As summer accounting internships are starting just around the corner, we thought it would be helpful to gather some information from those who have just completed a winter internship. Hear from senior college students and recent graduates this week who give insight as to what their internship experiences were like and what you can expect and how to be successful once you've started.
And if you haven't landed an internship opportunity yet, stay tuned for their best piece of advice of how to do so this fall, including key qualities recruiters are looking for and how to make the most out of your experience for future career success.
Today, we speak to Ryan Lopes, a recent college graduate from Rutgers University who interned at PKF O'Connor Davies, LLP.
1. What were you looking for in an internship opportunity?
I was looking for a professional and welcoming workplace environment with room to grow. I wanted a place where I could position myself to have a successful career, with the possibility of moving from an internship to a full-time opportunity.
2. Why did you apply for an internship at your firm?
As an Accounting graduate from Rutgers University, which markets highly to the Big 4 Accounting firms, I was rather looking for a midsize firm that offered a wide range of service, experience and opportunity on a more individual level. I wanted to be seen as more of a person than just a number because that’s how I knew I was going to grow professionally.
I chose PKF O’Connor Davies (PKFOD) not only because they have a local office in my hometown, but also because when I met them at a career fair on campus, everyone was very inviting, personal, and professional. I felt very welcomed and comfortable, so I was really able to be myself around everyone. They were flexible with my school schedule and they were and still is a growing firm on the rise, which was what I was looking for.
3. What was your internship program like?
My internship originally lasted from January – April, but I actually was able to extend it by continuously expressing more interest since I enjoyed it so much.
Prior to the beginning of the internship, we had 2 days of training: one session that was over the weekend and another on a weekday. They introduced me to who I was reporting to, as well as the senior managers and partners I would be working with. I remember them repeatedly saying that “no question is a bad question,” which made me feel at ease especially since it was my first time out in the real Accounting world.
On a day-to-day basis, I was exposed to corporate and personal taxes, such as 1040s, 1065s, 1120s and much more. I was also exposed to audit and other miscellaneous tasks where managers put me to the challenge to see if I could surpass and go beyond expectations.
There was a little bit of a learning curve at first. It took about 2 weeks to fully understand all the programs and processes, such as how to input a proper tax return, look for clients, save documents, and properly communicate with our clients, partners, and managers. But after a couple of weeks, my efficiency & quality improved and continued to do so.
As an intern, you’re not on a tight rope since it’s your time to learn and practice. So for me, training was very important. I was very focused and took a lot of notes because I knew this was going to be the backbone to a successful internship.
4. What was your favorite aspect about interning at your firm?
The people/culture of the firm, without a doubt. For me, working with fitting, knowledgeable professionals was key especially in an advanced economy like today. I had to know that everyone I would be working with would be open and helpful and didn’t just see me as the bottom-of-the-barrel kind of guy. And that’s exactly what I got here at PKFOD - Everyone wanted to help me and see me grow. They were very lenient with my schedule as I was going to school full time as well which allowed me to be the best I could be for them and for my studies.
5. What did you find to be the most valuable experience(s) during your internship?
What was most valuable to me was the exposure I had to all aspects of the business between tax, audit, entrepreneurial services, etc., not just one line of the business.
Beyond that, I also immersed in my firm’s company culture, understanding the major aspects of what we do as a firm and how we provide it. We have a higher standard in our client services compared to other firms.
I was invited to several client meetings with partners which helped me really understand and adapt to our motto, “Know greater value”. I saw on a 1-on-1 level the true appreciation our clients have for the service we provide to them; to me I felt that there really was no greater value than what we strive for and provide. Sitting in on meetings at an Internship level was huge for me because I was able to develop relationships in professional detail with the clients, which made me feel like I was fully part of the team.
6. What was the most challenging part of your internship experience?
The most difficult part was my scheduling. I wasn’t used to having such a busy life from waking up, going to work and going to school, and then squeezing time in for my studying and personal life. It was tough at first as well as during Midterms, but the change of schedule was something I knew I would eventually adapt to.
7. How would you say interning has affected your personal and professional life?
From living and feeling like a student to really thinking like a professional and pushing myself to become better each day, this internship has helped me grow personally and professionally.
I got more interested in the news; read books to help me better myself; and found myself wanting to learn more about tax codes and tax law. I became a constantly positive person as I became more aware of life and the opportunities around me. I felt like I was learning who I was meant to be and what I wanted to do in life.
8. Why do you think internships are important?
Internships are the crux to any successful career. It allows you to learn and grow at a steady, comfortable pace, giving you a cushion to allow yourself to ask questions, understand if it’s a good fit for you and your future, and allows you to expose yourself for a full-time opportunity.
It always reminded me of when I played soccer for Rutgers. Internships are like soccer practice. You better yourself at practice by pushing yourself and trying new things for game day; visualizing your game and executing it at practice, knowing it will pay off come game time, or in this case, come full time. I was very comfortable with the culture and work environment which helped me realize that this is what I wanted to do and this is where I wanted to be.
9. What’s your best piece of advice for those looking for internships?
Focus on yourself academically and personally. Develop yourself as a person by joining organizations, playing a college sport, and developing leadership qualities. Don’t be afraid to go to the career fair to understand the firm you can see yourself at.
I remember when I went to my first career fair, I was so nervous, mostly because I didn’t have any accounting experience to offer; all I had was Restaurant and Real Estate experience. But accounting experience is not what they’re looking for. Firms at career fairs want to learn more about you as a person and the potential you can offer to them through your studies and extracurricular activities. Career fairs give you a chance to learn more about what firms have to offer for you at the student level.
The bottom line is, give it a shot. Always give it a shot, even if you have more doubt and skepticism than will and desire because you never know what might come your way. Whether you’re a student with stellar grades or someone who is performing at a satisfactory level, you are still a value to the firm by at least showing your face and selling yourself to them. I always knew that if I worked hard and stayed persistent, something would come my way—and it did! You miss 100% of the chances you don’t take, so never stop and never settle.
10. What’s your best piece of advice for those who are about to start their internship soon?
From my personal experience, I would recommend to always stay focused and positive, don’t be afraid to ask questions, write everything down that relates to your role, set challenging yet reachable goals, and have a to-do list to stay organized and efficient.
Secondly, expose yourself to managers and partners as much as you can. Keep selling yourself and take good, calculated risks, otherwise you won’t fulfill your potential. This is your time to show them the star that you really are and worked so hard in school to be. Represent yourself and the firm at the highest level of professionalism. Let them know that you’re there for more than just an internship; you’re looking for a future and a career.
Something I still personally do to this day is I dress for the position I want, and not the position I have. When you dress well, you feel and perform well.
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