Last October I had the chance to climb a 14er, Mt. Bierstadt, for the first time in my life and as I was hiking I couldn’t help but think how the experience was very similar to my internship with Anderson & Whitney. I had the amazing opportunity to work for A&W as a tax intern for 2016. I loved that I could intern with a smaller firm, which is also the reason I chose to attend UNC in the first place. I wanted to know everyone I would be working with and not be insulated in only one department. It was definitely a nerve-racking experience going into the first internship of my whole life though. I had only taken one tax class, so I was not sure what real world accounting would be like at the time. Similarly, I had no experience climbing mountains. I simply had to have faith that no matter the obstacles that came up that I would have the perseverance to overcome them and the necessary support from others.
Just as with hiking, the internship was fairly easygoing in the beginning. I immediately started off preparing individual tax returns; some were as basic as entering W-2 information. I hit some bumps in the road that I was not expecting of course. On the hike, I was not prepared for crossing a stream with slippery rocks, so the rest of the time was spent with wet shoes. At work, it was a challenge to learn how to use all new software. I may know that a couple has childcare expenses but can I get the number to show up on the actual return on the computer was another matter entirely. As with everything it becomes easier as you gain familiarity with your surroundings and lots of practice.
I was thankful to have a great support system to help me along the way. At the time of my internship, I was still in school taking a full load of classes, all while working 20 or more hours a week. A&W was extremely flexible, working around my class schedule. As the internship progressed, the work got more difficult as I had the opportunity to do returns for individuals who owned businesses. I was able to go to anyone in the firm, whether it was a shareholder or staff accountant, if I had a question. Even though some of the work was frustrating, I knew that everyone at the firm wanted me to learn and grow with each new challenge, just as my friend did who came on the hike with me.
At times both experiences were overwhelming. You never know when you need to help out with an upcoming IRS audit or climb a minefield of rocks. But when you finally make it to the end of tax season or to the peak, it’s an amazing feeling knowing what you have accomplished in such a short time.
Now fast forward a year, I have officially moved from being a part-time intern to a full-time employee with two tax seasons under my belt. My transition was a bit different from most students’ experiences since I continued to work part-time after my internship ended. As one of my coworkers observed, I never really left. One day I was coming in only half the day and next I was there from 8-5, which helped ease me out of college in a way.
Over the past year, I have had the chance to work on many audit engagements for non-profits in addition to more difficult tax clients. Although as I got to experience the audit side of the business, I felt at times like I was an intern all over again. Here I was staring at my computer in utter confusion. Hadn’t I moved past this point yet? It helps to realize that there will always be something new to learn. One day you are just getting comfortable with performing one small section of an audit and next thing you know you will be doing a whole audit all by yourself. Every day brings something new, which I know students have a hard time hearing in the recruiting phase. Everyone is always asking what a typical day looks like and I will admit there is no one answer to that question. Every client is different and presents its own unique challenges. Just as every mountain is different. One mountain may make you feel like an expert and the next one you are back to being a beginner, which is all a part of the journey.