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Cohen & Co. Honored for Best Internship Program

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Three interns in the Youngstown office of Cohen & Co. attest to why the Northeast Ohio Council on Higher Education awarded the public accounting firm its Expys award for “Best Large Company Internship” in northeastern Ohio.

They are John Stoops, Scott Wilms and Tony Mehle. Jordana Lima, a former tax and auditing intern now in her first year with Cohen in its audit practice — also told why.

The students’ internships, which began Jan. 5, ended last Friday. During those 14 weeks, they put in 57½-hour weeks – this is tax season, after all – and one, Mehle, took a business law class Wednesday nights at the University of Mount Union.

Wilms and Stoops are students at Youngstown State University, where Lima graduated last year.

“We started at 8:30 or nine in the morning,” Wilms said, “and stayed until seven or eight at night. I’d go to a client’s office,” where he worked on an audit – “and return to the office about 4:30 or five.” The long hours are “a high upfront cost,” he said. “But there’s a high reward.”

What made their experiences so worthwhile, the three men agree, is the considerable time their mentors spent with them. It was a rare day they didn’t meet.

Cohen doesn’t call the middle managers mentors. They’re “learning buddies,” the three men and Lima emphasized.

Said Stoops, “You really are treated like a full staff member. You’re given all of the responsibilities of a first-year staff.”

That responsibility and long days are eased by the interest and concern all staff at Cohen show, all agreed. Wilms spoke for Stoops and Mehle when he said, “The people I work with are really nice. They’re always willing to help.”

Wilms had two learning buddies: Alex Dager for his audit work and Tarak Awad for taxes. “They really help you,” Wilms said. “They’re right there. They sit across from you. The best thing is to be face-to-face.”

Mehle met his learning buddy, Laura Sefcik, when Cohen & Co. representatives attended accounting night at Mount Union last fall. “They’re [Cohen] really dedicated to recruiting and face-to-face contact,” the intern said.

Mehle spoke for his fellow interns in advising accounting majors who seek interns to attend the job fairs that universities hold. A resume, no matter how impressive, is insufficient, he said. Accounting firms, both their human resources officers and CPAs, want to meet the students and get a feel for them, a sense of their work ethics, interests, and see firsthand how they present themselves.

Wilms went to the job fair the Williamson College of Business Administration at YSU holds.

Both Mehle and Wilms have accompanied Cohen recruiters to campus job fairs as part of their internships to inform prospective recruits about their experiences.

Besides getting firsthand experience in the technical aspects of preparing taxes and audit, the interns attended etiquette lunches Cohen holds for the interns in Cleveland – the firm has 25 interns at its six offices – during the semester. “And they encourage community involvement,” Mehle said.

Ronald Cohen, a graduate of The Rayen School and founder of the public accounting firm headquartered in Cleveland, is retired. Even so, he “came in to talk to all [25] of us on the first day,” last Jan. 4, Mehle said. “It’s a tradition.”

Cohen and Co. takes internships seriously, said Rick Schiraldi, a tax partner and one of the two senior managers in the Youngstown office. He praises the learning buddies and middle management in his office for the time and pains they take in overseeing the interns’ work. After vetting the prospects, the human resources department extends internship offers, he said.

“Almost everyone accepts,” Schiraldi related, “and 90% are extended job offers [after they graduate]. And almost all of them accept.”

Lima is one of them. A successful internship “all comes down to commitment,” she said. “I gave it my all. I was always reaching out for more work. You show the people you work with a willingness to improve and they’ll help you.”

As smooth as Cohen learning buddies try to make the internships, Wilms allowed, “You’d hit roadblocks periodically.” Learning buddies are always there to help, he said, not always immediately but always there.

The human resources staff surveys the interns at least twice during their terms for how they’re progressing, they said, and what could be done to improve the program. All said they are hard-pressed to think of anything.

Pictured: Tony Mehle, Scott Wilms, Rick Schiraldi, John Stoops and Jordana Lima.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.