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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 14, 2017 1 year ago

Enter Interns

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Sarasota-based accounting firm Kerkering, Barberio & Co. has 13 interns this semester — a firm record. The move is a key strategy to help the company grow its talent base.
by: Grier Ferguson Staff Writer

Thirteen is a lucky number for Kerkering, Barberio & Co. The accounting firm welcomed 13 interns in January, the largest intern class in the firm's history.

It's a big jump — in previous years the firm usually had about three interns at a time.

“We have a long-term focus on increasing the pool of experienced accountants,” Kerkering Barberio Managing Shareholder Rob Lane says. “The intern program is an important part of how we see our firm growing. We have a number of very successful people in our firm who were interns.”

The firm has the office space to accommodate the interns, but it did make an investment in technology and resources.

“We see it as an investment in our future,” Lane says.

The larger class came with changes to the way the program is run, too. Lane said previously, the program was more sporadic and less structured, and there wasn't a champion of the program, which means interns were no one's top priority.

“Most of the work fell to the intern's manager,” says Kerkering Barberio Experience Coordinator Camille Norman. “The experience wasn't as consistent.”

Now Norman runs the program.

Norman developed the program based on her work managing the internship program at Sarasota-based deli products purveyor Boar's Head and her time as a high school speech and debate coach. She also researched best practices at other companies.

One of the most important aspects of the program, she says, is how interns are recruited and selected.

She recruits at six Florida college campuses — Florida Gulf Coast University, University of Tampa, University of Central Florida and University of South Florida Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee. She does presentations for students in Beta Alpha Psi, an honor organization for financial students. Potential interns are also invited to open houses at the firm when they can talk with employees. Venues like these, she says, allow for more relationship building than the average career or internship fair.

Potential interns fill out an application, but it's somewhat of a formality, Norman says. Then there are group interviews with about a dozen candidates in each group.

Norman says professional maturity and approachability are big selection factors. Grades are another part of the equation, but social and communication skills are given more consideration.

“We're in the business of public accounting,” Lane says. “People need to be able to communicate with our clients.”
But there are other considerations, such as how committed interns are to the area.

“One of the challenges when you hire someone from Cleveland or New York is that they might be just coming here for the weather,” Lane says.

He suggests asking questions to determine whether Florida is a stopping off point or if potential interns have roots in the area that might encourage them to stay after the internship or graduation.

Norman estimates she screened hundreds of candidates to find the 13 interns chosen.

Those interns, all of whom are paid, started in January with three weeks training.

For the rest of the program, interns work in teams and report to a manager. Norman still touches base with them on a daily basis and also coordinates a mid-internship review and an exit interview.

“You're not just hiring labor,” Lane says. “There's a commitment on your side to train.”

Intern Chris Campeggio is one of the 10 who attend the University of South Florida. A member of the firm's tax team, he scans and prepares documents.

“It's a little hectic right now,” Campeggio says. “You put your head down and power through.”

He and the other interns will finish their internship April 20, just after the whirlwind tax season. They're experiencing firsthand what it's like to go through the flurry of activity the season entails.

But there's fun involved, too. The firm plans social events during the workday, such as group walks and paper airplane contests.

“We try to make it a work hard, play hard environment,” Lane says.

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