Lights, Cameras, Internships

by Joseph Howe, CPA – September 16, 2019
Lights, Cameras, Internships

Much to my dismay, there are no television shows about accountants. The lawyers, doctors, police officers and firefighters seem to get all the primetime glory. Even though almost all of these shows are fictionalized, by watching them you get a rudimentary idea of what those professions are about. How then are accounting students supposed to get a peek into the life of an accountant, glamorous or otherwise? 

Accounting is an apprentice profession. Aspiring CPAs have to work under the tutelage of a seasoned CPA before they can be licensed. Even before that, though, students have to complete minimum educational requirements. While an internship is not a required part of the undergraduate or graduate sequence of classes mandatory for certification, taking part in an internship program lets students go beyond theory and get an inside look at the daily life of a CPA and some of the exciting things that they do. What’s more, doing multiple internships can expose students to a variety of specialties that they may choose to pursue upon graduation.  During an internship, students can confirm their interests, or they may discover that some of their preconceived notions about a job are different from reality. Aside from getting a look behind the curtain, so to speak, why is it worth it to pursue internship opportunities?

Building Critical Skills 

After sitting in class after class on accounting, audit and tax, young professionals will have all the skills needed to be successful as an entry-level accountant. Wrong! This is a fallacy; one simply cannot learn everything a job will require by sitting in a classroom. Even simulations and project-based learning activities can’t serve as a replacement for the real thing. Much the same way that physicians learn by watching and doing, students will pick up critical skills during an internship by observing and performing tasks under the guidance of experienced professionals. Interns learn the ebb and flow of office environments which is just as important — if not more important — than the technical skills that will be picked up along the way. During an internship, students will hone soft skills such as confidence, communications, time management and working independently and as part of a team, as noted in Aimee J. Pernsteiner’s The Value of an Accounting Internship: What Do Accounting Students Really Gain? These skills will not only help students land their first full-time job, they will serve them well throughout their careers. 

Investing in the Future 

Many students have full plates and feel that they don’t have the 10 to 20-plus hours a week an internship will require. Why bother? An internship is the proverbial foot in the door to getting a full-time job upon graduation. In fact, studies have shown many accounting interns get full-time job offers with companies for which they intern. Even those who don’t land a full-time job will form a valuable network that can be used as future references and serve as a source for leads for job openings. Despite a currently saturated job market for graduates, there is still healthy competition for full-time entry-level accounting positions. Having an internship or two under one’s belt definitely provides a competitive advantage.

Internship opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. Those that are for college credit often run the length of the semester; some are yearlong, while others are open ended until graduation. Whether paid or unpaid, for college credit or not, all internships provide untold value for career development and future opportunities. In­ternships remain the only practical way for accounting students to get an inside look at the profession prior to full-time entry to practice. In the meantime, if the television networks ever hold open casting for ‘Inter­nal Audit New Jersey,’ I’ll be there.

Joseph S. Howe

Joseph S. Howe

Dr. Joseph Howe, CPA, CFE, CGFM, is the chief financial officer of a government entity in New Jersey. He is a member of the NJCPA Governmental Accounting & Auditing Interest Group.

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This article appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.