When you are done studying accountancy, or possibly even during your studies, you may be interested in looking into an internship position. This is because it can either be used towards your experience requirements for your CPA licensure (at least in states that recognize part-time work), for what you could learn through working, or in the hopes of getting an offer for a full-time position once the internship is complete. Trying out internships at different types of firms can also help you to figure out what type of accounting you might want to work in later on.

What Do Public Accounting Interns Do?

Public accountancy involves representing businesses for IRS audits, auditing and approving financial documents of businesses, compiling financial statements and preparing and authorizing tax returns, among other tasks. They can only be carried out by Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) who have passed the Uniform CPA exam and received licensure from an issuing state board of accountancy. During an auditing internship, students will gain hands-on experience reviewing and identifying accounting and audit issues, researching accounting and audit issues, performing analytical audit procedures, and testing internal controls. Likewise, tax internships also teach a student how to apply critical thinking skills in preforming tax research and completing complex returns. Both experiences give students an idea of what these fields are like in the real world instead of just learning the theories in the classroom.

What Do Private Accounting Interns Do?

Private accountants usually work for a specific company as part of their internal workforce and are also known as ‘industrial accountants’. Unless they have a CPA license, private accountants cannot practice public accountancy. This means that they cannot represent their employer for taxation before the IRS. What they can do is review their company’s internal financial documents and statements to make sure that everything balances. They can then prepare all of the documentation for review and approval by the accountants of a public firm when the tax forms need to be filed. Some examples of private accounting include forensic accounting and taxation. Although they cannot represent their clients for taxation to the IRS or approve their statements, they can still do most of the preliminary work in preparation for the tax returns. Although not as impressive as a public accountancy, it will boost your resume the next time you apply for an internship or fulltime position. Even a position as a bookkeeper, bank teller or accounting clerk could help in this way.

Some Pros and Cons of a Public Accounting vs a Private Accounting Internship

Public AccountingPrivate Accounting
Generally long hours and over timeUsually more balanced hours
Usually counts towards CPA experienceWhether it will or won’ be accepted as work experience is state-dependent
Multiple clientsOne client
Usually involves tax or auditUsually involves audit, research, data entry and/or record keeping
Wider variety of experienceMore consistent work
Usually more stressful than private accountingUsually less stressful than public accounting
Greater chance for upward mobility if the position becomes full timeGreater chance of a slow rise if it turns into a full time position

What Are Some Other Useful Tips When Choosing an Accounting Internship?

Firstly, you need to be aware that an internship of any kind generally means low-paid grunt work and hours as long as they can get away with putting on you, since internships are usually offered around busy season. Therefore, it is always a goo idea to try asking around beforehand to get an idea of what you are sign up for beforehand. This includes Facebook or LinkedIn stalking other interns or staff members to ask them questions, or even just asking your professors or assistant lecturers what they know about the company. You can also ask the HR representative to specify exactly what your job entails and exactly what the hours are, but that is not a guarantee for valid information. If people are cagey about giving you a straight answer, chances are it is an answer that you won’t like. You don’t just want to ask questions about the work, but about the atmosphere. Ask the employees how they would describe the camaraderie, work environment in general and so on. Different firms have different structures and cultures, so it is a good idea to look into that as well.

Secondly, most people will tell you that an internship at a public accounting firm is the best way to get a lot of experience. So, even though the hours might be long and the deadlines stressful, it might be worthwhile to tough it out for a year or two anyway. Of course, this advice only holds when you have multiple options. Otherwise, you might as well take what is offered to get whatever experience you an. After all, it would look good on your resume, either way.

Finally, research market value for internship and starting positions. These change every year or so, so it’s worth keeping up with labor value to ensure you’re being paid what you’re worth. Otherwise, you might want to consider looking for a new position elsewhere in a year or two anyway.

Benefits of Doing an Accounting Internship

  • According to this study, those who complete internships perform better overall in the CPA exam
  • Internships often lead to offers for long-term employment with the company upon its completion
  • Internships look good on your resume
  • They are a good way to network and to find out more about the industry by talking to other accountants and CPAs
  • They usually count as experience towards your CPA licensure requirements (provided that you are supervised by a licensed CPA)
  • Diverse internships can help you to discover which aspects of accountancy you enjoy, and which you don’t
  • Other accountants are more likely to provide you with guidance and to teach you skills when you are an intern than if you are a new hire
  • Internships can be confidence boosters, as you come to realize that accountancy is something that you can do

How to Find an Accounting Internship

  • Check with your college or university’s accountancy department for a list of known internship programs
  • Check with your state accountancy society for a list of registered accountancy firms and then review which ones have internship programs. Then, apply to all of them to see which ones respond. But don’t let dismal responses get to you, as they do not mean that you have a poor resume. As one Redditor shared:
  • Banks, investment brokers and other financial institutions are also possible places to submit your resume
  • Make sure to apply during recruitment season. This is usually just before each industry’s busy season
  • Apply to Big 4 Summer or Winter Leadership Programs. However, bear in mind that they both have their advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the summer programs are almost guaranteed to entail over time of up to 60 hours a week during busy season, while the Winter programs will likely require you to take off a semester from college
  • Reach out to a company’s social media accountants such as on Facebook and LinkedIn and direct message them to inquire about internship opportunities
  • Attend Student Leadership Conferences and network like crazy. It’s also not unusual for companies and firms to actively seek out intern applicants at these and similar events
  • Ask your professors, assistant lecturers and tutors whether they have any contacts that you can be in touch with for information
  • Search on job post platforms such as Indeed.com and Glassdoor.com. They usually have accounting intern and student positions listed