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SSU to host second annual career fair to promote internships

NORTH BAY - To get a jump on the pool of future employees, San Francisco-based accounting firm Burr Pilger Mayer decided to start an internship program five years ago.

Abby Lipman in human resources at BPM said, "We were having difficulty recruiting from campus. We figured if we got to the students sooner and invested time in them we would have better luck."

She said the company is now getting more qualified candidates.

BPM's Santa Rosa BPM had four interns this summer. The interns who work on assurance are doing actual professional work, Ms. Lipman said.

"We try to avoid work where they will not learn. They are doing entry-level audits under a senior manager and shadowing tax professionals while they see clients."

The first of this year BPM merged with Andersen & Company, a more than 20-year-old accounting firm in Santa Rosa. Prior to the merge, Andersen had no experience with interns.

"It has been a huge help," said Kathy Edmonds, BPM's North Bay administrative manager and previous director of administration for Andersen.

"They are very computer literate and all have great backgrounds," she said. "It is very challenging for people who have been in the industry for a long time to get up to speed on the computer systems, and with the merger there are new programs."

Ms. Lipman added that learning how to communicate with the clients in a professional way, learning accountability and the practical side is the upside of doing an internship for the student and preferred for a future employer. The interns came from different schools, including one from Sonoma State.

One local place students can get exposure is the Career and Internship Expo at Sonoma State University.

On Oct. 21 the School of Business and Economics will host the expo for the second year, sponsored jointly by the School of Business and Economics and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. The event allows internship sponsors to interact directly with students.

Approximately 1,500 students work toward a business or economics degree at Sonoma State University. Many of them come from Northern California counties where they may seek employment upon graduation.

Eli Lilly, Enterprise, Exchange Bank, Aflac, State Farm and Kaiser are event sponsors, and the county of Sonoma, Intelisys, Kraft, Kohl's, Target, GC Micro and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are also involved.

Experts said internships can be a major benefit for employers. For instance, companies can observe prospective employees and can give feedback to the school as to where it can improve training.

Another benefit, particularly during difficult economic times, said Duane Dove, the internship program coordinator at Sonoma State, is that employers can use interns the same way they would use temps.

At Dominican University in San Rafael, Elizabeth Capener, internship coordinator and director of the undergraduate business program, agreed.

"It is a really good way to fill positions in a down economy," she said. "If there are seasonal projects, companies can have strong, qualified people eager to help that just may not have too much professional experience."

This enables companies to use the student to get important projects completed and gives students real world experience they can bring back to the classroom.

She also said that it gives both the employer and the intern a look at how well they fit.

For BPM the program has been hugely successful. It has had roughly 40 interns and has hired all but one. That intern turned down the position.

Ms. Edmonds said they had been hesitant to hire entry-level applicants before, but this bridges the gap for them.

The Career and Internship Expo will be held Oct. 21 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Sonoma State Cooperage.

For information on how to participate in the event, contact School of Business and Economics Career Center Director Sarah Dove at 707-664-2548 or e-mail sbe.careercenter@sonoma.edu.