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Summer Internships 2015

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Introduction

Unless your course has the option of a co-op/INTRA/placement during your penultimate year your best opportunity to gain some firsthand experience in the world of accountancy will be through a summer internship. These internships are short term placements typically between June and August and, although programmes vary, the majority of firms will provide roles for 8-12 weeks. There are many variations with regards the programme offered with some firms offering a global internship and others offering a dual internship split across two different departments.

Regardless of the nature of the internship there will most likely be stiff competition for any such roles as students are eager to gain some experience to boost their employment chances entering their final year in college. This level of competition can result in many good students being unsuccessful in their internship applications but being very successful in the milkround a year later. This is solely as a result of the numbers involved as many firms will only hire a number of interns that are approx 10-15% of the number of graduate trainees they take on each milkround.

In light of this issue there has been an expansion from the traditional internship route in recent times into various other pathways to offer students some experience (insight days, case study competitions etc) which are discussed further on my internship page. These programmes are mutually beneficial in that they allow companies keep in contact with the student population (who will be much more likely to be successful in the milkround process as there will be a lot more positions available) and also give more students the opportunity to get a more detailed perspective of the work done in accounting firms.

Benefits of an Internship

  • Allows you to rule in (or out!) a particular area/firm
  • Provides day to day experience of accounting work
  • Feel for what to expect as a first year trainee
  • Opportunity to leverage contact to talk across various departments
  • Having on CV for graduate position applications – increases marketability
  • “Foot in” when coming to milkround applications
  • Can treat as a 12 week interview to prove yourself
  • Makes the transition from student life to working full time less traumatic!

 

In the rest of this post I will give you a process for working towards obtaining an internship position as well as looking at alternatives to the traditional summer accounting internship.

Process & Steps

 

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(a)    Be ready to market yourself

The first step is to be ready to market yourself effectively. You can start this process as early as you want by getting a CV together, practising interview skills and developing what I call a “milkround mindset”.

Think about what you do/skills you have and how that will make you an attractive internship candidate;

        1. Extracurricular activities – volunteering, gaa, sports, societies, hobbies etc
        2. Work experience – there is somewhat of a chicken and egg situation with respect to this as the sole reason you are applying for the internship is to get relevant experience. For any experience you do have try to focus on what transferrable skills/experience you obtained; and
        3. CV preparation and interview skills – how professional looking is your CV? How prepared are you for an interview?

 

(b)    Research and Plan

The next step will be to research the opportunities out there for internships. There are numerous sources available for this purpose and the most important thing is to be proactive in your research and efforts.

Examples include;

                1. Researching online to obtain a list of firms that offer internships (e.g. old boards.ie threads, firm websites, CAI website)
                2. Establish a list of key dates and timelines
                3. Ask career services in your college
                4. Attend career days/fairs in year prior to applying to get some familiarity
                5. Firm talks & presentations (where they typically tell you more about their programmes)
                6. Accounting/commerce/business society or similar in your college
                7. Older students who have gone through the process
                8. Lecturers

 

(c)   Application

Having identified the relevant opportunities it will then be time to fill in online applications (the majority of larger firms will typically have an online process with some smaller firms using the traditional CV & cover letter). Please have a look at my applications section which covers all these issues in depth and provides sample interview questions, CVs and helpful tips.

Key Issues

As with any job application there will be a few key issues that firms will focus on when assessing candidates for the particular role. As mentioned earlier, given the nature of an internship role prior work experience in the relevant area may not be as critical a factor as is typical in job interviews. From my perspective there are three key pillars to consider when assessing a student’s suitability for an internship role;

What is his/her academic performance like?

1st year grades and Leaving Cert results (given the “standardised” nature of this exam many will still use it as the benchmark) are typically used for this purpose. Firms will typically require a breakdown of results by module/topic;

Is he/she a rounded individual?

Issues such as extracurricular activities, involvement in clubs & societies, volunteering, other interests & hobbies

Has he/she a genuine interest/motivation for the role?

How up to speed are you with current business affairs? (in particular relating to the role – e.g. audit, tax, corporate finance etc.) What industries interest you and why?

Why are you interested in accountancy?

 (d) Interview

The focus here will be on your personality & your general business awareness. Your grades and extracurricular activities will typically get you to the interview stage and then it’s up to you impress on the interviewer your interest in the role and your ability. Take a look at my interview section and blog post for a more detailed discussion of interviews.

Alternatives

The level of competition for the relatively small number of internship positions in the larger firms should not be an off-putting factor for any student but it should also ensure that you set realistic expectations going into the search for an internship.

As I mentioned earlier, there has been a growth in alternative undergraduate programmes in recent years aimed at giving more students an insight into the work within accounting firms. Some firms are now running case study competitions at various universities that allow teams of students compete to get to a national final with many students gaining internships as a result of this. Additionally, many students who are unsuccessful with their internship applications will be invited back for insight days and you should be proactive and ask to be put on a list for these events.

Aside from internship positions at some of the larger accounting firms there are numerous other alternative avenues you can explore when seeking some experience in the world of accountancy;

  • Prepare a list of local accounting firms, introduce yourself and provide some context to your request for work experience;
  • Think of related placements  e.g. banks, finance office of local company;
  • Perhaps suggest an unpaid internship, if practicable;
  • Think of possible avenues to explore via you current job e.g. work in hotel & ask to have chat with accountant/finance department; and
  • Careers services in college may be able to provide you with a list of firms.

Conclusion

Hopefully the critical point that you will take from this post is that you need to be proactive in seeking relevant opportunities during your undergraduate studies to give you some real world experience before you reach the milkround process. This may be starting to put together a CV for the first time, researching accounting firms for internship positions or calling local accountants to see if they have any summer positions available. Every day of experience in the working world of accounting will be very valuable when you come to deciding on your route into professional accounting during your final year.

 

As you are researching and applying for internship positions feel free to ask any questions you have via  info@accountingmilkman.ie or the feedback function.

 

 

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