College accounting students often start early in their planning to meet post-graduate CPA license experience requirements, by accepting summer internships. The objective of working a summer program at a Big 4 firm is obtaining an eventual job offer after graduation. A bright future is apparent for a talented individual embarking on study for CPA exam completion while having landed a job in the Big 4.
That’s fine for accountants who crave experience applying the GAAP knowledge from CPA exam material to all types of intricate corporate transactions of Big 4 clients. However, other fresh accounting graduates are not too eager for the drain of long hours on the low rung of a grand hierarchy. Even the promise of a management position after a few years still holds little appeal. These accountants long for working with small business clientele that obtain services from local and regional accounting firms.
Fortunately, accounting practices less sizable than the Big 4 – but within the top 25 – also offer internships. The firms realize that talented students engaged in study for CPA licensing are not all targeting Big 4 job opportunities. Smaller accounting firms don’t want to hire only young CPAs who are burned out from gaining their experience in the Big 4. After all, local and regional accounting practices have different operational environments. The last thing they want to hear from young staffers is how minor tasks are accomplished at the Big 4 firms.
A lot of top quality accounting students aim for careers working with the distinctive demands of clients at small CPA firms. They want to bypass the Big 4 when meeting CPA experience requirements since the large firms are not in their long-term plans. For them, an internship at a Big 4 firm is not a step in the right direction.
Consequently, internships at small accounting firms are beneficial for both the employers and students. Many of the programs are short. They last only a few days and seldom more than two weeks. These gigs are mostly “meet and greet” situations. The firms attempt to present an idea of what working there is like. Interns are introduced to young associates employed at the small office while also engaged in CPA exam courses.
The posturing and glad-handing is more beneficial than appearances suggest. If this is really the ultimate landing place an accounting student is striving to reach, then a few days on the farm are an opportunity to at least capture some understanding of the landscape. Interns who make wise use of the time ask plenty of questions about the nature of work conducted for clients and the types of clients. These are also occasions where a young intern can assert a lack of fear about long hours at the copier to earn his stripes.
At the very least, participation with intern programs at small firms demonstrates enthusiasm about an accounting career. Even if the firm that provided the internship is not the right fit for an accounting student’s future, other firms will notice the serious commitment of trying to find the best work arrangement. Considerable value is derived from the resume enhancement and development of personal relationships for garnering future recommendations. In fact, the connection established with the business casual crowd is sometimes a path to obtaining part-time work at a local CPA firm prior to graduation.
Any single small accounting firm has a minimal hiring budget relative to the Big 4. But small firms collectively have plenty of positions to fill. A new graduate with exposure to the small entity environment has a leg up on the competition. Any accounting student seeking the challenges in working with clients of small CPA firms needs an alternative approach to internships. When the time arrives to start CPA exam prep, an aspiring small business accountant who interned with a smaller firm, will have already gained valuable experience and industry contacts.
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