Navigating your internship: The inside scoop from a campus recruiter

Written on May 16, 2017

By Alyssa Lieb

You printed out countless resumes, answered the same questions in 10 different interviews, signed on the dotted line, and now it’s internship time. Before you walk through the door on your first day, know the do’s and don’ts that will guarantee your internship is a success by summer's end.

Justin Novak, CPA, assurance manager and campus recruiting champion for Ernst & Young of Cleveland, offered helpful advice for how first-time or even experienced interns can get the most out of an internship.

“I first interned with EY in 2009, but I didn’t start full time until after I graduated in 2011,” he said. “Now that I’m on the other side doing some of the recruiting, primarily at Baldwin Wallace since I’m an alumnus, I have the opportunity to be the first point of contact for potential interns.”

Being involved in recruiting, you know connections and networking are essential. How can an intern make those connections and begin to develop a professional network? 

By going through the recruiting process, you enter the internship already having a few base connections, so the key is to build on those. A firm or company’s training at the beginning of an internship is a great way to use your time to meet other interns. Oftentimes you’ll also be assigned a mentor who is higher up, so use that opportunity to learn about his or her career path and how you can make the most of your internship.

Once the internship is over, how can an intern best keep in touch with the contacts already established?

It can be several years before an intern might start as a full-time new hire, and if that’s the case, keeping occasional contact can be a good idea. Emailing those you might have worked closely with to see how things are going with a particular client, or asking how busy season might have gone are simple points that keep the connection alive. Take advantage of any firm sponsored events you might be invited to as well, but don’t think you have to attend every single event in order to stay relevant. Just attend those that fit into your schedule.

How can an intern know what is appropriate dress for the office?

Every firm and company will vary depending on the policy, but usually interns will hear a few days before the start of the internship from a point of contact regarding what to expect for the first day, including dress code. In any situation, it is always acceptable to ask if you’re unsure. Reach out to a point of contact such as the recruiter or a mentor; they can always point you in the direction of someone who will help you prepare for your first day.

What are the most common mistakes you see interns making?

Oftentimes it’s the little mistakes that appear the most; the ones that could be avoided. Always check your work yourself before submitting it to a supervisor. Be able to look at past information and address what might have changed, rather than just repeating what was done in the past. Regardless, mistakes are a natural part of the process. We don’t expect interns to have advanced audit or tax knowledge, so we know mistakes could be made. Interns have a strong foundation from their classes, so an internship is the time to build upon those skills. You can take what you’ve learned from other areas and apply it to specific situations during your internship.

If an intern realizes a mistake has been made, how should it be handled?

When mistakes happen, the best possible thing to do is be accountable and own up to them. Be willing to work through it, ask questions, and ultimately learn from it so that the mistake could be avoided in the future. Also, don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you don’t know something. Again, we don’t expect interns to know everything, so admitting you aren’t sure after you’ve attempted to understand or complete a task is perfectly fine.

How often should an intern actively seek feedback and what is the best way to do so?

You might find there is an official internship feedback process, particularly after completing a major project or leaving an audit engagement. If the firm or company doesn’t have a formal feedback process, be proactive. Garnering feedback is the best way to learn your strengths and weaknesses and how you can improve. Seek out formal feedback every few weeks, and simply just ask. Feedback can also be more informal; in the end, the main goal of feedback is to build upon your strengths and learn and adapt from any areas where you might not be as strong.

What is the one piece of advice you would share with interns as they start their internship?

Ultimately, your internship will be what you make of it, so do what you can to make the most of it. By receiving the internship offer, you have already established you have a great foundation, but the intangibles will make a real difference during the internship. Be prepared and willing to work hard and constantly seek out scenarios that will allow you to continue to learn. You’ve earned the internship, so take advantage of the opportunities that are afforded to you. This is your chance to learn more about the firm, its employees, the clients, and different industries; in the end, you want to find the place where you can succeed and be your best.

Alyssa Lieb is a Master of Science in Accounting candidate at the University of Akron and an OSCPA student ambassador.

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