Matthew Williams, a junior majoring in accounting at Drake University, has held a multitude of internships that he believes have set him up for professional success.
Before college, Williams said he wanted to be a lawyer. However, once he realized he didn’t want that lifestyle, he was introduced by one of his teachers to accounting.
“It really struck me as a field that impacts every organization — nonprofits, businesses, governments — and there’s a very logical flow to it,” Williams said. “Everything should equal, there’s not crazy calculus five required and it is very straightforward math.”
Williams did a tax internship at Hogan-Hansen P.C. in spring 2021, a financial reporting internship at Village of Schaumburg in summer 2021, is currently working as a tax intern at BerganKDV and is slated for an internship for summer 2022 doing consulting work at one of the big four accounting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Director of the School of Accounting and associate professor, Kelley Ellis, is Williams’ academic advisor and provides insight into the value of Williams’ wide range of pre-professional experiences.
“He’s had a variety and that’s something to highlight,” Ellis said. “Internships are a student’s opportunity to get exposure to a lot of different things and Matthew has used that. He doesn’t get a job with one company and just keep coming back to the same company all the time. He’s worked in taxes and audit and nonprofit and he’s just tried lots of different types of accounting roles in order to figure out what he likes. I think that that’s a good model for students to try to adopt in their practices.”
By doing a variety of different things, as Ellis suggests, Williams has fallen in love with government accounting. It was William’s internship doing financial reporting for Village of Schaumburg in Illinois in summer of 2021 that inspired his interest in government accounting work.
“My job was to help our accounting team prepare for our annual audit,” Williams said. “So, the auditors gave us a list of things that they needed from us to do their audit and it was my job to help our team prepare those documents before the auditors came for field work.”
Beyond basic tasks, however, Williams appreciated the opportunity to serve his local community.
“We did two vaccination clinics in April and May, and so we were trying to get a grant from FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, to get reimbursed for those costs for those vaccination clinics,” Williams said. “It was my responsibility, I was lead on that, to kind of do all that financial reporting for that grant application so I owned the number that was on that grant application.”
Williams celebrated the fact that the grant was fully funded, or obligated as Williams would refer to it, shortly after the application went out.
“It was really fulfilling to be able to use my skills and make an impact in my community,” Williams said. “Those dollars are able to be redeployed for the benefit of residents which was really awesome.”
Williams said that he’s always had a passion for service.
“I just think he’s a really good ambassador,” Ellis said. “He’s very approachable and personable as he’s dealing with others, so he’s got a really good demeanor about his personality. I think he’s a good ambassador for the program at Drake, for the College of Business. His people skills are good and then he’s just very organized. He’s good at time management and preparing for classes and being involved.”
As a social person, Williams challenges a common stereotype that comes with accounting professionals.
“We don’t sit behind computers all day and have no social interaction,” Williams said. “It’s a very people-oriented business if you want it to be because you do the accounting work, but then you have to explain to the client what you are doing or if you’re with a company, you have to be able to explain to the CEO what these numbers mean. It’s one thing to compute them, but being able to communicate it is a totally different game.”
Ellis said that Williams is skilled at professional networking and is very active on LinkedIn. In addition, Williams was selected by the Association of Government Accountants as one of ten recipients nationwide for their National Collegiate Leadership Program Scholarship.
Williams attended the conference in Washington D.C. last week. Beforehand, Williams said that he looked forward to the networking opportunities that would come with attending the national leadership training.
“We were each assigned a mentor to help us network around the conference and mine is the Chief Financial Officer for the US Office of Personnel Management, so he has had a very long and very successful career,” Williams said before the conference. “I’m looking forward to learning with him and exploring the D.C. area too. That’s always a fun perk as well.”
As Williams continues to explore more professionally, he leaves with a word of advice to young professionals: there is no expectation for you to understand everything on day one of your internship.
“When you’re working on some big project for an internship, you have to realize that it’s okay not to know what’s going on because you haven’t had that exposure yet, you haven’t been in the field for 20-30 years,” Williams said. “Recognizing that and being willing to learn is the biggest lesson that I have learned. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand day one but if you are willing to take the effort to learn, that is more important in my mind.”