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Summer Interns: How Top Accounting Firms Can Create Effective Internship Programs

Summer interns represent a valuable talent pool for accounting firms. They bring fresh perspectives, eagerness to learn, and a chance to shape future talent. The integration of summer interns into daily operations at accounting firms provides a critical opportunity for the firm to get the most out of the limited time they have with the interns while also providing valuable skills training and experience for the students. By strategically assigning tasks and leveraging the unique strengths of interns, accounting firms can both enhance their workflow and contribute to the professional growth of the next generation of accountants.


The Strategic Importance of Internship Programs

Internship programs are more than just temporary employment opportunities for students; they are a cornerstone for building a resilient and adaptable workforce. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), internship programs are crucial in preparing students for the workforce, with the conversion rate from intern to full-time hire standing impressively at 57.6% in 2021-22 (NACE). 

This statistic underscores the importance of internships not just for students but for firms looking to cultivate a pipeline of talented individuals. This is especially true in the accounting field where the shortage of qualified professionals is causing a crisis (read more about that here.) Internship programs can be a great way for firms to attract students not only to their firm, but to the profession in general, making it a crucial strategic cornerstone for the industry.

The benefits of effectively managed internship programs extend beyond immediate productivity gains. They include enhanced employer branding, improved employee satisfaction among supervising staff, and a stronger recruitment position in the competitive accounting industry landscape. A survey by Glassdoor revealed that companies with strong onboarding processes improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70% (Glassdoor). These statistics highlight the long-term benefits of investing in comprehensive internship programs.


Task Allocation: Balancing Learning with Productivity

One effective strategy to maximize the contribution of interns while giving them helpful experience is to delegate lower-value tasks to them, allowing more experienced staff to focus on high-value, billable work. This approach not only streamlines project timelines but also provides interns with a foundational understanding of the business’s operational aspects.

Tasks such as data entry, preliminary analyses, and preparation of simple tax returns are ideal for interns, as they offer practical experience without the risk associated with more complex assignments. Having your interns use Strongbox to extract data and deliver it in Excel gives the firm even more value, since the tool is easy for students to learn and allows senior staff to start working on the analysis piece even faster.

Being strategic with task delegation is a great way to create a structured learning environment (more on that below). Task delegation makes it easy for the interns to know exactly what is expected of them and therefore feedback can focus more on performance and less on clearing up confusion. To effectively delegate tasks:

  • Focus on Lower-Value Tasks: Assigning interns tasks like data entry, document organization, or initial client onboarding frees up senior staff to focus on complex analysis, client communication, and strategic planning.

  • Skill-Based Delegation: Match intern projects to their skill sets. Consider assigning accounting students comfortable with technology to automate tasks using tools like robotic process automation (RPA), while pairing communications majors with client service initiatives.



Creating a Structured Learning Environment

To ensure the effectiveness of this strategy, it is vital to create a structured learning environment that fosters growth and understanding. Providing interns with clear expectations and continual feedback contributes significantly to their development and the overall productivity of the program. Regular reviews and structured feedback sessions can help interns understand their progress and areas for improvement, making their experience both educational and integrative.

This sort of structure also benefits your existing team members from a career perspective. They learn valuable skills like coaching, and intern programs provide them with mentorship opportunities that can help them feel more fulfilled in their careers.

While task delegation is crucial, cultivating potential in interns goes much further than that. Here's how to create a nurturing environment that develops interns:

  • Mentorship Programs: Pair interns with experienced staff mentors to provide guidance, answer questions, and offer career insights.

  • Project Ownership: Delegate tasks with a clear scope and ownership to foster responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.

  • Learning Opportunities: Offer access to professional development resources like online courses or industry conferences. Encourage participation in relevant industry groups or associations.

  • Regular Feedback: Provide constructive and consistent feedback to help interns improve their skills and understanding of the accounting profession.



Leveraging Technology for Training and Integration

Advancements in technology also play a crucial role in the integration and effectiveness of internship programs. Tools such as virtual training sessions, cloud-based collaboration platforms, and project management software can facilitate remote learning and engagement, an essential aspect in today’s increasingly digital work environment. This technological integration ensures that interns can contribute effectively, regardless of physical location, and allows firms to maintain operational continuity.

Central to that technology should be tools like Strongbox that are easy to learn. Tools that require extensive training to use should be saved for long-term team members whereas tools like Strongbox can be picked up quickly by interns. This allows the interns to learn tools they can use once they graduate and enter the profession while giving the firm higher value out of their licenses for these tools.


Summer Interns: Conclusion

As accounting firms continue to navigate the complexities of the modern business environment, the strategic use of summer interns can be a game-changer in enhancing operational efficiency and building a robust talent pipeline. By adopting a solid approach with their interns, top accounting firms can:

  • Increase Senior Staff Efficiency: Freeing up senior staff time for higher-value activities directly translates to increased billable hours and firm profitability.

  • Enhance Client Service: Efficient workflows and focused senior staff attention ensure exceptional client service, strengthening client relationships.

  • Develop Future Leaders: Investing in interns builds a strong talent pipeline, ensuring a future generation of skilled and engaged accounting professionals.

By focusing interns on lower-value tasks, firms not only optimize their workforce’s productivity but also invest in the professional growth of future accountants. Ultimately, the effectiveness of an internship program lies in its ability to balance the immediate needs of the firm with the educational goals of the interns, creating a symbiotic relationship that drives collective success.

By embracing these strategies and continuously adapting to new trends and technologies, accounting firms can ensure that their internship programs serve as a vital component of their long-term strategic planning, contributing to both firm growth and the development of the accounting profession as a whole.


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