While many internship opportunities may look the same, doing your homework can ensure you find an experience that will support your career development and, quite possibly, even land you your dream gig after graduation.
Here are seven tips to help pick the firm that’s right for you:
- Put your skills into practice
Reading chapters, taking quizzes and tests, listening to your professors, and learning the basics of accounting formulas and procedures are all important parts of your continued education. Putting those skills to work in the real world will strengthen your skills and is a vital step to knowing what direction you want your career to go. Choose wisely, don’t settle, and look for an internship opportunity that specifically states they are not just looking for “coffee fetchers”, but looking for interns that are ready to get their feet wet, try different types of projects, and gain real-world experience.
2. Ask yourself, what kind of experience do you want?
Accounting is a wide skill set with many different career paths. One can intern for a specific business, helping the Certified Financial Officer (CFO), or other accountants prepare monthly and quarterly reports. If you like more detailed information or traveling, auditing might be a good fit for you. However, one of the most underrated internship experiences can come from the variety of opportunities offered at a public accounting firm.
3. The Myth of Public Accounting
To some, when they hear public accounting, think of long hours, stress, and deadlines. In my experience, public accounting can actually be one of the best internships and work experiences available to become successful in your accounting career. The variety of clients, the vast CPA office knowledge base, and the focus on excellence create a working environment that consistently asks for greatness. Working for a CPA firm allows you to have access to a multitude of CPAs with years of experience in many diverse areas; you get to learn from some of the best in the industry. Many firms have industry-specialized CPAs, such as agriculture, winery, real estate, or the manufacturing industry. Individuals with a background in these industries (if you’ve worked in a restaurant, on a farm, as a cashier at a grocery store, or even had close family members who did), bring experiences and/or an understanding to the table, which enables you to relate to clients and helps you to understand the business structure on an even deeper level.
3. Where is the firm focus?
When you visit the firm’s website or attend a public event the firm is hosting, take a look at the brand and the employee energy. What kind of staff seem to work there (are they all experienced, do they have a mix of experienced and inexperienced staff)? What kind of industry-leading technique does the firm bring to the market? Are they client-focused? Are they the cheapest or are they higher end? Are they a CPA firm, or just a bookkeeping/tax prep service? Does the firm offer other tax services such as bookkeeping, tax planning, and trust and estate services? Working for a firm that has all kinds of service offerings allows you to have a diverse experience other students yearn for. You will stand out not only as a student, but in your career.
You might want to work with a firm that specializes in client care. Below is a quote from a fellow staff member at DPW:
“We consistently think about the client experience/perspective. I’ve heard of several ideas that would make our lives easier, but we haven’t put it into motion because it would be harder on our clients…” – Jordan, IT Manager
5. Accountants- not just the financial statements- should be “balanced”
Is work-life balance important for staff and management? While the field of accounting is seeing a large staffing shortage, many firms have staff feeling burnt out, and this can fizzle down to the lower staff and create a negative working environment. When you interview, take note of what kind of energy the interviewer(s) bring – do they seem to enjoy what they do?
“Try not to let the volume of work stress you out… We can only do one thing at a time… Make sure to ask for help if needed. We’re all busy, but we’re all in it together.”-Michiyo, Principle
You want to find an internship where they respect your class schedule and are willing to work around it; working together, to establish a schedule that works for both sides. One that has a team spirit that supports everyone’s learning and success.
6. Smaller firms are often better than a Top-5
While working for a smaller CPA firm may seem like a less exciting role, working for a smaller organization may allow you to work closely with higher-level staff (maybe even the shareholder of a firm). Some senior managers and even shareholders, like Andrew Bertz at Doty Pruett Wilson, started as an intern for the firm and worked their way up to shareholder. As a mentor for many at the firm, he likes to take a special interest and care for our interns, and provides opportunities and teaching moments for younger staff to become successful in public accounting.
As an intern, any opportunity with higher-level staff is a great opportunity to grow your networking circle and find a mentor that can help you stand out against other interns for the chance to land a gig after the internship.
7. Deep Breath here- It’s not always about the numbers
Finding a good fit for an internship will also include things outside the data realm, and outside the numbers. Tax season is hard for all accountants – the long hours and tight deadlines can make some firms hard to work for, and this energy trickles down to staff accountants and interns. Finding an honest firm is important. Finding a culture that values honesty, especially with clients and fellow staff members makes work even easier. Take this example, from another fellow staff member at DPW:
“We’re willing to recognize when we’re not a good match for the client and suggest alternatives to them instead of trying to land every sale”- Kelsea, Marketing Specialist
While looking for a good internship opportunity may seem like a large undertaking, it’s important to review a few key pieces – look for an opportunity where you can have hands-on experience, somewhere you would enjoy working, and a welcoming place to grow your experience and personal career goals.
Doty Pruett Wilson is currently looking for interns to help during the 2023 tax season (January-April 2024). Our firm values client experience and accounting excellence. Many successful interns have continued to work past the tax season and even landed coveted staff accountant positions after showing their strong work ethic and dedication to detail. Click here to apply or learn more.
Note about Author: This piece was written by a staff accountant at Doty Pruett Wilson, a small (under 50 employee) public accounting firm in Salem, Oregon. Sarah started her career as an intern and earned a staff accountant position shortly after her internship.
“My co-workers really make the work easier. I started as an intern and did the best I could- I asked a lot of questions and found a team that was willing to help me understand tax and accounting problems, and actually sit next to me to help explain things, so I could understand and work on another similar project alone. Even as an intern, they valued my help and were patient with all my questions (there were a lot!).
I could walk down the hall and find expert advice in agriculture, or just go upstairs and get help with wineries or breweries. I found that not only are other accountants passionate about their work, but they also want to do an overall good job for the client. During my first firm training, I remember one of the shareholders mentioning we should keep a list of new items as we learn them and think about what clients these new tax laws or changes could help. I really appreciate how client-focused our firm is, and the work standard is high. You are not just someone grabbing coffee, you are prepping returns, and working on someone’s taxes. Whether that is scanning documents, sorting, or preparing the return, each step is part of such a personal job; to help someone with their taxes is a very trusting experience; any student would learn a ton from an internship opportunity here.” – Sarah