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Try An Accounting Internship While In College

by Mary Jo Billiot, DBA; Sid Glandon, DBA; and Ollie Powers, CMA

What Is An Accounting Internship?

An accounting internship is a temporary, entry-level accounting position with a company or firm sponsor. The sponsor may be either a Certified Public Accounting (CPA) firm, a company in industry, or a government agency. The student intern works as an employee and performs a specific set of duties. In most cases, the sponsoring employer provides a wide variety of experiences so that the intern gains an understanding of the work environment and the professional responsibilities of an accountant.The internship can be a where the student receives academic credit for the job experience. Normally, an academic internship involves regular meetings with a faculty coordinator and completion of assignments related to the job. In some internships, students work only part time. This work schedule may require a shuffling of course work to devote the appropriate amount of time to the internship position. Other internships are full-time positions and students generally do not attend classes.
Depending on the industry and size of the sponsoring company, the intern may participate in a variety of activities and responsibilities. In a large public accounting firm, the intern may work in the tax or auditing department. A tax department internship includes activities such as organizing and assembling clientsí information, preparing reports that itemize the expected results of tax returns, keying client data into the tax computer software, reconciling the final tax returns with the expected results, and assembling the tax returns for delivery to the clients. Depending on the intern's level of knowledge and experience, he or she may conduct research regarding the proper preparation of the tax return and/or tax planning issues. As with any entry-level position, the intern is responsible for clerical duties and basic assembly of client information and tax returns.

Interning in the auditing department will most likely involve working as an entry-level staff accountant. As such, the intern prepares workpapers and performs other duties under supervision of an experienced auditor; this work may be completed at the client's place of business or in the office of the accounting firm. Other duties of the entry-level staff accountant may include preparing bank reconciliations, preparing and mailing confirmations of account balances owed by the client's customers, and possibly observing the physical inventory count. An internship will generally involve client contact, requiring the intern to have good oral communication skills.

An internship in industry or government generally involves working in the accounting department of a specific company or agency. Recording transactions in the accounting records is a common responsibility assigned to interns. Many interns are also involved in monthly or quarterly financial reporting. Furthermore, the intern is responsible for filing and other clerical activities.

Additionally, student interns may be involved in one or more special projects. For example, an intern might be asked to analyze and propose a reorganization of the accounting information system for a part of a sponsoring company. The student would use skills acquired in an Accounting Information Systems class to develop flowcharts and write narratives describing the policies and procedures that would provide adequate control over the operations of the company. Such a project is not only educational for the student but, if well done, is beneficial to the sponsor.

Benefits Of An Accounting Internship

An internship is an excellent opportunity for students to apply the knowledge and skills obtained in accounting course work. For younger students, a successful internship is a significant contribution to a resume. Many employers are interested in the experience students have obtained during their internships. Even one college semester's worth of experience makes a graduate more attractive to a prospective employer.

Each internship experience provides exposure to different technical issues. The knowledge and skills obtained through an internship are a building block for future professional development. Successfully completing an internship demonstrates the ability to master technical skills needed in a particular environment. The accounting profession involves a lifetime of learning and requires personal interaction and communication. Learning to participate in a professional environment is something that cannot be simulated in a classroom. As an intern, the student participates as an entry-level professional. This means that he or she must be able to work with a variety of people while demonstrating proficiency in using written and oral professional language. In addition to the valuable experience gained, many internship positions are paid positions.

Obtaining And Completing An Accounting Internship
To participate in most internship programs, a student must have completed certain accounting courses and accumulated a minimum acceptable grade point average. Obviously grades in accounting courses are of particular importance to the potential sponsor/employer. Internship positions are awarded on a competitive basis. As with any job application, it is important that the applicant have as strong a resume as possible. Participation in activities that build a strong resume should begin early in a student's career. An added benefit of the internship is that it forces students to think about their job-seeking credentials and to work on their interviewing skills prior to graduation.

The sponsoring employer makes the final decision regarding the appropriate candidates for internship positions, often following interviews of the prospects. Generally a faculty member administers the internships, coordinating the program between the sponsoring employer, the intern, and the college. It is important that all involved be aware of the requirements of an acceptable internship, included the caliber of work expected of the intern. At the conclusion of the internship, the student normally prepares a written report detailing his or her experiences. In many cases, the sponsor is asked to prepare an evaluation of the student's performance.

Information regarding accounting internship opportunities is available from a number of sources. The Department of Accounting of your prospective college will most likely have established internship relationships with a number of employers in the local community. If there is an established program, apply early for the limited number of positions. If you have a contact in your home community, you may be able to establish an internship for yourself and future accounting students. Most universities are interested in expanding their internship programs by adding qualified sponsoring employers willing to continue to sponsor interns in the future. On many university campuses, the Career Services Department acts as a clearinghouse for information on employment opportunities that includes information about companies seeking qualified interns. Although these are not necessarily accounting-oriented positions, many times the employer will tailor the experience to the academic background of the student intern.

The WEB is another source of information about internships. Using any search engine, and typing in the words, "accounting internship," results in multiple sources of internships and information.

Participation in an accounting internship is an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills acquired through many hours of study. The experience enhances a resume and most employers take note when students have made a serious commitment to prepare themselves for a chosen profession. An internship may lead to a permanent position and possibly to a career. If an accounting internship opportunity exists, seize the chance to show your ìaccounting stuffî!

Mary Jo Billiot, DBA and Sid Glandon, DBA are assistant professors at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico.

Ollie Powers, CMA is an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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