How Important is an Accounting Internship?
An accounting internship is the most important step on your path to a full-time job offer. Employers usually rank “experience” as more important than anything else on a resume – including grades! This is not to say that good grades don’t matter, because they do, but an internship is more important because it lets an employer know you have had hands-on exposure to the application of accounting concepts in a real business environment and have had firsthand experience applying the communication skills needed to work well with others in a professional setting.
In many circumstances, companies will give interns full-time job offers upon graduation. This is especially common at public accounting firms. The internship allows the company to evaluate the intern on the job before making the decision to hire them. It also gives the intern a chance to get a feel for what type of work they would do if they accepted a job at that company. Although most view the internship experience as a long “interview” by the company, you should think of an internship as a two-way interview – you are also interviewing the company! You can use the internship to decide if you would accept a full-time offer from that company or would prefer to explore your other options.
What Internships are Available?
Most accounting internships are either with a public accounting firm or an industry company. Public accounting firms usually offer summer or winter internships while industry companies offer various internships, including those that allow the student to work full-time during the summer and part-time during the school year. This type of internship will commonly extend until the student graduates. The public accounting internships typically last about three months and conclude with an exit interview in which the company can offer the intern a full-time position to start after graduation. Internship pay varies but typically accounting interns are paid between $19 and $30 per hour. For interns who work during tax or audit busy season, the rate can go up by 50% for overtime. At this rate, working a 60 hour week equates to a really nice paycheck!
Public Accounting: Tax vs. Audit Internships
When applying for an internship, most accounting firms will ask the candidate whether they want to apply for an audit (also referred to as assurance) or tax internship. Most students do not know enough about the environment and work associated with tax or audit to have a preference at that point. For those who really enjoyed their individual and corporate income tax classes, the obvious answer would be a tax internship. Working in tax involves meeting with various individual and corporate clients while planning, researching, and preparing tax returns. For those who like exposure to multiple areas of business, audit is the best choice. As an audit intern, you will work on a team that tests and documents account balances and internal control processes for clients to provide an independent opinion on their financial statements. The audit field typically offers opportunities to work on multiple engagements in various industries. Even if you are unsure which field you prefer, it is important to choose either audit or tax and be decisive about that choice in the application and interview process. Public accounting firms want to know the preference up front so that they can properly plan for their departments. Talking with your accounting professors and reaching out to professionals in both fields will help you understand different aspects. Following the successful completion of an internship program, you may decide you want to begin your career in an alternate area (tax instead of audit or vice versa). Public accounting firms will often accommodate requests to start full-time in a different group. It is not uncommon for an intern to make such a request, the key is to clearly define your reasons for wanting the change and emphasize the value that your internship will bring to the full-time role you desire.
Internship Admission Process
Accounting internships are typically offered to students in their sophomore or junior year of college. After receiving your resume (usually either online or through a college campus career fair) companies will typically interview candidates on campus. Companies will then call back the candidates who performed well in the campus interview and invite them to a second and final interview at the company’s office. Finally, the candidates from the final interviews will be notified within a week or two if an internship offer is extended.