• Career Center

    What Can Accounting Firm Interns Do To Be Ready For The Big Day?

    By | January 23, 2012

    Happy Moanday, everyone.  Let's pass the time with some feel-good internship preparation, shall we?

    Hey GC,

    I've been a big fan, followed advice, and am now starting my Big 4 audit internship. I know that we are not expected to know anything because they know that we don't. I've heard it way too many times over the last year. However, with that being said, how can I prepare for my first engagement? I've heard I should try to get some industry and client information. What are good sources? Should I browse last year's 10-K? Any other advice on how to turn the internship into an offer would be greatly appreciated.

    Newly Minted Intern

    Dear NMI,

    Congrats on landing an internship with one of the Big & Tall 4. You’re right in the sense that they – meaning your soon-to-be bosses – are not expecting you to know much. But don’t think that they won’t come at you with ridiculous “you should know this by now” comments. “Why doesn’t this tie out?” “You know, just roll it forward.” “Can you make mine a Venti?”

    Check your email.  Like many ad-hoc responsibilities, the communication between engagement team and intern usually falls on a senior associate member of the team.  Typically the lead senior associate of your first engagement will reach out to you during your first week at the firm (when you are busy learning about T&E and taking independence exams) and initiate contact.  It can be as simple as "show up at 230 Fifth Street at 9am" so you might have to ask follow up questions. Reply to the email to confirm that you received the message.  Ask about dress code if it is not addressed.  Also, if you're supposed to be meeting the team at the client site, inquire if there is anything you can bring from the office.  Some client sites are more "secluded" than others, and a re-fill of binder clips and manila folders can go a long way.

    Things to bring the first day. Everything you received in your laptop bag. Coffee/tea (because the ability to go to Starbucks at 10a is not guaranteed). A photo ID. Lunch money (leave the bagged lunch at home, at least for the first day). A patient, positive attitude. 

    Do some homework. You mentioned reading through your client's 10K; not a bad idea if your client in fact releases one.  Chances are though that you'll be able to paint a better picture of your client by spending an evening Googling them. Start with their official website (if they have one), and move on to third party stories about them.  Is your client private, like a hedgie?  Search Dealbreaker or FinAlternatives.  It's more important to know the recent issues affecting your client than what last year's Rent Expense was.

    Your First Day and Beyond…

    Be on time.  Don't fuck this up.

    Don't be a stereotype.  You are from the Millennial Generation.  You grew up with a cell phone, wall posts, and a "just Google it" mentality.  There's nothing wrong with this per se, but you know who doesn't want to hear about it or see it on your computer all day? Your boss. The reason I mentioned above that you need to bring a patient, positive attitude is because at some point – or even for most of your internship – there will be downtime.  You'll be tempted to check Gmail, comment on Facebook, or Tweet at Going Concern "so borrrred on my first day please send help xoxo."  Just trust me on this one – do yourself (and your engagement review) a favor and resist the urge.  Have downtime on your first day?  Great.  Read every free article on the Journal.  Scan Bloomberg.  Take some firm trainings. Email your fellow interns about happy hour. Do not be the intern that's "always on the Internet."

    Attitude is everything.  There are two different ways you can respond to your senior's request for you to organize last year's binders: "Great, I'll get on that right away" or "I didn't go to school to be someone's binding bitch."  Although you may think the latter, the former is a pathway to more detailed worked, a positive review, and eventually a fulltime offer.  Do not lose sight of why you're interning.

    What did we miss?  Add your insights below.

    • cool story brah

      Bring a sense of humor, no one likes a wet blanket intern. Also get ready to be hazed.

    • Guest

      “Your First Day and Beyond…

      Be on time.  Don’t fuck this up.”

      Can’t stress this enough.  Crazy how many interns do fuck this one up. 

    • Anon4This

      Dress Appropriately!  

      I can not tell you the number of people that I have seen come to the office dressed inappropriately.
      – Assuming they can wear jeans to a client site on a Friday when they can’t
      – Velour button down shirts.  Just because a shirt has a collar and buttons does not mean it should be worn to the office
      – A bedazzled ‘bebe’ shirt with a mini skirt
      – Backless shirts in the audit room
      – Don’t wear flip flops to the office

      – IRON your shirt

      Ask your senior beforehand what the dress code is, err on the side of caution and for crying out loud, take a shower, brush your hair and your teeth and show up on time.

    • $19577774

      This may seem obvious, but its amazing how many interns (and new staff) fuck this up. When you are going send an e-mail to a co-worker or a client, or you document something in the workpapers, always proofread. It is true that the firms don’t expect interns to know much about accounting or auditing, but they do expect someone who is college educated to be able to write a coherent sentence with proper punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, etc. If your workpaper is documented in a half-ass manner, then your senior will likely have to fix it. One way you can make a contribution to your team is to not have your senior spend time doing things that you are capable of doing yourself. Poor writing calls into question both your level of effort and your quality of education.

      • Guest

        This might be the 2nd post I actually agree with you on B4V.

    • Keepin_it_real

      If you’re late on the first day, you better have breakfast for the team and
      don’t ask to run it through to the client. It’s coming out of your own pocket
      for being late.

    • Guest

      1) Check your ego at the door.  You might be the brightest star in your college class but it doesn’t matter unless you’re willing to make the best damn copies anyone has ever seen with a smile on your face.

      2) Proofread your email.  If you sound like a clod when you write, you’ll be perceived as dim and find yourself staffed on lesser engagements.

      3) Business casual does not equal college preppy.  Dockers and a short sleeve shirts are great for class but tacky in the office or at a client.  And if your dockers are frayed at the bottom, time for a new pair. 

      4) Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Rest assured the rest of us don’t.

    • Guest

      I have to admit, I never got all these jokes about getting coffee. As a Sr. Ass. 10-20 minutes outside of the office is a blessing. I mean.. after 12 hours inside the office during busy season, would you really not want to take a walk?

      • Guest

        It’s because the kids these days see that as bitch work. It is beneath them to go get coffee for their “superiors”. I actually do think it is bitch work, but public accounting is like the military. Let’s be practical. The major isn’t going to get coffee for the corporal.

      • Guest

        I have to agree that a break is a good idea. As an intern I haven’t had to get coffee for my seniors, but some of the associates have offered to get some for me. I should prob start offering coffee runs because 10 minutes out of the office with the promise of caffine is a good break from confirms and binder building.

    • Don’t be a Fuck Stick

      A pad of paper/notetaking materials. When seniors or staff tell you to do something, write it down so you are not told again.

      If you do not have something to do, you better ask for something. Someone can always use an extra cup of coffee or have you tie something out.

    • BringMeTehHorizon

      1) Proofread EVERYTHING. Probably the greatest thing I learned when I had an internship.

      2) Also, if you’re stuck on some stupid little itty bitty issue like something doesn’t add up correctly, 90% of the time its your fault. Don’t double check, don’t triple check, check that shit 10 times before you ask the associate or senior working with you for help.

      3) Have a sense of humor. My shitty sense of humor isn’t the greatest, but its helped me open some legs…errr I mean doors….that were otherwise closed.

      • Dddd

        I couldn’t disagree more with #2. I’m always telling staff not to waste time spinning their wheels. Just ASK! Don’t kill my f’ing budget because you can’t figure something out!

        Do double, even triple check. But do NOT waste time spinning your wheels. Yeah, you might figure it out. 2 hours later. Or, you could ask and have it resolved in 30 seconds. When you’re an in-charge or manager, a key part of your job is to teach. You may need to finish something before you can address questions, but if that’s the case, have the young’un move along until you can help.

        If you were a senior on one of my jobs with that attitude, I’d be pissed.

    • Joe

      Thanks for this post and the comments… I have a B4 internship this summer and I appreciate any advice I can get. 

    • Plug Everything

      – Don’t be late, ever.  If you feel that you are going to be late, call the person as soon as you realize you are late.  (It is 10:45, you have to be somewhere that is 30 minutes away, call -now-, not right at 11:00.)  
      – Always bring a pen and paper to every meeting you attend, even if it is just another staff member calling you over to their cube.  You are probably smart, but you do not have infinite short-term memory- Put critical tasks into Outlook with two-day-early reminders, even if you already have good task-tracking/ billing software.  Especially if they are tasks that are unusual/ one-off.  – Go easy on the cologne/ perfume.  One small squirt under the undershirt.  Unless it is something you wore to a party in college, then it might be best to just throw it away.- Iron your clothes, you are a grown-up.  Even better, iron them the night before so it is one less thing to worry about in the morning.  – If you are going to be on-site a lot, keep a stash of snacks in your car, or your purse/ satchel/ whatever.  Lunch times will not always been on your timetable and you will do shitty work that makes you look stupid if you have no blood sugar.  

    • Intern Advisor

      Go read the thread at http://goingconcern.com/2011/6/big-4-summer-intern-open-thread.   There are a lot of good comments in there that apply to busy season as well.

      Self-promotion alert:  I wrote a long screed that you’ll find on the third page of comments of everything I learned as an intern, or wished my interns had learned. 

      (Obviously you should ignore all typos, as well as the later multi-post.  That was not my evening for technology.)

    • Guest

      I’ll echo the comments above about bringing along a pad of paper and a pen wherever you go.  There’s nothing worse than explaining to someone the same thing over and over again because they didn’t write it down.  

      Smile and act like everything is peachy.  The hours suck and the work of an intern sucks but try to keep that to yourself.  If you’re already whining and complaining about stuff as an intern, I’m not going to want to work with you. 

      I’ll even tell you a not so closely held secret for big 4 interning.  You already have an offer.  It’s only if you mess up that you don’t get an offer.

    • Guest13108

      I too am an audit intern for a Big 4 this winter and have worked for a good 2 weeks. Let me tell you, as long as you have a good attitude and are willing to help your team with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING you will be fine. “Intern go get dinner”…”I’m on it” yes, grabbing dinner for everyone sucks but just go do it with a smile!! You will be doing a lot of copy and pasting on excel, roll forwards, confirmations, vouching, etc. As long as you have a basic understanding of what your client does and how they make money you will be fine.  Yes, the long hours also suck but stick with it!! Have a sense of humor, were all working long hours and if all we hear is the click of the keyboard on end, then its going to suck! And remember…your career is a marathon not a sprint.

      • Don’t listen to that intern

        Don’t act like a know it all guest13108, two weeks on your internship by no means entitles you to give words of wisdom here. The worst thing a intern can do in my eyes is act like a know it all and then say something stupid to prove how little they know, such as what you wrote above. You’re not fooling anyone, the long hours do not “suck” for you (as you so eloquently shared with us). If an intern expressed that working long hours sucked I would ensure they got no overtime, with an atttitude like that I could care less if they signed their offer, because they don’t deserve one. Trust me not a single intern in my tenure has really saved me loads of stress during busy season, and we don’t need you to stay late…ever, we make you stay late so you can make some money. We’re not stupid we know you spend the last 3 hours of your day surfing the net and talking on communicator to your intern pals.

        • Guest

          Hahaha love it!! I interned last summer and now I’m throwing a busy season internship under my belt before I start full time in the fall. I have to agree that, the long hours definitely don’t “suck” (this year). I am fully aware that I’m sitting here making OT while ticking and tying stuff that I’m sure could be done the next day, but I’m OK with getting time and a half since there is no way in hell I will be making this much next year. Enjoy that paycheck for now because your effective pay when you start in staff 1 land is going to be closer to minimum wage like the rest of us current/soon-to-be excel monkeys. 

    • Guest

      Honestly, how can grabbing dinner for the team be that horrible? How much overtime are you getting paid to smile and write down orders? What did you expect you were going to be doing, signing the audit opinion?

      • BringMeTehHorizon

        I always enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the office for 30 minutes on said dinner runs. Sure that makes you the office bitch, but the title is worth the fresh air that comes with it.

    • 080080

      Disregard females.
      Acquire currency.
      (Don’t sleep with your co-workers/intern buddies)

      • ATM

        Sounds like someone’s missing the point of the whole internship thing…

        • Don’t be a Fuck Stick

          I disagree…he clearly is speaking to the male interns, not the female ones.

    • ATM

      Acquiring a taste for the gape as an intern will set you up well for your career in public accounting, pretty much up til you get to OMP, on the hole.

    • Horney Partner

      If you’re a cute or even avg girl intern, some innocent flirting with the partners goes a long way. Smile here and there, chit chat, dropping something in view of the partner’s office and bending over to pick it up, unbutton that 3rd button on your shirt for happy hours.

    • Pinkerton

      You should be gaining an understanding of the client’s environment prior to being on-site. Do this before you roll onto the client (re: on your own time or when you have down time in the office). If you have free time, as others have emphasized, go to an associate (not the Senior necessarily) and ask if there is anything you might help with. It’ll be more menial Excel or tie-out work, but it will keep you busy and make your eventual transition into the firm that much easier.

      While this information will be nice to have (and might save you if someone asks you directly about it), it will probably not be material to the audit work you perform. If your time is limited, I would favor prior year audit working papers for the audit areas you are assigned to over the audit memorandum that details the client’s environment.

      Getting an understanding of what you need to do before opening up the actual audit area will help tremendously in avoiding simple mistakes.