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Getting the Most Out of Your Internship/Placement

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It is that time of year again where many students are going to get their first taste of what the working world will be like once they graduate as they begin their summer internship or work placement. This can be an invaluable experience to help students with deciding on a graduate role once they finish their studies. Furthermore, it can give a great insight to students into the working world which can provide some much needed motivation for your final year’s study

Ultimately students should see the internship/placement as a behind the scenes look into the firm and what it would be like working there as a graduate trainee. Your experiences can be useful to rule in or out the area (both are equally as valuable in my opinion). The following post will include some tips and advice about how to get the most out of your internship experience to set you up both for securing a graduate position and also for when you return to your studies for final year.

Before

  • Make sure to do your homework on the firm before you start. I’m sure you will have some idea regarding the company form your interview but it’s good to put you best foot forward by doing a bit more research before your first day just so you are up to speed;
  • Particularly for accounting internships and college/university work placements, the likelihood of someone the year ahead of you having done an internship/placement in the firm is very high so try to use your network to get chatting to people who have worked in the firm to see what it’s like, what skills to brush up on before going in and other simple things like dress code, timings, office norms etc.

During

  • Have good chat with your manager at start and discuss your interests and goals for the internship. This may sound a bit wishy washy but make use of that time early on to voice your interest in certain areas/roles/jobs that you would like to get experience in;
  • One very good idea (for me anyway), particularly in the larger accounting firms, is to arrange some meetings with graduates and/or some managers in other departments within the firm (e.g. if you are in audit then go to tax and advisory etc.) to have a good chat about what each department does and types of roles for graduates. This gives you a much better insight into each different area than you would get from any grad talks etc. Note: to the extent possible, you could also ask to spend week or two there as I know some firms do a dual placement internship in two different departments. However you should also be conscious that only getting a high level view of 2/3 departments may not be as useful or rewarding as a longer stint in a single one;
  • Many of the larger firms will have social committees so don’t be afraid to get involved. For some companies that take on a good few interns/placements there will typically be a welcome night out to allow you to get to know other interns and placements as well as various occasions during the year;
  • Large firms will have a good number of interns & placements so it is a great opportunity to network and keep these contacts when you revert to final year. You will be amazed how many contacts you will keep as many people follow same track post-graduation also, particularly if you go on to do the professional accountancy exams;
  • Ask, ask, ask – try to get a good feel for the role of a graduate trainee and see the types of work etc. ask about exams and how people found them along with work;
  • Remember to think of it as an 8-12 week interview (or longer if on placement). Be conscious that many firms operate an “automatic conversion” policy for the best interns (where a firm is impressed by an intern/placement they could be offered a graduate role at the end of their experience as opposed to going through the graduate recruitment process). This process is popular with most of the large accounting firms for some departments and gives a great opportunity to secure a graduate role (if that’s what you want) and avoid the milkround process the following September/October which will allow you to concentrate on your final year studies;
  • Have the goal of coming out your internship with some tangible outcomes or accomplishments in terms of jobs worked on, training attended (e.g. excel, presentation skills etc.), networks created and/or knowledge learned about the firm and its various departments;
  • Jotting these accomplishments down throughout your experience could be a useful idea. You may even want to keep a blog about your internship/placement experience (see, for example, PWC who have some good intern/placement blogs) and it could also be a useful (and a bit different) record for any future interviews etc. It may even be something the firm would be interested in if they currently are not doing it;

 

After

  • Take the time to reflect on your internship/placement and what you got out of it – e.g. has it changed your perception of that area? Did you get a whole new skillset? Are you weak on certain areas?
  • Make sure to keep in contact and perhaps have a chat with some of the people you worked with to discuss subject choice for final year to get their insight on what is most beneficial in their role. They may even be useful if you are going through the milrounds in the autumn;

I am a big fan of the internship/placement concept. It gives a great opportunity to students to get a real insight into a firm and they can use it as a trial run to experience what a graduate role might be like in that particular firm. My advice would be to make the most of it, be proactive in terms of networks, exposure to different areas and also experiencing working in an office environment.

 

Summary points:

  • Do some prep and talk to people who have been on internships in the firm before;
  • Be proactive in terms of asking questions, talking to people and gaining new skills;
  • Keep a journal of your experience (perhaps even do a blog); and
  • Keep in contact afterwards and don’t be afraid to ask for career advice, advice on final year subject etc. Many will have gone down the path before you so they will know the situation you are in.

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