The end of the year means finishing finals, spending time with family, and gearing up for your internship. Many auditing and tax internships start in January, so you’ll want to be as prepared as possible. Whether you’ll be starting your internship in a few weeks or not for several months, you’ll want to check out these 7 tips to help you get the most out of your accounting internship experience.
How to get an accounting internship
1. Learn how to network
Whether you’re comfortable talking to people or not, it’s important you learn to network. Start by going to specific networking events, such as career fairs or company days within the business school. These can be intimidating, but instead of putting it into the “accounting job interview” category, put it into the “making friends” category. Showcase your communication skills when you talk to accounting/finance employers and genuinely get to know them, their company, and their internship program to see if they’d be a good fit.
Another option you have to network is to join Beta Alpha Psi, the International Honor Organization for Financial Information Students and Professionals. Beta Alpha Psi has special networking events, where accounting students can gain great networking and leadership skills within the organization.
2. Showcase who you are
Internship Coordinators understand that most interns aren’t going to have any real-world accounting experience, especially interns in the second or third year of their bachelor’s degree. So how do you prove to them you’d be a good fit for their intern program? By being yourself.
Internship Coordinators want to know interns will work well with their accounting team, fit in with their organization, and work hard to represent the company and provide outstanding service to clients. Even if you don’t have a wide variety of accounting skills yet, show employers you have the soft skills for the position by chatting with them about your experience playing on a sports team, being a part of student government, or working on accounting projects for your college courses.
3. Cast a wide net
Many organizations have internship opportunities, from Big 4 Accounting Firms to small Accounting departments with fewer than 3 employees. They’re everywhere! It can be easy to think only larger finance/accounting firms provide value, but you might find you like the atmosphere at a smaller company better. Plus, it’s important to look at the internship’s job description to figure out what type of accounting work the company does. For instance, if you’re interested in corporate accounting, an internship in public accounting might not be the way to go. It’s all a learning experience, so as you start applying for accounting internships, consider a wide variety of firms with a wide variety of entry-level opportunities.
How to be a successful intern
1. Be prepared to learn
Even in you’ve taken tax or audit accounting courses for your accounting major before your internship, there are going to be plenty of areas you aren’t familiar with. There’s a good chance your first few weeks are going to be overwhelming; you’ll not only be learning firm-specific processes, but you’ll be learning about financial reporting and how to balance a general ledger.
Come into your accounting internship with an open mind, a desire to hit the ground running, and a yearning for learning. There’s going to be a ton of information to absorb, so make sure you’re prepared; have a notes file ready on your computer, or a blank paper notebook where you can jot down quick how-to notes. You never know what information could be helpful in your future career or if you plan to sit for the CPA Exam.
2. Create a schedule before you start
You’re going to be balancing your spring semester of college with an accounting internship, which means your free time will be limited. Before you start your part-time accounting internship, draw up a schedule and create time blocks for classes, work, studying, and extracurricular activities. You could even use an Excel spreadsheet for your schedule, and get familiar with the program for when you’ll need to use it on your accounting intern jobs. By having a timeline and schedule laid out beforehand, you’ll feel less frazzled trying to balance all of your demands in as you go through the semester.
3. Ask plenty of questions from a variety of people
It should come as no surprise that you should ask questions. Don’t be afraid to speak up; if you aren’t sure how to do something or want to know why a certain process is performed, make sure to ask your accounting department.
You should also make sure you pick everyone’s brain, from current staff members to accounting managers and even partners. Talk to all accessible staff, especially if it’s a company you’d really like to work for; prove to them you’re really interested in working at their organization by behaving professionally and confidently.
4. Consistently assess your fit
This might be your first accounting internship, but there’s a chance this is the company you’ll work for in the future. Companies like to hire interns; their familiarity with company processes and personnel mean the accounting interns can jump right into a full-time job with limited training time. There’s a chance you’ll get an offer to work at the organization you’re interning for in the future.
Do you like the culture? Do you like your manager? Do you feel there are opportunities to grow and thrive? How is the work-life balance? Do people seem like they enjoy their work? Is there a low turnover rate? These are all questions you should be asking as you intern. You want to find a job after college you really enjoy, and finding an accounting internship that’s a good fit could be the first step toward a full-time, happy employee.
Accounting internships are a great opportunity to find your fit, earn academic credit and there’s no better time than right now to hone your internship skills for the coming spring. By using these internship tips, you’ll know how to capitalize on the entire work experience.
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Megan Bierwirth graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and passed the CPA exam within six months of graduation. She worked in both public accounting and industry while becoming a CPA and now runs a virtual bookkeeping company focused on preventive, integrative and complementary medicine professionals.