DENTON — Graduation was still a year away, but the pressure was on for University of North Texas accounting students Veronica Elsberry and Brian Kennedy to get hired. Accounting is a unique profession in which most top- and mid-level firms start recruiting for new talent a year or more before students graduate. Those who miss that window often have to wait.

“The recruiting process is the hardest part of the accounting program because you’re doing it a year in advance,” said Kennedy. “Starting in January 2016, I was interviewing for a job I would get two years from then.”

The key to landing that first accounting job is typically an internship.

Of the 58 students in UNT’s Department of Accounting Master of Science program, who completed internships last spring, 94 percent received full-time job offers through their internship site.

“We’ve put a lot of resources into creating a strong internship program because firms indicate that the internship is where they’re going to test out potential, entry-level hires,” said Ananth Seetharaman, department chair.

Graduate advisor Christine Ellis manages the internship program, which kicked off this February with Meet the Firms Night, a career-fair style event that allows students to meet major national and international firms in the industry. Co-hosted by UNT’s Department of Accounting, the Career Center and Beta Alpha Psi, the event brought together nearly 200 students and 30 accounting firms, which represented 80 percent of the top 25 firms in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“The internship program provides students with an opportunity to receive hands-on experiential learning supervised by an industry professional,” said Ellis. “Students gain a greater understanding of a professional business environment and put their academic learning into practice.”

The program is coupled with coursework, resume help, student organizations, networking events and mock interviews with accounting firms.

“I went from a practice interview to a real interview to an internship to a job offer – it happened just like that all through UNT,” said Elsberry, a self-proclaimed former “over-glorified bookkeeper” who runs Westlake Boat Repair in Lake Dallas with her husband and wants to someday run a small-business accounting firm.

“There was so much my husband and I didn’t know when we started our business, but there were a lot of people who helped us along the way. Once I establish my career, that’s what I want to do,” said Elsberry, who interned last May with CliftonLarsonAllen in Dallas.

“I was put in the private client tax division, which is exactly what I’m interested in – small, family-owned businesses, trust funds and 1040s for clients with complex returns. I was putting in 60 hours a week, meeting with partners in offices and on conference calls,” said Elsberry, who was later offered a job for September 2018.

Like Elsberry, Kennedy also received a job offer through his internship.

“When I read online reviews of people at UNT who actually get job placements and the lower tuition – it made sense to me to come here,” said Kennedy, who signed for an internship with Travis Wolff, which later merged with Armanino.

There, he was working between eight and 13 hours a day doing returns of all kinds – partnerships, trusts and individual accounts for high net worth individuals.

“You’re going from theory to real-world situations,” he said. “The thing I liked at the Armanino Dallas office is that they assume you’re going to be a good accountant and have that knowledge – they want people who can critically think.”

Kennedy, who graduated in December and now works full time with Armanino, said the offer allowed him the chance to focus on his next goal: passing the CPA exam.