8 Career Lessons Learned From My Accounting Internship

By Robert Half December 7, 2016 at 8:15am

A year and a half ago, Belicia Cespedes wrote an inspiring post about how she became a CPA. She finished high school at 13, received her bachelor’s degree at 16 and became the youngest voting member of the American Institute of CPAs at 17. Writing this at 19, she continues to be enlightened about her career path as she finishes her accounting internship.

I know I don’t have too many years under my belt to offer great wisdom. But I have some experiences to share — career lessons, if you will — from the last year and a half. It all starts with my accounting internship at a Big 4 public accounting firm.

Actually, it was networking that led to my accounting internship. By the fifth CPA conference I attended, I had grown annoyed at all the lectures on the topic of networking. Nonetheless, I found I was inadvertently doing exactly what those gurus were telling me to do — attending conferences, gathering information, researching my options, building relationships and networking.

Along the way, I was also put in touch with several recruiters so I could begin not only to explore potential fields but also firms with which I could work. That’s where I was introduced to public accounting, and I started an accounting internship with a Big 4 firm in the fall of 2015.  

What have I learned?

1. Accounting internships have value  

I honestly believe that you cannot know you love something until you are able to work in it for a period of time. I always knew that I wanted to become an expert in a niche of accounting but had no idea what that pursuit that would be.

My accounting internship has provided me with the opportunity to explore some of those specialties and gain a realistic experience of what they would involve in day-to-day life.

2. Mentoring is amazing

Throughout my accounting internship, it amazed me how every professional at the firm is willing to help me. Their own unending to-do lists never seem to hinder their readiness to talk to me about life, answer questions about projects, guide me through expectations, and give me mentoring and career advice.

I am increasingly proud to be a part of this group of amazing people, as I begin to meet and know more of them every day.

3. Communication is key

At the start of my accounting internship, I was hesitant to talk to anyone, because I wanted to be respectful of the little time they had to address the million other questions and issues that are part of every CPA’s daily life.

That was a mistake. Over the course of the next year (my accounting internship was a special case that was extended over the year that I worked on my master’s degree), I learned that it is helpful to both parties to discuss things consistently.

I love lunch meetings now, and not just for the food (although that is definitely a huge factor). They allow both people to get on the same page, which promotes efficiency, understanding, morale and even joy in the workplace.

4. Age is not a deciding factor

Many people ask me how it feels to be a teenager in a professional environment. Honestly, it was weird at first. But isn’t a new office and environment a little weird to everyone initially? I’ve learned that my age is not a liability in any way. In fact, it can be one of my greatest assets. Capitalizing on those assets is another key lesson my accounting internship has taught me.  

5. Uniqueness has its advantages

What makes me unique is my story. At first I thought that story helped me get into the workplace and was completely useless from then on. I was wrong. My story gives me a unique contribution. I can relate to and understand certain clients and situations differently that my coworkers because of my age and upbringing. I am still learning how to use that uniqueness to its full potential, and probably will for the remainder of my life.

6. Opportunities are endless

Every week, there seemed to be another charity or networking event, promotion or resignation, new client or project — all additional opportunities. There are so many ways accountants can affect the world around them. Each of us has different destinations, and therefore, different journeys. I believe I found the next step in mine through my internship.

7. Forensic accounting is cool

I’ve been privileged to be able to explore a few different fields and lines of services that I thought I’d be interested in. These included risk assurance, core audit and forensic accounting. I love the work and feel as if I found a way in forensics to contribute to something beyond myself, to the greater good. Besides, it feels pretty awesome to be a part of private investigations that essentially solve puzzles for clients.

8. Public accounting can be fun

My first case was one in which we were involved with supporting a client in an investigation of an embezzlement perpetrated by the company’s CFO. This may not sound particularly interesting to some, but it is fascinating to me. I believe anyone who identifies a career for which they are well suited will honestly be able to have fun with the work, people, opportunities, relationships and privileges of their position.

I am so excited to start working full time in public accounting next year. I look forward to plugging into the people, projects and opportunities the firm provides. We’ll see what the future hold for me!

Read Belicia's story: How I Became the Youngest CPA at 17.

Belicia Cespedes, CPA, graduated in 2016 with her master’s in accounting and information systems at California State University-Northridge. She is treasurer of the American Women’s Society of CPAs and was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People by Accounting Today in 2015. She's working now as a forensic accountant at Pricewaterhouse Coopers. 

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