He had always been obsessed with the airline industry, specifically fascinated by United Airlines. At Babson College, Adam Kershner was known as the “United Man” for knowing almost everything about the airline company, from the rise and fall of its stock to its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines. Given his interest in the airline, he had what he called his “dream internship” this past summer when he spent five weeks working at the United Airlines office in Chicago as part of the audit team from Ernst and Young.
AN EARLY INTEREST IN AIRLINES
Kershner grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and often flew via Continental Airlines with his family. When his family moved to Phoenix and he began traveling more on other airlines, Kershner says he realized that he preferred the Continental brand, and began paying more attention. He spent many hours watching planes at the airport. His interest in the airline industry came after he had memorized the light rail network system and school bus network.
“I’ve always observed minute details and had an operations mindset that made me interested in all the things that need to be planned and coordinated in the airline industry,” Kershner says. “In auditing, you get to learn everything about the industry you’re auditing.”
Soon, Kershner says his family and friends were asking if he was going to be a pilot. That was when he realized he had no actual interest in flying. Instead, he was more interested in the business of the industry. Throughout his young adulthood, Kershner researched Continental as a company, learning about their culture, leadership, and values, through articles, books, and interviews. When the company announced the merger with United Airlines in 2010, Kershner says he stood loyal to the company and continued to follow their progress.
When Kershner enrolled at Babson College as a freshman in 2015, he wasted no time in his job search, attending a job fair meant for seniors. There were few opportunities for students like him, but he says the chance to meet recruiters face to face and get his name on their mailing lists have proved invaluable.
“I stayed in contact with the recruiter from Ernst and Young, and in November of my Freshman year, I was invited to the emerging leaders boot camp at the EY office in Boston,” Kershner says. “As part of the early recruiting process, I applied to the Emerging Leaders Summit by EY in my spring freshman year, and in June 2016, I was sent to a conference in (Washington) D.C.”
That, Kershner says, was his first recruiting experience with Ernst and Young. And one night at dinner during the conference, Kershner got his big break when he was seated near an EY partner from the Chicago office, who he hit it off with. He knew that Ernst and Young audited many airlines, but learned that night that EY had United Airlines as a client. He kept in touch with the partner via email, who learned about his passion for the airline industry. Eventually, Kershner was connected with the EY coordinating partner in charge of the United Airlines account in July 2016.
As Kershner entered his Sophomore year, he decided to apply to EY’s Emerging Leaders Program.
THE EY INTERVIEW ROUNDS
To get into the Ernst and Young Emerging Leaders Summit, a three-day conference in DC, as a sophomore, Kershner says that he had two on-campus interviews. One of the interviews was with a Babson alumnus, while the other was an EY partner. He described the interviews as behavioral tests in which the representatives try to assess a student’s fit for the public accounting industry and the firm.
“At the end of the day, all of the Big 4 (accounting) firms do the same work. They want you to choose them because of their culture and people. It’s about the connection and feeling comfortable,” he says. “I felt an innate comfort with the people I met, that’s why I chose ET. They asked questions about leadership opportunities, challenges faced, and why you’re interested in the company.” While Kershner did not have to do a video interview, he says the firm now sends out prompts for students to respond to in videos.
The annual Ernst and Young Emerging Leaders Program is highly competitive, where students spend one to two days learning about the firm and all the roles in a city of their choice. To secure a spot, students engage the firm in a video interview, and within a couple of weeks, hear back about on-campus interviews. Kershner says that while most students have to do two, the Ernst and Young recruiter allowed him to do just one since he was already somewhat involved with the firm.
“The firms expect you to be looking at all the firms,” Kershner says. “In some cases, they do a Skype interview with you, but because interning at the Chicago office is highly competitive as it’s the second largest office behind New York, they flew me out for a day of interviews.”
When it came time to pick the city he would like to intern in, he chose Chicago and indicated his interest in United Airlines. And when he did, Kershner was assigned to work with the EY United Airlines team from the first day of his internship.
“Because of all the conversations, the United team requested that I be assigned to the United engagement team. I had kept the partner updated about choosing Chicago, and he told the team about me,” Kershner says. “When I chose Chicago, I felt that if I put myself there, I would be able to work on the United account someday, but I was careful with my expectations. The thing with recruiting is that it happens even when it’s not deliberate, and it can happen as early as you make it. The earlier you get an in with the firm, the easier it’ll be when you’re trying to get an internship.”
MAKING THE MOST OF A DREAM INTERNSHIP
“It was a dream come true this summer to work on the (EY United) audit team,” Kershner says. “I’m unsure about working in the industry now, but the internship has helped me see that maybe I’d prefer to work in senior management in the airline industry and not so much auditing.”
When Kershner first received the offer to intern at Ernst and Young and heard that he had been called to the United Airlines team, he says everything felt right.
“I had been on this track since Freshman year, and it felt like the right fit since I’d been engaged with the firm,” Kershner, who worked in the Babson admissions office for two summers before joining Ernst and Young, says.
While the internship was eight weeks long, Kershner spent five weeks with the client, and the rest on training, and at an internship conference that the firm flew him to Orlando, Florida.
On a typical day, Kershner says he would head to the United Airlines office in downtown Chicago by 8.30 a.m. and leave at about 6.30 p.m. His work included reviewing filings and working on footnotes supporting financial statements. As an analytics major, he also used tools to map their payroll, while working with seniors on various other tasks.
Kershner says Babson’s ability to train him to be comfortable with uncertainty was clutch. “Employers like us because we’re used to vague instructions and vague projects, and can cope with it,” he says. “The work I was doing was not formatted nicely. I needed to ask the right questions and think through challenges and come up with solutions. I went to the seniors with thoughtful questions and potential answers already in hand, and that’s because of the training at Babson. We’re used to not having black and white answers.”
In his time at Ernst and Young, Kershner says all new hires are assigned a peer advisor at the staff level, and a counselor. The peer advisor is a “buddy” who answers questions on day-to-day issues such as getting the website to work and filing accurate timesheets. The assigned counselor provides guidance on moving forward in a career with the firm and is usually a senior, manager, or partner.
“EY has an incredible mentorship structure that will help you set goals and figure out the next steps,” Kershner says. “One of the values of interning is that you can see the work you’ll be doing if you chose a path. I’m not sure if auditing is the right fit for me but it’s good to see the questions before starting full time.”
MANAGING THE OFFER
At Ernst and Young, Kershner says a student who performs well at an internship can expect a full-time offer. He says he’s been open with the company and is thinking about moving into consulting.
“I love that they (Ernst and Young) want you to be happy. Their motto is ‘The exceptional EY Experience,’ and it’s exceptional from day one,” Kershner explains. “Everyone at EY wants to build you up, and the recruiter has told me to think about things, and possibly work on transferring an offer, though he can’t guarantee a job.”
Kershner says his two greatest takeaways from the experience are to never go into a job blindly but to get an internship, and the time has illuminated for him what he values in a firm.
“Don’t be afraid of getting facetime with a firm. Email the recruiter, talk to them at events. If you’re not at a target school, just send them an email. Network and take every opportunity to meet people and hear their experiences,” Kershner advises. “The partner I met is the most influential reason I’m in the Chicago office. It’s about networking with people and maintaining relationships.”
In his last year at Babson College, Kershner says he plans to take it easy with fewer classes so he’ll have time to think about what he really wants to do after graduating. Even so, Kershner is busy. From working 20 hours a week and taking 20 credits of classes while being on the swim team, he’ll be working only five hours a week and taking only 12 credits this semester. Kershner has also taken on the role of swim team captain this year, and he says he’ll be devoting time to focus on the team.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and soul searching, but I have no idea what I want to do right now. I’m definitely far from what I’ve been feeling in the first three years. The safe decision would be to accept an offer from EY,” Kershner says. “I’ve built up a great resume on this traditional career path, and a big part of me still wants this traditional role with a big firm, but I’m going to embrace change. I’ve put my time in, now I’m going to back to the career center to reassess what I want, and where I can get it.”