LLP.
My interviews for these roles were successful partly because I could discuss relevant experience.
If you’re wondering whether I was an intern or employee in internal audit before the interviews, the answer is “no.” I had completed what could be considered an internal audit activity when I started my new role as the president of our student chapter of the National Association for Black Accountants (NABA-UTD) for the 2016-2017 school year. It turned out to be an experience that my interviewers saw as relevant to the roles I applied for.
Here is the Experience I Shared with My Interviewers
Student organizations at The University of Texas at Dallas get an account on a platform called OrgSync. This platform allows organizations to track members, send mass emails, and post information about upcoming events. Last year’s meeting logs showed that a challenge would be overcoming low meeting participation. I wanted to learn about the current members of NABA-UTD and use the information to make administrative changes and plan recruitment strategies. I used my administrative rights on OrgSync to see what I could learn about the students who were registered as members of NABA-UTD. I also browsed through the OrgSync administrative settings and other online tools for reference.
Here are the findings I documented:
- 30 students were registered with the organization on OrgSync.
- 30% of the registered names did not show up in the online Directory of Students when cross-referenced. This means that a third of the members were no longer enrolled at the university.
- 7% of the names were those of underclassmen.
- The “messages portal” showed that notifications about events were sent to @utdallas.edu email addresses of students registered with NABA-UTD on OrgSync.
- I dug through my old @utdallas.edu emails and confirmed that OrgSync was the only source of NABA-UTD emails about events.
- 4 of the profiles weren’t even those of business students. I found a computer science major, for example.
- Students could become members only by simply clicking “join.”
This analysis uncovered a serious issue that stifled participation: NABA-UTD was reaching out to a smaller and less targeted audience than believed. This is because of an unreliable information system – or unreliable data in the system. NABA-UTD was only using one communication platform – OrgSync. A third of the emails sent by the OrgSync message system were to unenrolled students who likely no longer had access to the @utdallas.edu system. The message also fell to students who didn’t fit the profile expected of NABA members. In fact, I personally contacted the computer science major to get an understanding of his interest. His response: “I think I clicked ‘join’ on accident. I had no idea why this organization was sending me emails.” This could have been avoided if the administrative settings were set to a higher standard to join online. Furthermore, underclassmen were not getting the message about NABA-UTD and its events. It was clearly time for changes to the system.
Here are a few of the changes made (or “recommendations” as they would be called in an internal audit report):
- The administrative settings were changed. Students interested in joining the online portal had to submit a request to join. The request must be approved by the administrators of OrgSync – usually students on the executive board.
- Emails for freshman and sophomore students who fit the NABA-UTD profile were garnered with the help “contact forms” and other resources.
- NABA-UTD started using three different communication methods—OrgSync, GroupMe, and Google.
- Students whose names didn’t show up in the Directory of Students were deleted from the portal so that we could have a more accurate picture of membership on OrgSync.
- com was used to announce events and allow students to register for them. This system also required that students use an email while registering. NABA-UTD sent links to the EventBrite.com registration to leaders of other accounting organizations. This allowed us to reach a broader audience, collect more emails, and predict how many students would attend events.
Result: The average meeting attendance grew from 7 to 28.
I started this analysis only to get an accurate picture of NABA-UTD members and to use the information to boost participation. As I got interested in internal auditing later in the semester, I realized how closely this activity looked like a normal internal audit. I was able to discuss this experience when I interviewed with Crowe Horwath, LLP and J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc.
What This Experience Showed My Interviewers About Me:
- An understanding of internal audit
- A knack for using analysis to inform decision makers
- An ability to track and measure goals
- Problem identification and problem solving
- Initiative in starting projects
- An inquisitive mindset
If you search internal audit job descriptions on Indeed.com, you will likely see a nearly identical set of bullet points – only the headline will be “Desired Skills.” There is likely no better way prove to yourself that your experiences are relevant!
What Sharing This Experience Did for Me:
- Boosted my confidence that I am prepared for this role
- Gave me a chance to have my own audit project reviewed and approved by internal auditors
- Assisted in communicating my fit for internal auditing to my interviewers
My interviewers at Crowe Horwath, LLP and J. C. Penney Corporation, Inc. commended the relevance of my mini-audit of NABA-UTD and the skills the experience showed. This was an audit that I started on my own to assist with my presidential duties. I felt confident that the audit projects I lead or work on during my internships would be equally commended. That’s all thanks to a discussion about a relevant experience.
Relevant experiences don’t have to come from paid work with a corporation or firm. They can come from detailed involvement with a student organization, volunteer opportunity, or even a self-start project. What matters is that the problems, goals, and results from the experience are documented and that the similarity between the experience and your targeted role is clearly expressed.
My advice to you is a linguistic one: “Do you have relevant experience?” is not synonymous with “Did a company pay you to do this work under a similar job title?” Don’t limit your own interview story by assuming they are synonymous.