Major firm talks to accounting students

Joining "The Polar Bear Club," a unique group of individuals who brave the cold for a dip in the Arctic Ocean, is practically a rite of passage at the offices of Klynfeld, Peat, Marwick and Goerdeler (KPMG) in Anchorage, Alaska.

Joining "The Polar Bear Club," a unique group of individuals who brave the cold for a dip in the Arctic Ocean, is practically a rite of passage at the offices of Klynfeld, Peat, Marwick and Goerdeler (KPMG) in Anchorage, Alaska.

This club and other facets of life in America's northernmost state were explained to Dickinson State University students by recruiters from what is recognized as one of the top four accounting firms in the world during an evening social at Hawks Point this past Sunday.

The 16 DSU students, slated for interviews the following day, listened attentively as the representatives dispelled myths about the frozen north and expounded on the lucrative career opportunities at KPMG's Anchorage branch. The subsequent interviews led to offers to eight students for summer internships and likely employment at a company that was named among Fortune Magazine's Best 100 Companies to Work for in 2007.

"If we offer you an internship, look at it as a job offer," KPMG representative Scott Miller said to the students. "We hope that you are serious and take it seriously as such if you choose to agree to an internship."

Although interns earn $25 per hour without benefits, landing a full-time job upon graduation can guarantee an annual income upward of $50,000 with a generous benefit package. The KPMG Anchorage office is one of 93 in the United States with more than 21,000 employees. Worldwide, that number stands at 103,000 employees in 144 offices.


Miller, a northeast Montana native, said unlike other Big Four firms, KPMG recruits the majority of its workforce from public universities like DSU because of the strong work ethic found in rural areas. These representatives heard about DSU students from the KPMG branch office in Billings, Mont., where several DSU graduates have been employed.

The outstanding CPA exam test results DSU students have been earning over the past several years also enticed KPMG.

The company's intent was to fill 15 vacancies on its trip, during which they visited numerous campuses in Montana and North Dakota.

"The students hit it out of the park," DSU assistant professor of accounting Scott Hanson said. "Our students are being offered more than half of their openings. I couldn't be more proud."

Interest in DSU students is widespread

KPMG is just one of several accounting firms that spent time on campus during October to interview top accounting students for potential employment. Eide Bailly LLP, a regional firm with 11,000 employees in 13 offices in eight states, interviewed 16 students, offering three of them internships and one a full-time position.

Brady Martz and Associates, P.C., a firm with offices in Bismarck, Minot and Fargo that employs 140 certified public accountants, also took the opportunity to snap up promising students before they graduate next May. Brady Martz offered three internships and two full-time positions. These jobs offer annual beginning salaries of nearly $40,000.

"I am so proud of these students. They have done it - all the recruiters are raving about how polished they are, how prepared they are, how professional they are," Hanson said. "The word has gotten out that DSU is producing high-quality accounting graduates."


The visits and subsequent job offers are the result of a concerted effort by Business Department faculty to grow the accounting program and expand the offerings within the major. Hanson and colleague Deborah Ballard, assistant professor of accounting, have worked diligently over the past five years on a strategic plan to bring excellence to the accounting program and to get the word out that DSU is producing quality job candidates in the accounting field.

"At the top of our strategic plan was getting students into blue chip jobs, and KPMG is dark blue. We have reached that goal. This is the most exciting thing that has happened in the accounting program in the last five years," Hanson said.

This effort, added to the demand for accountants, makes for increased opportunities for DSU students. Ballard said accountants are the hottest commodity in the job market today, with shortages in virtually every area of accounting.

"There are so many different opportunities in accounting. We start talking to students about their options early in the program and encourage them to envision and work toward their dreams," Ballard said. "Building relationships with the students also helps grow the program. When Scott and I started on our strategic plan, there were about 50 accounting majors. That number has more than quadrupled."

New programs, new opportunities

DSU is addressing workforce shortages in other areas of the field by adding programs, including the new finance major and forensic accounting minor. Because accounting and finance are so closely related, the Business Department created a study track that permits students to take the same required core courses and then split into the accounting or finance major.

Dr. Charles Conrick, assistant professor of business, was the driving force behind the new finance major that became available this fall at Dickinson and Bismarck State College. The finance major is designed to produce graduates skilled in personal and corporate finance, areas that are critical to economic development.

"North Dakota needs what finance has to offer. We are training future professionals who can help North Dakota expand its views and facilitate access to funding for increasing export businesses," Conrick said. "Ultimately, everything in the world runs through finance. It is the grease that makes the world go 'round."


Conrick commends his colleagues in the Business Department for their dedication to their field and their students.

"We have a good group of faculty here and we're turning out a good crop of graduates as evidenced by our students' CPA exam scores and by these accounting firms seeking out our students for employment," Conrick said. "Where there's smoke, there's fire, and we've got something cooking here."

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