The Definitive Guide to Internships
A common scenario:
You just received your business, finance, or accounting degree and are eager to jump into the world of accounting – but there’s one problem.
Firms hire candidates with experience, but you can’t get experience without an accounting job.
So what do you do?
Get an accounting internship.
Employers love cheap (or free) up and coming accounting students. You can use this opportunity to get the experience (and possibly the job) you want.
What is an Accounting Internship?
An internship means that you get to enter the real professional world of accounting while you’re still in college.
You’ll learn to apply your knowledge and skills, you’ll have the same responsibilities as permanent employees and you’ll be held to the same high standards.
There’s no better way to see if accounting is right for you than to actually start doing it.
Additionally, an internship is a great way for firms to get to know you – and can often lead to a more permanent position for yourself.
We’ve all heard the success stories of students who had their Big Four internship turn into a graduate job – but how do you get there?
It all starts with setting your goals, doing the research and continuously improving yourself.
Landing the right internship can be quite a challenge; here are some tips on how to go about it.
Why an Accounting Internship Anyway?
Nothing is more valuable to you or major firms than hands-on-experience. This is why internships are slowly becoming part of the accounting college curriculum.
Over 50% of entry-level hires at the Big Four auditing firms are previous interns, with KPMG recruiting an astounding 91% of its new employees from its intern pool.
The figures say it all – internships put you at an advantage.
With countless accounting graduates competing for jobs, grades are no longer enough to make you stand out.
The Big Four Like to Hire Interns
There are many benefits to undertaking an internship, and the most obvious one is that they usually lead to full-time employment.
- Pricewaterhouse Coopers hires as many as 92% of their interns
- Ernst & Young hire around 90%
- Deloitte recruits 73% of their interns for permanent positions
- KPMG hires over 90% of their new employees from their interns
Landing the right internship can make getting the dream job much, MUCH easier, provided that you make a good impression as an intern.
While there are other ways to gain experience and improve your resume, internships are unique in that they provide a full picture of what it is like to work as an accountant.
During the Internship
You will be exposed to different situations, participate in a professional environment, network with different clients. All of these will allow you to prove your skills and prepare for a successful career.
Moreover, many excellent accounting internships are paid at entry-level graduate rates, with a Big Four internship paying as much as $24.80 per hour in 2009. Even if it doesn’t lead to a job offer, an internship is the best way to start your career while you’re still in college.
Where Should You Intern?
When you have ambitious career goals, landing an internship is not enough – you need to secure the right one from the many choices available.
There are internships with:
- major firms
- local firms
- in industry
- government or non-profit organizations
- there are full-time and part-time internships
- academic internships that count towards academic credits
However, if your eyes are set on a top public accounting position, a good place to start is as an intern for a major company.
The Big Four are among the top 5 best places to intern in the Businessweek top of 50 Best Internships, with Pricewaterhouse Coopers topping the list. Grant Thornton, BDO and McGladrey are other highly ranked choices for students looking to get a taste of public accounting.
However, internships at top rated companies are highly competitive – so don’t put off improving your resume until senior year.
What do You Need to Land an Internship?
Getting an internship is much like getting a job. Major companies often require a stellar GPA to hire you as an intern, so strive for a GPA above 3.5. Make sure to research internships that you are interested in to find out about additional requirements such as accounting courses that you need to take.
However, it is your extra-curricular track record that will help you stand out in a crowd of academically successful applicants. Get involved with student organizations, network and job shadow – and make sure to highlight your achievements in your resume.
While employers do not expect interns to know everything, having some extra experience will put you ahead of the competition and will show recruiters that you are motivated and willing to learn.
How do You Find an Internship?
With many accounting firms recruiting interns up to a year in advance, you should start thinking about your internship as early as possible. Even if you haven’t taken advanced accounting courses yet, it is time to search for the right internship – don’t wait until senior year!
The Internship Checklist
1. Define Your Goals
The first thing to do is to define your goals, such as the company you would like to work for and the type of internship: paid or unpaid, in tax or auditing. Don’t forget though that selection is competitive, so keep your options open.
2. Talk With Your Adviser
Next, seek the help of your college adviser and see if you meet general internship requirements. If your school awards academic credits for internships, make a note of the requirements, as not all types of internships will qualify.
To maximize your chances of finding the right internship, the key is to network as much as you can.
3. Use Your School Resources
Use your school’s career services and internship program, as most highly rated universities have connections with employers in the field.
- Visit the career fair
- join student organizations
- talk to accounting faculty members
- introduce yourself to potential employers
You can also search for internships online, but you will stand a much better chance if you get to know the right people.
4. Contact Firms
As a last resort, don’t hesitate to contact companies that you are interested in and ask them about internship opportunities. You will need to convince them of your value to the company, so make sure to do your research before calling.
Alternatively, there are paid programs that guarantee you an internship in exchange for tuition fees. While this is not ideal, it’s an option you can consider if you’re having a hard time finding an internship.
The Keys to a Great Application & Interview
When applying for an internship, strive to make the best impression – just as you would in a job application.
Make sure your resume reflects your key skills, your academic record and your work experience. Even if you have experience that is not accounting-related, it is worth mentioning it as a source of transferable skills. If you have any skill or have done anything that may separate you from the rest of the applicants it’s worth noting.
When You Interview
At the interview stage, make sure to research the company inside out and be aware of their needs. Employers welcome candidates who can suggest improvements, so don’t be afraid to voice your opinion.
It is important to have a good GPA and to act professionally in an interview; but what will really make you stand out is your passion for the field and your knowledge of the company.
Look at the big picture and see where you fit in the company; highlight your skills and what you could bring to the team. An internship is the gateway to a permanent position, so you’ll need to convince the employer that you have the motivation and insight to make a difference within the company.
More often than not companies are looking at you as a potential employee, not just an intern. So act like it.
How Much do You Get Paid & What are The Hours?
Forget the traditional image of the easy internship with no responsibilities: if you intern in accounting, things will get really busy. You can do a full-time internship in summer, when the workload is low; however, many accounting internships take place during busier seasons such as spring or fall.
Summer internships usually last between one and two months and involve 40 hours of work per week. If you take a full-time internship, you’ll be expected to work as much as a regular employee.
Internships during the school year can last longer (up to 3 months) and require interns to work 10-20 hours per week.
Are You Auditor or Tax Accountant?
In a public accounting internship, you will normally be able to choose between the auditing and tax departments.
As an auditing intern, you will perform the duties of a staff accountant, such as preparing paperwork, checking account balances and interacting with clients. You will travel more and benefit from excellent opportunities to network, learn and diversify your career opportunities.
In a tax internship, you will usually have to prepare reports, perform data entry and assemble tax returns. While this is more of an office job, you’ll get to perform highly specialized work early on and can progress quickly to starting your own tax business.
Paid internships can bring you a good income: in 2009, the average hourly wage for an intern in public accounting was around $20. Big Four internships pay significantly higher than average, with hourly wages up to $24.80 for accounting interns.
How to Make The Most of Your Internship
Accounting internships come in all shapes and sizes and it is up to you to make the most of the experience. While the work you do initially might not be demanding, you can learn a lot from your professional environment if you have the right attitude.
So what can you do to turn the internship into a job offer?
First of all, act professionally:
- be punctual
- check your e-mail often to follow up on any queries
- use flawless oral
- written communication
- use your time off to learn more
A positive attitude will also take you a long way: while some projects may not be your cup of tea, a willingness to learn and to do your best in every task will recommend you to your employer and will likely bring you better work in the future.
Finally, make sure to ask lots of questions and genuinely strive to improve yourself with every task: while the company may not expect too much from you in terms of competence, they definitely expect you to be enthusiastic and hard-working.
What Happens After The Internship?
In recent years, internships have taken on the function of summer-long interviews. With an overwhelming majority of students accepting offers from the company where they intern, doing an internship is essential in your early career.
Moreover, accounting internships provide you with a sneak peek of what working as an accountant is like – complete with salary: in 2008, accounting internships paid around $32,000 annually on average, while experienced interns earned as much as $49,000.
While there are alternative means to find your way through the business world as a graduate, the right internship could be a direct ticket to your first job.
It is much harder to send out resumes and try to impress people you don’t know while looking for a permanent position. An internship provides you with contacts, experience and a place to start even if you don’t happen to end up working for the company.
Define your goals as soon as you enter college and start researching internship programs as early as possible: especially if you’re aiming for a Big Four accounting job, getting an internship with them could be your big chance!
The Top 10 Accounting Firms Offering Internships
The following firms were rated by Vault as the top 10 accounting firms in terms of employee experience and prestige.