Congratulations on getting an internship. Public accounting is a great start to your career and will be great on your resume whether you continue to pursue public accounting or otherwise.

What you will be doing as a Big 4 Audit Intern

Interns are a prized possession by audit teams because they will do the tasks that no one else wants to do. This doesn’t mean that the tasks are difficult or hard, but rather just the opposite. It’s fitting for the intern to have these kinds of responsibilities because they are often tasks that do not need a lot of instruction. Here are a few of the most common tasks (and how to be a pro at them).

1) Placing orders for lunch/dinner, and picking it up/having it delivered.

When we are confined to a conference room for countless hours of the day, the absolute best part of the day is eating. Plenty of (billed) hours are spent scouring the online menu for the perfect meals, just slightly under the price threshold.

How to be a pro: Develop a system, and stick to it. The most common method for interns placing food orders is either through the firm’s instant messenger or through email. You’ll likely start by sending out a menu to everyone. Make sure to send out the menu, not the website. For example, instead of take the extra 2 seconds and find the menu online and send it out as Write down their order or print out their emails.

Do a completeness check. Completeness in audit means making sure that everything that should be included, is included. So completeness of a food order means DON’T FORGET ANYONE. If the team is in multiple rooms, it probably means the managers/partners are in another room. Make sure to run down your list of who you sent the menu out to, and who you got orders from. They might not want to be bothered to place an order, but they will be upset when they don’t get food.

I know it sounds trivial that I’m explaining this much about placing a food order, but it will be a large portion of your responsibilities and is one of the only times some of the seniors and managers interact with you – so don’t mess it up.

2) Sending out confirmations.

Auditors send out confirmations to third-party bankers, customers, and vendors. For example, you could send out an accounts receivable confirmation which is a document that says something to the effect of “The auditors want us to ask you to confirm that you owe us money. Please confirm that you agree that on 12/31/22, you owed us $XX for invoices 1, 2, and 3.” The company being audited will sign these paper documents with their letterhead, and then they will be mailed out by the auditors with return envelopes that go back to the auditor’s office. So a company that has accounts payable with the company you’re auditing will sign it (hopefully) and say that they agree with what was said within it. An intern will frequently be tasked with taking these letters to the office, copying them, and mailing them out.

How to be a pro: Make copies and SCAN! I was an intern and sent out some confirmations and lost one of the copies. The team will usually tell you to make sure you make copies of everything you send, but making a copy and a scan of the document protects you from you or someone else losing the paper copy. Before you put them in the envelopes and send them off, do a 1-to-1 check, matching each original with the copy. Then just run all the copies or originals through a scanner. Grab a folder from the supply room and put a label on them.

3) Actual Testing

If you’re lucky you might actually get to do some auditing! The most frequent type of testing that is done interns is going to be some simple stuff, but doing it with 100% accuracy is what you’re after. One of the biggest things that will help you is when you find out what you will be working on, to look through the prior year’s testwork. Try to get an understanding of why the work is done the way it is and what the audit objective is. Usually, there will be a “Purpose:” in the file somewhere to show you what it is doing. Here is an example to see what kind of testing you will be doing.

Accounts Receivable confirmations:

To test those accounts receivables “exist,” auditors send out a confirmation to the customers who owe them money, with the hopes that the company responds and says yep, that is correct. An accounts receivable confirmation will look something like this (in obviously more legal terms):

XYZ Firm is auditing our financial statements, and we need your help with one of their procedures. Back on 12/31/XX, our records show that you owed us $10,255 for invoices 112, 114, and 119. Could you confirm that these numbers are correct?

The customer will sign that they agree with what is on the paper or disagree and mail it back to the audit firm office. They could also just not send it back at all, which happens pretty frequently.

Your job is to (I assume other firms do it this way, I can’t imagine another way) scan the mailed confirmation to PDF, and then document it in the PDF, and make it look exactly like the prior year’s confirmations. If there isn’t prior year paperwork, they will show you the template for how to document a confirmation. There will be a confirmation test Excel sheet with the invoices and amounts listed. You will agree to the amounts that were signed by the customer to the invoice amounts in the testing sheet. You will reference the file name for the PDF confirmation beside the invoice in the Excel sheet, and then from the PDF to the Excel sheet. This is called “ticking and tying.” This sounds simple, but make sure that you review your work, and don’t leave anything out.

4) Rely on other interns or first years

You aren’t expected to know everything as a Big 4 or accounting intern and are definitely expected to ask questions. I would recommend choosing who you ask questions to, depending on the question. I say this because seniors usually have a lot on their plate and their time is in big demand. If you have simple questions about the software, expenses,  or where to drink at the upcoming intern conference, try to reach out to first-years or other interns. All large firms have internal chat software where you can easily communicate these quick questions. Especially if you are doing a winter internship, the first years are perfect because they have been through all of these same questions recently (if they started on the usual fall start date). I don’t mean to discourage you from asking questions from the senior because you should feel you should be open to any question. Also if you talk among your intern cohort, it looks like you are really smart and just know the answers!

With all of this said, one pet peeve people have of the interns is that they appear to be scared to ask questions, and end up sitting there doing nothing. This is not what you want. If you are stuck, ask a question. If you don’t know what you’re doing – ask questions. The good thing about public accounting is that you learn so much because you are forced to ask questions and get immediate direct feedback. You will typically be sitting in a conference room with 4-8 other people, and if one person doesn’t know the answer, someone in the room will. My point with this last tip is to think about your question first, and then direct it to the most appropriate person.