Accounting internships are important to any accounting major looking for to start her career with a prestigious company straight out of college. Often, it is a requirement to graduate with a specific specialization or focalization. Sometimes, it can jumpstart your path to becoming a certified public accountant. Whether you find an accounting internship in your hometown, your college town or a city halfway across the world, an accounting internship should be high on the list of priorities for anyone looking to break into the accounting field, major and minor alike.
There are several accounting internships available to students. These include clerical internships, audit, financial accounting and tax. There are also many ways to improve your chances of getting an internship which we will discuss. Most importantly, there are countless benefits to getting an accounting internship.
What Do Accounting Internships Entail?
Accounting internships entail different things depending on what kind of accounting you want to specialize in. If you attend a school not heavily recruited by the Big 4, you may end up with an accounting internship that involves clerical work at a small, locally owned, independent firm. You will probably be filing documents and retrieving client files for the accountants.
Other clerical duties may include keeping the office organized, photocopying and scanning documents, answering phone calls, adding events to calendars, sending mass e-mails and ensuring the office gets lunch catered for special events. If you are fortunate, you can help with data entry tasks to familiarize yourself with common ERP software. Here are three other types of internships you may get:
Audit interns are more often external than internal. Internal auditors review accounting information systems to ensure information is reported efficiently and accurately in accordance with GAAP, IFRS or any other reporting requirements. External auditor internships may require you to travel to a client's business or office. You will have the opportunity to improve soft skills such as teamwork and communication while honing your eye for detail as you seek out errors in financial records. You may even get to help report on your findings.
Arguably the most important accounting staff member other than the controller and vice president of finance is the financial accountant. They are responsible for running and analyzing financial reports for a company. Without them, those above them all the way up to the chief financial officer would not have the time to do their jobs. Their analysis can increase revenue streams by suggesting better commission rates to sales representatives to motivate them to perform better, cut variable costs such as materials necessary to produce products and trim the fat in many other places.
As a financial accountant intern, you may be asked to enter budgets depending on the time of year. This is your time to shine. Compare the current fiscal year's proposed budget to last year's actual revenue and expenses. Recommend switching the type of bank account, so the company incurs fewer bank fees. Recommend they change banks to not experience thousands of dollars per year in wire transfer fees. Recommend they treat customers differently who do not pay for their goods on time.
Retailers and wholesalers are not financing companies. Charge interest or insist the customer pays cash before receiving any further products. If you look at last year's budget vs. actual and see anything suspicious, ask to look at the prior year's ledger and investigate it. You may catch errors from last year. Offer to enter correcting journal entries dated the beginning of this fiscal year. You may impress your supervisor or boss enough to get a job at the company after you graduate.
Many students will volunteer with less fortunate individuals in the community and perform simple individual tax returns. Look for a tax and bookkeeping company who does complex individual tax returns for high-wealth individuals and businesses. Not only will you be exposed to business tax, but you may also get to learn bookkeeping to get the financial statements ready for the tax preparation. Accountants choose to get either a MAcc (Master's in Accountancy) or an MTA (Master's of Tax Accounting).
How To Get Accounting Internships?
There are several ways to get accounting internships. The easiest way is to become a member of Beta Alpha Psi. There may be tens of thousands of students in the business college at your school attending career fairs trying to get accounting internships. You are not just competing against accounting majors. You are also competing against operations management majors, global strategic management majors, finance majors and macroeconomics majors with a minor or specialization in accounting.
Join an accounting club and recruiters will come to you in a group of 20 or so, looking for students to intern for their companies. Receive special invitations to restaurants, bars and country clubs with recruiters from Deloitte, PWC, Ernst & Young and KPMG. Dixon Hughes Goodman is likely to try to recruit you heavily as well, as they see KPMG and PWC losing their clout in the industry and want to be one of the Big 3 with Deloitte and Ernst & Young. Booz Allen Hamilton and McKinsey & Company are also heavily stepping up their involvement in recruiting accounting majors involved in accounting clubs.
Another way to get accounting internships is to drive up and down your town for accounting, bookkeeping, and tax firms. The smaller businesses may be in phone books but not have any online presence at all. Decide which industry you want to intern in and start following companies of interest in the news. Research hiring managers or owners. Sent out a personalized e-mail pitching the idea that they need you as an intern.
Otherwise, walk into your local mom-and-pop restaurant, grocery store or brewery and ask if they have the bandwidth to take on an accounting intern. They may have ties with the local university and understand sometimes accounting internships are required to graduate with a certain specialization or focalization.
There are many benefits to accounting internships. You get to make industry contacts. Mentorships are great if your school has alumni or local accountants mentor students, especially if you do not yet know if you want to go into audit or tax or public or private accounting. The job market is highly competitive for accountants right now, so it is important to have industry contacts who can vouch for your work ethic, accuracy, analysis, and soft skills.
Maybe the owner of the private accounting firm you intern with makes partner at Dixon Hughes Goodman, which is where you want to spend your first three years as a professional accountant. Maybe the internship with Booz Allen Hamilton will get you your dream job with Cintas, McDonald's or Exxon Mobil.
Narrow Down Your Job Search
An accounting internship may illuminate you as to which specialty in accounting you do not want to get into. Maybe you process payroll for the largest trucking company in the Southeast for $12.02 per hour, and you realize you could never be paid enough to answer all the HR questions that come along with the payroll such as medical, life, short and long-term disability, vision and dental benefits.
Every time an employee quits, gets hired, gets divorced or has a child, there is a lot of mundane paperwork involved. In certain industries such as trucking, it is easy for people to quit and find a new job in the same week, so there is added pressure for the payroll to be processed on time and accurately every pay cycle. It can also be complicated with people getting advances on paychecks, employees being paid monthly, twice monthly, every two weeks or weekly depending on their role in the company. You can have employees who are underpaid or overpaid.
You may find payroll or another type of accounting is not for you, so it will help you narrow down your job search when you are about to graduate.
Enhance Your Academic Understanding
Cement your understanding of theory. Accounting internships are a great way to solidify your understanding of what the teacher is talking about in class. It is easy to complete a bank reconciliation in class when you complete 20 or 80 or 100 over the summer for an internship. Know the difference between revenue and assets or a balance sheet and profit-and-loss statement when you have to create these reports, whether by hand or electronically, dozens of times for a real company.
Improve Your Chances Of Success
Internships, specifically those in your field, look great on your résumé, which is very important when graduating during the spring rather than winter. This is when the job market is most inundated with students looking for accounting jobs. Tying together the ideas of making industry contacts and narrowing down your job search, complete one internship in the summer or spring of your junior year. Then, if you find a poor fit, seek out a new internship the summer before or fall of your senior year. Take advantage of every opportunity to bolster your résumé before you graduate.
Accounting is a crucial part of any business. An important part of your accounting education as an accounting major is getting accounting internships. Seek out every opportunity you can find in any specialty you can, from data entry to external audit. The real-world experience, practicing of your soft skills, industry contacts, resume-bolstering opportunities and learning your industry likes and dislikes are priceless. Network within your school and in your community, ace your interview and enjoy every moment of every opportunity you take.