Accounting major Orla Kelly, Class of 2020, began her undergraduate career with the intent to gain as much exposure to the field of accounting as she possibly could throughout her time at Merrimack College. Although Orla always knew accounting suited her interests, she nevertheless felt uncertain of areas to pursue within the field itself upon graduation. As she progressed throughout her junior year, Orla felt more determined than ever to dive into the working world and experience the various aspects that each career in accounting had to offer. Orla logged onto her Handshake account and attended on-campus networking events to begin the search for an experiential learning opportunity, and eventually secured positions as an Audit Co-op Intern for Tonneson + Co for the Spring Semester of 2019, and a Tax Intern for PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, for the summer leading into her senior year.
Orla was adamant that she take advantage of the various resources and events hosted on-campus in order to prepare for and secure positions with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Tonneson + Co. She especially recalls the importance of attending the annual Accounting Networking Breakfast and Fall Internship & Career Fair in her ability to secure her position with Tonneson + Co. “When I went to the Accounting and Networking Breakfast, I talked to an alumna who worked [at Tonneson + Co], and I asked her about what she does, if she enjoys working there, and about how I was looking to apply there as an Audit Intern, and that I was really interested in the company,” Orla recounts. “[The alumna] mentioned my name to her manager, and when I went to the Fall [Internship &] Career Fair a few weeks later, I had the opportunity to speak with the alumna and one of the audit managers, and the manager asked me to come in for an interview. I think [attending the networking events] really helped me to get the interview with Tonneson.”
During her three month co-op with Tonneson + Co, Orla absorbed as much as she could from her experience during the busy season for accounting professionals, taking particular notice of the company culture and characteristics of the position of an auditor. Orla thrived in the intimate work environment at Tonneson, and revelled in the plethora of opportunities the firm offered her to challenge herself and her capabilities with real responsibilities. “It was a really great experience, because you’re working in the real world and actually contributing to the firm, especially during the busy season for accounting,” Orla recalls. “Firms need extra help during [the busy season] and can give you a more hands-on experience, which was great for figuring out if this particular career was really for me, and if I could handle the more difficult periods of a particular position. I found out that I ended up loving it!”
While Orla thrived in her co-op as an auditor for Tonneson + Co, she nevertheless sought an additional experiential learning opportunity that would allow her to explore a different position in the accounting field to truly discern her career interests. She discovered a leadership event on Handshake with PricewaterhouseCoopers, Elevate Leadership Program, and submitted an application for her participation in the two-day event in May of 2018. As her interview approached, Orla sought out her career advisor, Morgan Phipps, to simulate the interview process and practice her skills to ease her trepidation. “I reached out to Morgan to do a mock interview, and she ran through a ton of potential questions with me to make sure I was really prepared,” Orla expresses. “The questions she asked me were pretty much the same questions I was asked in my interviews with PricewaterhouseCoopers, so I wasn’t really surprised or caught off guard during the real interview.” Orla’s preparatory precautions certainly impressed her interviewer, and she received admittance into the program. Following her attendance to the event, PwC offered Orla a position as a Tax Intern for the summer of 2019.
Though she felt slight apprehension of the shift to a massive accounting firm, Orla nevertheless felt it crucial to step beyond her comfort zone and experience as many different company cultures as she could. “I set a goal for myself in my freshman year that I would try every field of accounting, so I would have a better idea of where I wanted to end up career wise,” Orla conveys. “I knew that PricewaterhouseCoopers would be a great opportunity to see what it would be like to work for a Big 4 accounting firm, and to get a lot of hands-on experience working with tax returns and see what the day-to-day routine of a full-time employee in a tax position would be like.” Orla gained an entirely new perspective to the accounting field and developed her skills even further in the Financial Services Department at PwC, and additionally put the skills she acquired from her co-op with Tonneson + Co to the test in a larger corporate environment.
As Orla reflects on her distinct experiences in the accounting field, she feels more confident and certain than ever in her intended career path upon her graduation in the spring of 2020. “Just from having such different experiences between Tonneson and PricewaterhouseCoopers, when I’m ready to graduate, I feel like I have a better sense of where my career is headed,” Orla expresses. “Otherwise, I think if I wasn’t able to compare my experiences of the environments of a small versus a huge firm, and the different kinds of positions in the accounting field, I wouldn’t really know what I wanted to do when I graduate.” Orla stresses students take advantage of the opportunity to step outside of their comfort zones when applying for experiential learning opportunities, as such contrasting experiences will allow them to fully develop a comprehensive outlook of a field. She advises students that, “[while] your classes can give you a basic idea of a field, an internship will prepare you for what it’s like going out into the real world, and can help you to differentiate and figure out what jobs you like and those you don’t like.” Due to her various experience in an array of different accounting positions, Orla felt entirely confident in her decision to accept a full-time position with Tonneson + Co upon her graduation. When presented with the offer, she knew that the company culture was the right fit her.
Orla’s experiences with Tonneson + Co and PricewaterhouseCoopers demonstrate the immense significance of seeking out various experiential learning opportunities throughout your time as an undergraduate student. As you begin to navigate the career development process, don’t let any opportunity seem too daunting for you to take on. Take advantage of the resources and opportunities made available to you throughout your endeavors both on and off campus, and transform your career development into your career success.
Written By: Kerry Reynolds, Class of 2021