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An internship can be one of the most effective tools for success in the business world—a vehicle to take you from where you are to where you want to go. This is especially true in the accounting industry, where an internship can rev up your career and give you a real taste of the business. It’s one thing to learn about accounting in school, but another thing to roll up your sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of how the job gets done. That’s what will happen in your internship. This stint will give you new skills, provide memorable experiences and measurable accomplishments, and let you make valuable professional connections.
The industry is dominated by the Big Four— Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. These companies, with other large, multinational firms, generally reserve their internships for undergraduates recruited from a select group of top schools. If you’re a student at a school the Big Four companies don’t target, or if you’re an experienced professional aiming to change careers, you’ll find more opportunities at smaller companies.
You want to start thinking about your accounting internship as much as two years in advance of graduation. That’s when the large accounting firms start assessing prospective interns. It’s a painstaking process because they’re hoping to identify eventual full-time employees. The process begins with presentations and networking events in which firms begin evaluating candidates informally, with the intent of bringing them on as interns between junior and senior year. In order to be fully prepared, you’ll need to begin gathering information and planning as early as sophomore year. Here’s a rough idea of the steps you’ll need to take and when you’ll need to take them.
Spring/Summer (the year before) and Fall Semesters
- Assess your interests; know your skills; set realistic job goals; and develop a plan of action.
- Attend cover letter and job search workshops offered by university career services centers.
- Prepare your resume.
- Check the job listings on your school’s career center website, preferably twice a week. New jobs and internships are listed daily throughout the semester. Note that companies have various deadlines for applications.
- Attend job fairs and career symposiums to make employer contacts, conduct informational interviews, and to pick up information about the organization. (Note that interviews might take place at job fairs, in which case the student should contact the employer a week to a month before to submit a resume.)
- Research potential employers. Set up informational interviews for your breaks. You can find potential sources through your school’s alumni database or LinkedIn.
- Start applying for summer opportunities.
Fall Break, Thanksgiving, and Winter Break
- Start your networking in earnest. Let your family, friends, relatives, former teachers and coaches know you’re looking for summer opportunities.
- Attend on-campus employer information sessions.
- Identify and research local employers while home during the break.
- Review the fall semester items listed above. Note that some companies have earlier deadlines for applications.
- Continue to check the job listings on the career website, preferably twice a week; new jobs and internships are listed daily throughout the semester.
- Apply for summer jobs or internships.
- After submitting an application, cover letter and resume, call the employer to be sure your materials arrived (allow sufficient time for applications to get to their destinations before calling); ask if the employer needs any further information from you.
- If the employer isn’t coming to campus, schedule an interview for spring break or whenever you can arrange to meet; most employers will want to meet with you before offering you a position.
- Always send a thank-you letter after each interview. This is not only a courtesy, it’s a confirmation of your sincere interest in the position.
From the WetFeet Insider Guide “Getting Your Ideal Internship: Accounting”