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Stewart’s interview success provides model to emulate

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – As students at Monmouth College began thinking in earnest about plans for the end of the spring semester, it’s a good bet that acing an interview with an employer will play an important role.

Jeren Stewart ’20 of Peoria, Ill., recently did just that, receiving three summer internship offers from companies he interviewed with in Chicago as part of the Mary T. Washington Wylie Internship Preparation Program.

Held Jan. 3-5, the all-expenses-paid program was made available for up to 25 African-American and other underrepresented minority college sophomores, juniors or seniors interested in pursuing an accounting career.

Through practical training, resources and mentors, Stewart and the other participants learned more about the accounting profession before receiving the opportunity to interview with some of the top employers and accounting firms in the Chicago area.

Stewart interviewed with Abbott, Crowe and Deloitte, eventually accepting an internship offer to work this summer in Deloitte’s tax consulting group. Deloitte is known as one of the “Big Four” international CPA firms.

Steps to follow

Stewart offers several tips to students that they can use when interviewing for a summer job or internship.

“The No. 1 thing I’d say is to be confident in who they are and what they know,” said Stewart, who also works in the College’s Wackerle Career and Leadership Center. “They need to display that confidence and not be timid.”

He also encourages students to understand the interviewers’ backgrounds.

“Not too long ago, they were in your shoes,” he said. “They’ve been in your position before, and they’re not trying to trick you with their questions. Sometimes, I think we can psyche ourselves out in an interview session, but you’ll do best if you don’t try to be something you’re not.”

Stewart said students should also learn as much as they can about the company and the position.

“Be knowledgeable,” he said. “Know about the company and what they’re doing. Understand their mission statement and values. It really helps the interview go smoothly if you come in with some of that information. It provides good talking points, and you can make the interview more like a conversation.”

Stewart also encourages students to ask probing questions during the interview.

“Interviewers actually look for that,” he said. “It shows you’re interested in what they have to offer and that you want to close some gaps in your knowledge of the company. Employers can see a lot about you by the questions you ask.”

Utilize the career center

Monmouth Assistant Director of Career Development Jenny Sanberg, who coordinates internships for the College, said another element to consider is practice.

“Students should practice, practice, practice,” she said. “It’s one thing to go in prepared with a mental answer to your interview questions, and it’s another challenge entirely to say it out loud in a confident and convincing way. The Wackerle Career and Leadership Center can help students prepare for interviews by talking through all the interviewing tips and having a mock interview to practice the entire process from start to finish.”

Stewart, who praised Monmouth accounting professor Judy Peterson for telling him about the Wylie program, had two other interviews while in Chicago.

One was with KPMG, another of the “Big Four” firms. As a result, Stewart was extended an offer to attend a leadership event that could lead to a potential internship opportunity. In the other, he talked with representatives from the University of Illinois.

“Illinois has the No. 2 master’s degree program in the country for accounting, and 80 percent of their students who take the CPA exam pass it on their first try,” said Stewart. “Meeting with them was an exciting opportunity within the Wylie opportunity.”

Seizing that opportunity was certainly key to Stewart’s new summer plans.

“You never know when taking a chance will turn into something drastic like this,” he said. “I’m just thankful and humbled for all the blessings I’ve received from following God. I went from being homeless and living in my car last summer to spending the upcoming summer living in a world-class city, working for one of the top accounting firms out there.”