How to manage an intern in today’s tax firm

Practice Management tax firm manager and employee

At the end of July, we finished up our annual summer internship program at Horsford Accounting & Advisory, and similar to many other firms, this was a summer like no other. COVID-19 interrupted normal business for millions of firms and companies, including ours. As a result, we were forced to make several changes to our program that ultimately led to a successful internship.

Every summer, we hire one intern into our eight-week in-person summer program. The program runs from early June to the end of July, and is designed to give interns hands-on experience in tax compliance. Interns assist in everything from tax return preparation and research, to bookkeeping and other areas. A manager is assigned to the intern, and serves as a mentor throughout the program. There are weekly meetings between the intern and their manager, culminating with a final presentation to our staff on a chosen topic.

This year was very different.

COVID-19 posed a unique opportunity for us to rethink how to deliver an experience that would still allow our intern to get to know our firm, and vice versa. Our team of leaders made the decision for the firm to go completely virtual, including the summer internship program, with no in-person experience, no trips to clients’ offices, and no team lunches. As we thought about the necessary changes, our goal was to ensure the intern we hire would still get a valuable experience, despite these limitations.

Our intern, Alice, started June 1. Considering the internship would be completely virtual, we replaced weekly check-in meetings with weekly Zoom calls, and instead of Alice joining our team for office visits, we had her jump on Zoom calls with our clients. Team lunches were replaced with a weekly virtual “evening social hour,” where our team chatted about different topics or shows that we were all watching. Most importantly, the in-person instruction we normally provide to our interns had to be replaced with phone calls and, of course, more Zoom calls.

Now that the internship program is over, we can say it was a success. Alice was great. She was able to work very efficiently, despite being completely virtual because she was used to working virtually at school. Unique to this year, Alice was able to work through the July 15 tax deadline since the IRS pushed it back from April 15. Tax deadlines are often the busiest periods for tax practitioners, so it was a great experience for her.

Alice recalled her internship experience: “Working at Horsford Accounting & Advisory was the ultimate internship opportunity. I was able to work very closely with managers on challenging engagements and see what a tax season is really like.”

As our firm moves forward, we hope to continue our in-person summer internship program in future years when situations allow. Either way, we are confident that we can deliver a rewarding experience, be it in-person or virtually.

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