This week, in order to prepare those of you who have summer accounting internships starting soon, we decided to talk to real students who just finished their winter internships at public accounting firms.
Today, we talk to Hannah Schambow, an intern for Baker Tilly, who tells us what the most valuable part of her internship experience was, why they're so important, and what recruiters are looking for in an ideal candidate for an internship position.
1. What were you looking for in an internship opportunity?
I was looking for a better idea and more hands on experience about the profession I’d be entering into. I was specifically looking for experience in the tax field during busy season since I had previous experience in audit. I wanted to get a better idea of what that all entailed.
2. Why did you apply for an internship at your firm?
Baker Tilly had a very welcoming and forward culture and atmosphere. They are growing and progressing a lot, offering an industry specific approach, which was different from my previous internship at another firm that was separated mainly by tax or audit. So I knew it would be a good firm to join. It’s also listed as one of the top places to work in the Madison area.
In addition, a lot of people from my university had gone there and really liked it and were returning for full time jobs. After hearing good things from my peers, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about Baker Tilly, so I eventually applied.
3. What was the internship like?
My internship lasted from January 3-April 18th, which was basically busy season. I and the other interns had one week of training in the beginning that went over everything we needed to know, and I read a lot of booklets to reference throughout the rest of busy season.
In the beginning, I was doing more business returns and odd projects; things that would help me get into a place where I was capable of doing tax returns. We also worked on backlogs, which was a list of things assigned for you to do to help you work autonomously and independently. Our managers and staff checked in regularly with us in the beginning.
As the internship progressed, we began working out of a pool that our online routing system, from which we could all pull from. At this point we were completing individual returns. We were encouraged to talk to our managers and other staff members who were always there to help if we needed it, but we were mostly working on our own as we would upon being a full time staff member.
I was nervous when I began the internship, expecting to work a lot of hours. However, our team had engineered the workload so that it wasn’t overwhelming for anyone. They tried to keep it as manageable as possible, which really worked! Everything was organized and getting through the crux of busy season wasn’t at all as bad as I thought it would be.
4. What is your favorite aspect about interning at your firm?
The level of trust they gave me to work independently and get that real world experience. I was able to do that in addition to having a very welcoming and supportive team around me.
Another thing I thought was really cool was realizing that I was doing people’s real tax returns. This is something that was directly affecting another person, so I’m glad I was able to get a lot of hands on training and experience.
5. What did you find to be the most valuable experience during your internship?
Not to be cliché, but it would definitely have to be learning from my mistakes. I had one return that I didn’t do a thorough self-review on, and I got more review comments back than I had before. I learned how important it is to go through all of the steps and not rush through something. Even if you are getting a little behind, take the time to make sure you’re doing everything accurately and right. That was a valuable lesson for me going forward the rest of the season.
6. What was the most challenging part of your internship experience?
Being exposed to something completely new. When we were doing businesses and then went to individual taxes including rentals. It was challenging to continue adding new components to my knowledge base, and at times confusing. Finding a balance between acquiring knowledge and staying on top of the workload was challenging, but a good experience.
7. How has interning affected your personal and professional life?
Personally, I now have a better understanding of what I’m doing in terms of career goals. I also feel more confident knowing I stepped up to the plate and made sure I was meeting expectations as best as I could.
Professionally, I learned a lot more in those 3.5 months than I sometimes do in school because I was actually doing hands on application rather than just learning through a textbook.
This internship also helped me take a great first step in my career since I got a full-time job offer from it. I would say the experience has definitely positively affected my personal and professional life.
8. Why do you think internships are important?
Because it lets you know what you do or don’t want to pursue professionally once you’re done with college. I know some people who have done internships only to realize they didn’t like accounting and knew they didn’t want to do it. I’ve done a couple, and they have solidified that this is what I want to do.
Internships give you a clear idea and experience of what you would be doing after graduation; therefore, I would personally recommend doing at least one if not more internships if possible.
And test out different areas because my classroom and real life experiences with tax and audit were very different. Going out into the field gave me a better idea of which one I actually preferred. Everyone says that you’ll have a clear preference between audit and tax, but you’ll only know for sure if you get out there and actually do the work.
9. What’s your best piece of advice for those looking to land internship opportunities?
Your grades are important, but they should only be a part of what you have to offer as a whole person. Being involved in other things shows that you can successfully balance life and work.
Personally, I wasn’t involved in the accounting fraternity or organization, but I was involved in an all-business majors fraternity. So you don’t have to stick to just things that are accounting; in fact, being well rounded in all things you’re interested in shows that you pursue what you’re passionate about. This will further develop your emotional intelligence and social skills, which is important because you’ll be working with real people both in the office and outside with clients. Having good communication skills is crucial to having others understand what you’re trying to say.
Lastly, apply to positions you actually want to do and places you would actually enjoy working because a lot of times, internships can lead to full-time jobs, and you don’t want to work somewhere you’re unhappy. Think about the culture and where you want to be. Then go make it happen!
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