As college students pursuing careers in public accounting, we know that an internship is a vital part of the process. However, there seem to be a lot of misconceptions and myths about what you can actually expect to do during your internship. Contrary to popular belief, if you do an internship with a large public accounting firm, you will not spend your days making coffee and jamming the copy machine! (You may be asked to do these tasks occasionally, but not any more than the other team members.) Instead, you will get meaningful work and a great feel for what it is really like to work in public accounting. Once your internship is over, you should have a good idea if it is the right career for you.
During your internship, you can expect that your firm will make every effort to make you feel like an important member of the audit or tax team. I just recently completed my audit internship, and this was definitely the case for me. Rather than running errands or filing papers, I was given real sections of the audit to complete. Of course, these are “intern-friendly” sections, but they are still critical to the completion of the audit engagement. Your firm is not going to expect you to know what you are doing right away, but they will expect you to have a positive attitude and a willingness to learn. Asking questions is very important as well! I learned really quickly that there is a bit of a curve involved when you are transitioning from an academic environment to the real world.
Once you have been on your engagements for a few weeks, you will completely forget that you are an intern. And since most internships are during busy season, you will have an appreciation for the demands of the profession. Responsibility and accountability are also very critical as your work will be evaluated the same as any other associate. This aspect is very rewarding, because you know that your work is important and appreciated. You can expect to have all of the same feedback and growth opportunities that first-year staff receive. And while an internship in public accounting is a lot of work and long hours, it can also be really fun. You will get to meet a diverse group of people on your audit or tax team, and there is going to be an opportunity for after-work social activities as well.
As students interested in a career in public accounting, an internship is one of the most important steps we can take to achieve our goals. While the work is challenging, it is also fun and rewarding. You will walk away from your firm with a job offer (hopefully!), and a new sense of confidence in your abilities. Now, I can’t wait to graduate and start back at my firm!