Your Career in Accounting: Tax or Audit?

by: Smith and Howard

January 26, 2016

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We recently asked two of our newer staff members who are full-time but started as interns at Smith and Howard a few questions about preparing for an internship and choosing their specialization. Kaitlin Becker interned with Smith and Howard for one year while Slayton Gilmore interned with us for four years. Read below to see what Kaitlin and Slayton have to say about their respective departments.

What were 3 things that you were least prepared for in your internship?

Kaitlin (Audit): First, figuring out how to manage my time appropriately – balancing the large projects (the actual audits) with daily or administrative tasks (feedback forms, career development tasks, personnel forms or surveys, etc). Second, the low power distance – I still remember when Sean Taylor (Partner) casually came by my desk on the first week and asked if I could prepare a client engagement letter for him, and I had absolutely no clue how to do that. Which brings me to my third point – people don’t know what you don’t know. In other words, people will ask you constantly to help them with various tasks that may sound completely foreign to you. This is normal and the best way to find out is to ask.

Slayton (Tax): I was least prepared for the amount of responsibility given to interns at Smith and Howard, the amount of time management required to have a successful busy season, and the actual tax work as Smith and Howard really challenges its interns with variety, in terms of both types of clients and level of difficulty.

What was the one thing that was the most pleasant surprise about your internship?

Kaitlin (Audit): This would be the level of autonomy, responsibility, and respect that was granted to me right off the bat. At no point was I treated as a mere “intern,” but rather as a fellow staff member.

Slayton (Tax): It wasn’t really a surprise, but I was very grateful that Smith and Howard has an open door policy allowing and encouraging interns to ask questions from the partner level down to the staff.  I also appreciated the fact that everyone works with everyone in a team, and as an intern I had interaction with all levels across departments.

What advice would you give students preparing for their first internship?

Kaitlin (Audit): Take initiative.

Slayton (Tax): Maintain a positive attitude, always be willing to take on work and challenge yourself, find a system of time management that works best for you, and always be willing to ask questions.

What do you wish you had known before your first internship?

Kaitlin (Audit): As mentioned before, asking questions is so important, especially when starting in a field such as public accounting. Most of the job is learned through experience; therefore new interns are expected to know very little upon hire. All that matters is that they maintain a strong desire and ability to learn, and the best way to do that at the beginning is to ask questions.

Slayton (Tax): I struggled in my first internship with a general lack of knowledge and technical skills, and initially I was concerned that I did not know the correct answer every time.  I wish I had known that Smith and Howard expects interns to lack these skills, but yet encourages them to ask questions and solve the problem as a team.  This is why I strongly advise students preparing for their first internship to be open to asking others for help.

Why did you choose audit / tax?

Kaitlin (Audit): I was very unsure of which path to go; I was basically taking a shot in the dark when I chose audit. Since then, I’ve learned that I like the extra time spent out of the office that comes with choosing audit, as well as the face time spent with each client. But when it comes down to it, I believe I would have been very happy on either side because of the company culture as a whole.

Slayton (Tax): Simply put, I wanted to serve our clients by working to save them as much as possible through diligent and effective tax compliance.  The tax law is always changing, and I’ve come to really enjoy this as it requires me to grow and develop my knowledge in this area every day.

While both of our employees chose different specializations, their experiences bear out similar advice: don’t be afraid to ask questions, understand that you aren’t expected to know everything and as Smith and Howard, you’re given more responsibility from the beginning than you are at some other firms – a definite boost to your professional growth.

How can we help?

If you have any questions and would like to connect with a team member please call 404-874-6244 or contact an advisor below.