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The Definitive Guide to a Successful Public Accounting Summer Internship

Hey, INTERN. Yes, you there wearing your hangover like a scarlet letter on this lovely Friday. Down your third gatorade and listen up. This is everything you need to know to not completely waste your summer away in your internship.
You earned a coveted internship, but I am not going to stroke your ego any more than your local campus recruiter does on a regular basis. If you need to be reassured about your self-worth, call your parents for a pep talk or jump on Facebook and see how the delinquents from high school are taking selfies in their Hyundais on their way to “work.” You’re in a good spot this summer, making more money than you probably deserve. Before you blow it all on happy hour at McFadden’s (meh) or Public House (better choice) or the strip joint with your favorite partner (best choice, obv), take notes. 
Remember Why You Are There
What is the point of all this? The obvious is that you want to work in public accounting someday. You want to earn a full time offer and graduate in the minority of your peers as someone who has a job. (Sidenote: Want a bitter taste of reality? Read the article I just linked to. MORE THAN HALF OF YOUR GRADUATING CLASS LIKELY WON’T HAVE A JOB). 
Beyond being a contributing factor to a terrible statistic, now is an opportunity to try public accounting and your firm of choice on for size. Do you like the culture of your company’s office? Who are the power partners and the rising stars in the firm? Who do you want to align yourself with and when you return the fall after graduation? Can you really see yourself working with these people, not just in the pretty summer months but in the dark reality of busy season? 
Set Goals For Yourself 
Beyond your desire to nail down a full-time offer, I suggest setting a few realistic goals for yourself. Here are a few to get you thinking: 
  • Get at least one senior associate in your corner — By earning your senior's trust and respect you put some tangible momentum behind your future. It is less about earning a positive engagement review and more about establishing a strong professional relationship for when you return in a year. “I want Jon Lithstein on my engagement” speaks volumes.  
  • Doubting a career in public? — Don’t waste the opportunity to actually analyze the career path. You will have downtime during your summer, so take advantage of the industry trainings and web seminars available to you. This leads me to my next point…
  • Find your industry — If you are in a larger office it’s likely that there are several different practice sub-groups. Regardless of what you were thrown into during your internship (you’re not always asked by HR), you need to determine where you want to be if you start full time. What are the career track differences for someone who audits/does tax/advisor work for insurance companies versus someone in oil and gas? Hedgies versus i-bankers. Non-profit versus the entertainment industry. Find your niche and pursue it. 
  • Ask questions — Seems like an obvious one, I know, but you can never ask too many questions. Just make sure you’re asking soberly. Don’t be three-too-many Long Islands into your night when the partner says “ask me anything” and you respond “how big is your house in the Valley?”
Be Productive on the Job
  • You won’t always be busy — But when you are, you want to kick ass. 
  • Take notes — It is very easy to forget the minor details, but they are details nonetheless. Take a notepad with you wherever you go; you never know when you will be asked to chip in. If you are given an assignment, ask what the timeline is to complete your portion. Staying late (6:00p!) to complete a task shows initiative and commitment to the team. Don’t worry, the Bud Light Lime will still be cold when you get to happy hour.
  • Prioritize work — On the off-chance that you're asked to complete several tasks by different people, it’s okay to ask your senior for guidance. “Hey, the manager just asked that I make 2,000 copies for him. Do you mind if I take care of that project first?” Communication with your team is key. No one is going to fault you for wanting to know which meaningless task is more important. 
  • Ask questions — Do you see a theme here?

Get To Know Your Fellow Interns
Most, if not all, of your intern peers will be your first year associate peers after graduation. You’ll nervously sweat and curse through your first busy season together soon enough. Get to know one another now; connect online; enjoy your summer together. Even if you are in a large city, the public accounting space is a small world so stay in touch. If you are in a large office, use them as your network to learn about other managers and partners; who to work for, who to avoid. Whatever you do, don’t get to know your peers too well. Too many interns learn the plight of office politics.
With that, let’s go over some boozing basics and other miscellaneous stuff next.

Boozing Basics (read before blacking out)
  • Firm sponsored events — sure, go ahead and have a few. Tipsy and sorta drunk is fine…hitting on your senior manager is not. 
  • Just because there is a swimming pool at the swanky happy hour spot, it is not an invitation to show off your breaststroke.
  • At unofficial intern only events — they're always fun. Get ripped. Share any stories with us GC
  • Drinking wine at the party? White won’t leave your teeth red and grainy like three glasses of red. 
  • DO leave the party early if you wish.
  • DON’T be asked to leave the party early. 
Grab Bag
Don’t cross the line with your superiors — I use the word "superiors" here because, although there can be a thin line of age, there is still a major difference in maturity and common sense when it comes to the interns and the associates. Simply put — they have jobs; you do not. Issues can arise because, well, we’re all human. Staff members love to hang out with interns because it helps them feel young, and sometimes they even have a college friend or two that interns a year after them. Interns like to hang out with the staff because it makes them feel “part of the firm” and included in official office hijinks. Whatever you do, remember that you do not matter to them. You might feel like an equal, but you are not one, so don’t screw up. Do not disrespect your staff members of fellow interns. Play nice in the sandbox or be prepared for the repercussions. 
Check your ego at the door — There will be times when you are asked to complete meaningless, trivial tasks that will leave you asking “why did I go to college for this?” On behalf of senior associates everywhere, “sorry, we’re not sorry.” Fact is, everyone goes through it. If there was a Family Feud list about internships in public accounting, organizing binders would be first on the list (wedgies being a close #2). Smile, complete the task, and ask for more work. That said…always ask for work. I don’t care if the well is dry 9 out of 10 times; you need to keep asking for work. If you literally have nothing to do, spend some time on case studies or industry webinars. There is nothing worse than having Tumblr on your screen the one time your manager stops by your desk. 
Remember to be respectful — Remember those two phrases your parents taught you — please and thank you. Show some respect for your team members. Thank them for the opportunity to work on anything, even binder organization. Thank them for their advice on XYZ or their insight on topic ABC. They were likely in your shoes at one point and genuinely happy to help.
Address people by their first name — Even if you are meeting Dennis Nally, refer to him as Dennis. Not Mr. Nally, not King, not Your Holiness. Dennis. 
Up next, dress code and the most important thing to remember during your internship.
Dress to impress
The Campus Recruiting team will be throwing multiple events in your honor this summer, and each one will have a dress code. If you don’t know what business casual means by this point, you should be removed from the herd and quietly taken out back. BUT, we'll still go over some basics. 
  • No shorts unless its specified. Even if they are given the okay, that doesn’t mean your Old Navy flip flops can tag along. 
  • Wear a closed toe shoe, like a boat shoe. Ladies can wear nice sandals, but then again their feet don’t look like they belong to a zombie in the Walking Dead. 
  • TOMS are slippers. Don’t even think about it. 
  • Keep your shirt tucked in. This isn’t a frat house. 
  • Before wearing a polo/golf shirt to the office for business casual, see what the local protocol is. Things are differ between NYC and St. Louis so it is best to follow, not lead, when it comes to fashion in the office.
  • Avoid cargo shorts, pants, anything. You are an accountant, not a roadie on tour with the Lumineers. 
You’re generally better at fashion than us men, so I’ll keep this simple and touch on two common observances. 
  • It’s summer and it’s hot out, so if you decide to wear summer dresses, keep them to an appropriate length. Also, cover up your shoulders with a cardigan if you’re wearing spaghetti straps. I overhear conversations between cranky, over-the-hill campus recruiters who point out the “inappropriateness” of your young shoulders gracing the group with their presence. I’m sure senior partner Dick Johnson doesn’t mind, but consider yourself warned that high school gossip never dies; it just gets grey hair. 
  • Only wear heels if you can walk in them. Any lady with common sense in a big city will keep a pair of nice flats with her at all times. Also, avoid changing into your heels at the event. Stop a block away and make the switch so you’re fully put together when you roll up to the event. You never know what partner will be outside on their cell or having a smoke.
Enjoy yourself 
Being a summer intern is pretty great. You work a little, make a lot, and position yourself well to earn a full-time job before your last semester even begins. You worked your tail off to get to this point, so enjoy it. This is the start of your bright future.
Oh, and for the sake of all of us here, share your stories, questions, and comments