Accounting internships: what you need to know

If you're considering working in accounting in the future, a summer internship can provide you with an idea of what to expect and also open doors for you when the time comes to look for a graduate job.

All major firms use their internship programmes as an opportunity to discover future candidates for graduate roles, so it's important that you make a good impression. To help you do so, we asked a recent graduate who currently works at a leading accounting firm to tell us how you can make the most of your internship opportunity.

5 things to know before applying

The earlier you apply, the better

Accounting firms tend to look at applications on a rolling basis so don't assume you have plenty of time to get an application in order.

From the moment you see the position advertised, it shouldn't take you longer than a week to get a well-written, thoughtful application together, and doing so will significantly help your chances of success.

You don't need to be studying accounting

Accounting is a slightly peculiar thing as it's offered at both A-level and undergraduate level yet neither are essential to getting a job in the field.

Most graduates who become accountants do so by taking one of the accounting qualifications alongside their graduate role at a firm.

Learn about the industry

Accounting is a confusing industry from an outsider perspective, encompassing a wide range of different types of work that can vary greatly from employer to employer. Make sure you know what you're likely to be doing on an internship at each employer you're considering before you apply.

Being in the accounting division of a Big Four firm, for instance, will be a notably different experience to spending time with an in-house finance team.

Intern roles vary so be careful

Larger accounting firms will offer a range of internship opportunities so it's important to make sure you're applying for the one that most closely matches your own interests.

This way you're more likely to get an accurate sense of what working in this field will be like.

Get some practical experience

If possible, it's great to be able to include in your application examples of any times you've gained practical experience of accounting work.

Many students who apply will be extremely strong academically but having worked through a bookkeeping or tax issue for real, perhaps a personal or family one or as part of a holiday job, will put you one step ahead of the pack.

5 things to know before your interview

Brush up on your commercial awareness

A great first step towards becoming more commercially aware (besides reading The Gateway of course) is to look up any recent developments in accounting and at the firm you're interviewing at in particular.

Doing this will both show you've done more than simply read through the firm's website and will give you a feel for the types of work you can expect to experience.

Be confident and show off your personality

The typical accounting applicant is incredibly smart but can be lacking in social skills and slightly awkward.

Be friendly and confident with your interviewers and you'll immediately stand out from the competition. Doing so will also help you to feel more relaxed and get your points across better.

Back up any claims with evidence

Accounting is a profession that values accuracy and detail, so it's important to reinforce any claims you make about your experience with examples.

For instance, if you're talking about your involvement with a student society, highlight a particular contribution you made that best reflects the point you're making.

Show interest in graduate roles

Employers are always going to prefer candidates who seem to be in it for the long haul as it saves them having to recruit a replacement in the future.

Therefore, it might be wise to use some of your interview time to ask about the graduate scheme at the firm and the types of work that graduates go on to do. Make it clear that you're already thinking about your career beyond the summer.

Don't be afraid to ask questions

Accounting isn't the easiest profession to get to grips with so don't feel it will count against you if you need to ask for a point to be explained in greater detail.

If anything, your willingness to ask questions will reflect well on you, as a significant amount of working in this area revolves around knowing how to best interrogate the data you're presented with.

5 things to know before your first day as an intern

Be prepared for long hours

Your working hours for an internship will almost entirely depend on the type of firm you're at, but it's probably wise to assume that your working days will be longer than the average.

Make an effort to turn up slightly early each day to give yourself a bit more time to settle in, and only leave once it's made clear there's no more work for you to do that day. Don't assume you can go just because it's getting near dinner time.

Talk to people

Take every opportunity you get to talk to people who already work at the firm.

Some students on accounting internships can be a bit shy and withdrawn, so being talkative, bright and agreeable will help you make a lasting impression. Talking to people frequently could also help you learn about the industry, which brings us on to...

Ask plenty of questions (and take notes!)

There are lots of terms and jargon to get to grips with on an accounting internship, particularly as many firms will treat you in the same way as a new graduate hire. If something goes over your head or doesn't seem to make sense, people will always be more than happy to answer your questions.

It's also a good idea to keep a notebook on you at all times and to write their answers down. If you need to keep asking for the same point to be explained, their patience is likely to wear thin after a while.

Don't assume you know everything

Don't get complacent after you've settled in and start to assume that you know everything you need to.

There's a vast amount to learn in this industry, so if you feel like you've stopped learning new things, it's probably a sign you need to be more proactive and gain some exposure to different kinds of work.

You may travel to meet clients

Whether you do so will depend on the firm you're at and the type of work you're doing, but at some point during your internship you may be expected to travel and meet clients as part of your work.

Although you'll always be a junior member of the team and won't be expected to be heavily involved in any high-profile interactions, it's important you look the part. Keep a particularly smart outfit on standby in your wardrobe at all times just in case it's needed.

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