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Key Idea: Turn Interns into Strong Staff

Interns are paid, given valuable work assignments and treated with respect.   More...

Key Question:

A: 

MFR operates in an industry where turnover is high and the competition for entry level employees is keen. They started their internship program in order to solve a business problem: the firm was losing out to the big firms in attracting the best graduates to MFR. The owners thought that if young people could work at MFR BEFORE they graduated, could learn the firm's corporate culture and meet its people; the firm would be better positioned to compete for the employee on a permanent basis.

Q: What do you think MFR had to do to get the internship program up and running?

A:
Carolyne prepared a brochure describing the program in great detail and emphasizing its flexibility and the value of the internship experience. She contacted the Dean of the College of Business of all the major universities in Houston, touting the MFR internship program from the point of view of the student. From the Houston Chapter of the Texas Society of CPAs, Carolyne purchased a mailing list of associate (student) members. The firm held open houses for the students to tell them about MFR in general and the internship program specifically. These events were advertised by mail, e-mail, and with flyers posted on the bulletin boards on campus. Application materials were available at the open houses and all present were encouraged to apply.

There are two reasons why a company might benefit from an internship program. First, is the reason MFR had in establishing theirs, to ensure a pipeline of new, talented recruits to the firm's professional staff. But there's another reason an internship program, without the likelihood of permanent employment, might make sense for a business. Who are your most valued, productive employees? How do they spend their time? Would they benefit, i.e., would the company benefit, if these employees had some part-time administrative assistance? College students are bright, energetic, and can be of enormous value to a business. Because they work part-time, the business does not bear the cost of employee benefits, making interns a cost effective alternative as well.

Talk to your employees, particularly the ones you sense are overworked. Ask them if they perceive any benefit to the idea of starting an internship program. If you decided to proceed, contact the career center at your local university. But don't stop there. Find out who the appropriate department head is and call him or her directly. Send a job description, hourly wage, and a clear description of how flexible you can be on the number and time of hours worked. Ask the department head to circulate your need to the entire faculty. Students will go to the career center and contact you, but a student recommended by a faculty member may very well be the best candidate.

Think about it

Would an internship program work in your business? How would you go about starting it?

Clip from: Mir Fox Rodriguez: A Study of Resilience

Houston:  Mir Fox & Rodriguez is a CPA firm in Houston.  Their most important product is their public accounting know-how, but this is also a very important story here about turning adversity into greatness.

Most CPAs do not think of themselves as entrepreneurs. They see themselves as players on the team of companies headed by entrepreneurs. Carolyne Fox admits that she would still work in a big, world-famous CPA firm if she had not been forced to leave by a merger.

In this show two of the three founders were fired, "assisted out" by a Big Five firm; they were not invited to become partners. That was 1987. The good-old-boy network weighed woman and minorities by a different standard. Yet, when these three decided to work together, the sum of the whole equaled an entrepreneurial powerhouse with balance, vision, heart and soul. Though they know and respect the rules, these three are also redefining them.

While Gasper Mir works in the community and brings in new clients, Carolyne Fox manages the service side freeing Roland Rodriguez to develop new businesses and work with their offices in Mexico and South America.

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Mir Fox & Rodriguez (CF)

Carolyne Fox, Founder

1900 One Riverway
Houston, TX 77056
713 662 1120

Visit our web site: http://mfrpc.com

Office: 713 662 1120

Business Classification:
Accounting

Year Founded: 1988

Turn Interns into Strong Staff

So in the hiring process, you say to people, `We want you to grow'?

GASPER: Absolutely.

HATTIE: `Whether it be with us or somewhere else...'

GASPER: Absolutely.

HATTIE: `...we are going to help you grow.'

GASPER: Absolutely.

HATTIE: What are some of the things you do to help people grow? Do you pay for their continuing education? Do you have seminars here?

GASPER: All of it. We focus a lot on training. We use state-of-the-art technology. They all have their laptops. We really push ourselves to be on the leading edge of the utilization of technology.

CAROLYNE: We have an internship program. And we have a reception every June that we invite all the accounting undergrads, the upperclassmen, too, in the major institutions in Houston. And we bring them in and we tell them our story and we take applications to our internship program. We always have more qualified applicants than we can possibly have spaces for. And then we do our new hires from that internship pool.

HATTIE: So that's a feeder.

CAROLYNE: It's been very successful for us.

HATTIE: An internship program is a feeder program to full-time employment.

CAROLYNE: Right. They work 20 hours a week, except during exams, when they don't work at all.

HATTIE: Do they get a dollar amount or do they get credit on their degree program for being in a CPA firm?

CAROLYNE: We pay them. There are schools that have internship programs for credit, but then you have to accommodate the school. We pay them cash dollars. They work for us.

HATTIE: Competitive wages for a college kid?

CAROLYNE: They make $15 an hour.

HATTIE: Who manages this program? I'm thinking, `This is a lot of work. You know, take all these fresh new faces, you have to teach them a lot of things before they can actually start doing the work.' You know what I'm saying?

CAROLYNE: Yes, yes.

HATTIE: I mean, because this sounds like a lot of effort. And I know it's paying off for you, but again, a smaller, growing company might say, `I don't have time to set up an intern program. I don't have time to deal with a whole fresh batch of interns every semester.' Or is it for a year? Is it two semesters?

CAROLYNE: It's potentially two years.

HATTIE: So maybe that's a piece of truth. Maybe we need to encourage people to look at a longer intern relationship.

CAROLYNE: They're going to be on our payroll for two years, and the investment that we're making is on that full-time professional after they graduate. That's the investment that we're making. I mean, they are part of a corporate family. They have the same quality technology. The laptop that a brand-new intern gets is the same laptop I have. And they can use it for school.

HATTIE: So there's another benefit.

CAROLYNE: Right.

HATTIE: Now talk to me about these young people.

CAROLYNE: They're great. They're absolutely great. They're energetic. They're excited about what they do. They're like sponges. They want to learn everything that they can learn. They're demanding, very demanding. And they keep us young. Small businesses that are looking to establish an internship program have to approach that the way they do every other business dealing they have. Can you make it a win-win? You know what you want from the intern. What can you provide to the intern so that you both come out ahead? And that's why our program's been so successful. They make a major contribution to the engagements that they work on. We are able to train them. They are able to produce. We provide them with experience and cash and a sensitivity to the fact that school is their highest priority. If you can create that win-win, then you can get it done.

HATTIE: But again, we've heard that younger people maybe don't want to work as many hours as you and I have always thought necessary for success.

CAROLYNE: They don't. And they don't have to because they know how to use computers and they get everything done a lot faster. They do not want to work as many hours. They are always looking for a better way to do it.

HATTIE: So maybe the teaching goal for us is, `Don't get bogged down in teaching these kids too many processes because then you stifle their creativity.'

CAROLYNE: Absolutely. Don't teach them the process so much as the concept.

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