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Tuesday, January 4th, 2022

High School Interns

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” — Bob Proctor

I have often suggested, for an accounting firm, to utilize some high school interns. I think it is important to introduce the world of public accounting to a younger audience. Plus, I encourage practitioners to get involved in high school career days. If you have elementary children, why not volunteer to talk to their class about the accounting profession?

Maybe you will be encouraged to hire some high school interns by the following comments from Timothy Allen, MBA, Chief Operating Officer of Reilly, Penner & Benton in Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

“We started with high school interns this past tax season. We hired one as a tax administrative intern doing tax assembly, scanning, and other admin duties. She did such a fantastic job we hired her back as a tax intern this tax season. We have also started hiring college freshmen and sophomores as administrative interns with the intention of having them come back as juniors/seniors as full interns.

Going forward, CPA firms need to be creative and adventurous in their hiring practices. Add high school interns to your action plan.

  • Learning is finding out that you already know. Doing is demonstrating that you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers, and teachers."
  • Richard Bach

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Accounting Firm Interns

fullsizeoutput_4028“If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” – Chinese Proverb

The larger firms, who can afford full time HR professionals, have programs dealing with interns fairly well developed. However, mid- to small firms, if they hire an intern, often treat them like an extra administrative person.

Here are some tips and ideas regarding interns:

  • Treat them like full time hires.
  • Give them structured orientation (like a new hire).
  • Provide a job description – expose them to both tax and A&A.
  • Keep in mind that they don’t know the CPA lingo – teach them.
  • Give them real work – it has always been amazing to me how quickly interns can get up to speed on individual tax returns and even smaller business tax returns.
  • They love going in the field. Expose them to visits to the clients’ sites, in person.
  • Praise their efforts and keep in mind they are beginners – what they learn in college doesn’t relate to what they will do inside your firm.
  • Don’t give them administrative work – no shredding, no mindless data entry.
  • Provide them with business cards and take their picture when presenting the cards to them (after all, it is usually their FIRST business card). Send the picture to them and suggest they share it with their parents.
  • Challenge them to give away their business cards and keep track of the efforts. This makes them aware, right from the beginning, that marketing is important. At my firm, we had a give your card away game – you need at least two interns for this game. They give them to whoever…. grandma, mom, dad, dentist, college friends – how many can they give away in five days. They must keep good records. The winner gets a gift card.
  • Teach them to put their business card in restaurant fish bowls when they go to lunch – and place them in the bowl so the firm name shows!
  • I hire people brighter than me and I get out of their way.
  • Lee Iacocca

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

Winter Interns Arrive. Make Sure They thrive!

UCEBZORVVBI believe in hiring the most promising students as interns and then build your “grow your own” culture by making offers to the best of the best interns. Once you start this cycle, it quickly becomes a rewarding experience for the firm. Make sure it is rewarding for the interns because they go back to campus and TALK.

Visit schools with high quality accounting programs. You can find these high quality programs even in some of the smallest colleges. And, you have less competition.

Over a period of several years, at my firm, we did the above. It wasn’t long before students were seeking us out at campus events. Remember…. we made sure the interns had a great experience.

We exposed them to both audit and tax (they really don’t know which one they like – they haven’t done either). Yes, interns went out on audits. As far as tax, we found they caught on to the software very quickly and became proficient at preparing returns rather quickly (IF and that a big IF, you give them proper training and TIMELY feedback). Don’t “fix” mistakes for them – send the returns back so they can learn.

Here’s a link to an article that highlights South Carolina based accounting firm, Elliott Davis Decosimo‘s intern program. Here’s some highlights:

  • Treat them like full-fledged staff members.
  • Pay them well ($23 – $24 per hour)
  • Give them time off during the work day to be involved in charitable work.
  • Tax season interns are expected to put in overtime, too.

At our firm, we provided them with business cards and encouraged them to give them out to anyone… relatives, friends, dentists, etc. They also received basic training in marketing.

  • The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

This Post Is For Accounting Majors & Interns

Man DonkeyConsider your future. Don’t just let it happen because of various circumstances. Your professors and maybe even your parents are pushing you to take the job that pays the most money. They want you to work for a firm with great name recognition that will eventually look good on your resume down the road.

Is that how you want begin your career? Will that make YOU happy? Think about where and how you want to work. Not everyone is content with being a grinder. Many young people want to work where they have more freedom and a bigger voice in their workplace.

If you are an accounting major and interested in public accounting (I hope you are because there are great rewards in public accounting), be sure to explore all of your options.

If you are a top student and have a decent personality and work ethic – EVERY CPA firm wants you and will court you.

Be sure to consider, research and talk to small to mid-size firms. Contemplate what you want your day to look like. You’ll be spending a lot of hours at work.

You will need a lot of guidance and hand-holding during the first couple of years. Just being a good student with good grades won’t lead to success. You need help. Large national and huge regional firms have “universities” to train you. That’s nice and I am glad but sometimes you just feel like one of the herd. Look those firm over and determine if that fits YOU. Also, seek to find a firm that will help you, give you more personal attention, guide you… but not smother you nor pigeon-hole you.

My observation after many years working in and with CPA firms is that you will more quickly gain knowledge, experience, and expertise in a very wide range of duties/tasks/projects at a firm that is small to mid-size. You will get exposed to a broader view of how to serve SMEs.

If you are wondering about size of firms, here is how the AICPA classifies them for their Top Issues Survey:

  1. Sole Practitioners
  2. Firms with 2 to 5 professionals
  3. Firms with 6 to 10 professionals
  4. Firms with 11 to 20 professionals
  5. Firms with 21 or more professionals

I consider 1 thru 4 as small to mid-size. Just a qualifier, it’s not only size, it has a lot to do with the vision of the owners. I know 2 partner firms that are vibrant, exciting, growing and their small team loves it there. I know firms with 12 partners who are stuck in the past.

Do your home work before you accept an offer.

  • Work to become, not to acquire.
  • Elbert Hubbard

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Helping Your New Accounting Recruits & Interns Rock Their New Job

Have you checked-out Slideshare? If you are in a leadership position in a CPA firm, you need all the resources you can get. I’m always on the prowl for things that will be helpful to you to build a winning culture and a winning firm.

I really like this slide deck (My First 90 Days), on LinkedIn Pulse that is intended to help newbies make the most of their first 90 days on the job.

Starting a new job can be daunting. It’s time to meet your colleagues, impress your boss, get into the rhythm of your new role. So how should a newbie navigate those first 90 days?

There are only 14 slides that provide links to 8 posts on advice aimed a surviving a new job. The eight titles:

  1. Start working before Day One
  2. You can’t fix it right away
  3. Say yes to everything
  4. Ask your coworkers to lunch
  5. Listen to everyone you meet
  6. Make your boss look good (includes quote from Guy Kawasaki: “Either you rise to the top together, or crash and burn together.”)
  7. Take care of yourself first
  8. Don’t try to be the golden child

This is not just for newbies. CPA partners and managers need to read these posts, too. I frequently remind partners in accounting firms, “Don’t forget what it was like to be the new kid!” Most experienced partners admit they were lost, confused and clueless.

  • Make yourself available, work hard, and over time you will make yourself indispensable.
  • Richard Branson

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Summer Interns – Hire Them Even If You Don’t Need Them

New CPAs Freed MaxickTraditionally, public accounting firms focused all their recruiting activities around the “fall season.” Students were fresh.. back on campus… and their professors had prepared them for the beauty contest of the very active fall season.

I talk to many firms that still operate this way. I also talk to many firms who are just finishing-up the “spring season.”  It involves just as much work and intensity from firm HR professionals, firm administrators and partners as the fall campaign.

If you are not hiring summer interns – wake-up. If you are not identifying and getting to know the students you will be talking to in the fall – wake-up. If you think that being visible on campus just in the fall is enough – wake-up.

Accounting majors at prominent universities don’t know much (if anything) about local and regional accounting firms. Read more about why and how four students were surprised to learn that they could have the resources and support they thought was only available at the national firms at a local/regional firm.

Just a few years ago (including at my former firm) we did not hire summer interns because we didn’t have anything for them to do. Now, you must find something for them to do to keep them in your hiring pipeline. Some of the best students need a summer job!

Find projects where they can help. Let them shadow the summer auditors – there is always some repetitive work they can help with on an audit. They can also shadow in the tax area – have your tax team become your tax teaching team in the summer by establishing mini seminars on tax research, state & local tax, etc.

Check-out these good ideas via HBR, Hiring an Intern? What to Do Before the Summer Starts.

Some advice:

  • Craft your sales pitch. Even if you think your firm’s value proposition is obvious, dig deeper. Think hard about what a twenty-something is going to get out of 8 to 10 weeks of working side by side with your experienced, knowledgeable people.
  • What will your intern walk away with? What skills and insights will he/she learn on the job that will shape their career path, strengthen their network or help them decide once and for all that accounting is the way to go long term (and that your firm is flexible, fun, cool and prestigious).

What do you say to interns when they arrive? Check-out my Intern Speech and modify it to fit your firm.

Picture: Picture of new CPAs at Freed Maxick CPAs Buffalo office at their celebration lunch last week. How active are you at posting to your Facebook page?

  • I am often amazed at how much more capability and enthusiasm for science there is among elementary school youngsters than among college students.
  • Carl Sagan

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

What Do Your Interns Think?

It’s mid-February. At your busy accounting firm, your interns have been working diligently for about 6 weeks now. How’s it going for them?

First of all, you have to ask them. If you are a firm leader (that means you are responsible for others…. managing partner, any partner, manager, firm administrator, HR director, etc.), I hope you are touching base with them almost every day. Use two simple questions: How’s it going? Anything you need from me?

Is it time to take them to lunch as a group? From my experience, taking the interns to lunch was one of the most enjoyable aspects of my role as a leader. I was always impressed how knowledgeable they were about world events and the business world, in general. They usually knew more about current business trends than CPA firm partners with many years experience.

I also found most of them to be very good conversationalists and great dining partners. Use the time to share some of the things firm management is planning for the rest of the year. Encourage them to ask you questions.

Another valuable thing you might learn….. in six weeks time they have all the partners (and managers) pegged. That means they can tell you each one’s idiosyncrasies and probably can do impressions of them that will make you smile…. well, they will make you laugh out loud.

Send that email today – inviting the interns to join you for lunch. And, splurge – take them to the City Club, Country Club – someplace nice. Make it special.


  • A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.
  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

The Interns Will Be Arriving At Your CPA Firm Next Week

The title, above, might not apply to some firms but I certainly hope it applies to the vast majority.

My advice when it comes to interns is, if you can possibly use one – hire two. If you think you might need 3, hire six. Most of you know by now that hiring for the public accounting profession has evolved to hiring from your intern pool. The best and brightest almost always accept offers from the firm they interned with. The stiffest competition in hiring on campus is for the best intern candidates.

When the interns arrive, make them feel special. I often ask groups of managing partners how they felt on their first day working in public accounting. I get some very consistent answers such as: I felt dumb. I felt lost. I was clueless. I was scared.

Now that you are more experienced, keep in mind how all new hires in the CPA world feel. And remember, use positive talk. Sometimes, people in CPA firms tend to dwell on the negative. When you describe your firm and public accounting, in general, to new hires (and to anyone) don’t forget to brag it up!

In January, when new hires and interns arrive, it is a perfect time to talk about the wonderful opportunities in public accounting. As a firm leader, take the time to talk with each one privately about the wonderful world of public accounting. I suggest comparing public accounting to being a doctor – CPAs are highly trained physicians (specialists) treating patients – sometimes you are focused on preventive medicine and sometimes you are an emergency room doctor. Sometimes you even need to provide psychiatric help (like me in the picture, above).

Here’s an example of an intern speech for you to use, just insert the name of one of your all-stars.

“You know, Nate, the reality of the CPA profession and what makes it so important to you, is the fact that it is absolutely the BEST place to TRAIN for the business world. Public accounting teaches you how to think in ways that have never entered your brain before now. Being an auditor forces you to look past what is obvious. Taxes teaches you how to be cunning, creative and forces you to think proactively. You could say that working in the tax area is like planning the strategy for an important battle.

What’s more, public accounting is like the emergency room for all business owners. YOU are the DOCTOR and PATIENTS come to you when they have a painful problem. You strip them of their clothes (so to speak), see them for what they humanly are, do x-rays, CAT scans and all kinds of tests to be sure it is a thorough examination. You see into their personal life like no other person. Then you diagnose and treat them.

Also, Nate, if you keep your eyes, ears and mind open during your time with them, you will see how successful businesses are run and how true entrepreneurs think. You might also see how mistakes and poor judgment can take a business down. What a training ground!”

  • The nice thing about being a celebrity is that if you bore people they think it's their fault.
  • Henry Kissinger

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009


It won’t be long until you are back on the college campus for the fall recruiting season. It’s going to involve some challenging decisions this year.

Back in January, I talked about a trend by the helicopter parents to place their college students into unpaid internships.

I am now reading, in today’s WSJ, that even experienced people who find themselves out of work are taking on unpaid internships just to keep current and add expertise where they have had no prior experience.

Maybe some great accountants will want a busy season, unpaid internship? Somehow, I think I am dreaming.

Read the article here.

“Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” – – Mark Twain

Thursday, January 29th, 2009


Although I never observed it first-hand (I’m not quite THAT old), I bet many of the Mature Generation still at work in firms today, remembers the time of unpaid internships. Young people worked for free just to get the experience.

In the accounting profession we must now must now stage quite an extravaganza to win the best and brightest interns and pay them, what I think, is quite a hefty hourly rate.

The helicopter parents are at it again. Per yesterday’s Wall Street Journal: Some are paying for-profit companies to place their college students in internships that are mostly unpaid. Others are hiring marketing consultants to create direct-mail campaigns promoting their children’s workplace potential. Still other parents are buying internships outright in online charity auctions. Other tidbits from the article:

  • For profit internship companies have sprung up during the last few years.
  • They screen-out some applicants.
  • They help polish resumes and arrange interviews with employers that offer internships.
  • The internship company featured guarantees an internship placement or refunds the students’ fees ($5,00 to $9,500).
  • Parents are paying consultants to do direct mail campaigns behalf of their children.
  • Other parents are purchasing internships outright in charity auctions (an internship at a music production company sold for $12,000).

Read the entire article….

I don’t think we’ll see this in the CPA profession quite yet, but we are already seeing lots of behaviors from Millennial (Gen-Y) parents that we never expected, like accompanying their student to the job interview. Some firms already have special programs for parents of their potential new hires. Times They Are A-changin‘.…….

“Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” – – Socrates (470 BC-399 BC)