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Intern Insight July 12, 2013

I wrote my introductory blog post just a day before leaving Stephano Slack for a two week vacation.  I spent those weeks at my mother’s farm in Tennessee, where I spent my time working outside in the mornings and relaxing in the evenings.  This Monday, July 8th, I returned to work.

I won’t lie, I was a little anxious about the readjustment.  Though I didn’t feel like it had taken me long to find my place in the firm, I had no idea what had transpired there over the past two weeks.  As it turns out, my anxiety was misplaced: after about thirty minutes in the office, I already felt myself finding my routine.  The office was quiet on the Monday after 4th of July Weekend, so that made getting back into a groove even easier.  It was almost like I had never left.  It dawned on me how similar this was to college life – when preparing to return from a break, the apprehension about schoolwork before you arrive is always far worse than the return itself.  Believe it or not, it was calming to be back at my desk.

After an easy readjustment day, my workload kicked up a notch.  Since Tuesday, I’ve worked on multiple different projects.  Some of these projects involved working directly with client data while others involved some IT work that serve to improve our day-to-day functions as a firm.  It was almost like my first week again:  I was unfamiliar with many of the projects I was starting, so it took a bit of time for me to acclimate to the new software and procedures that I would need to use.  As always, my managers and the staff accountants were more than willing to help me move along the learning curve.

I’ve worked with 401(k) Employee Benefit Plans in two different ways.  The first project had me working with an audit.  In 401(k) audits, accountants take a sample of a company’s employees and apply testing procedures that ensure that the company is withholding the correct percentage of their employees’ yearly compensation for deposit into their 401(k) fund.  This particular client has hundreds of employees, but we chose a random sample of 25 employees for testing.  I was responsible for compiling these employees’ eligibility information into a worksheet that will allow a staff accountant to perform testing procedures.  My second 401(k) project involved preparing Form 5558 (a request for a filing extension on a 401(k) tax return) for a number of different clients.  It amazes me how integral technology is in today’s business world – all of this work would’ve been much more difficult and time consuming without the software tools I had at my disposal.

I’ve revamped our firm’s method of creating Engagement Letters for Tax Engagements by creating individualized letters for each of the entity types that we work with. Engagement letters are legal documents that describe the services our firm will render and what we require of the client.  It is important for us to have these individualized letters because all entities, whether they are an individual, an S-Corporation, or a Partnership, require individualized services.  As a follow-up to that, I’m currently using a program called DataScan to glean the few hundred points of relevant information for those letters (client name, mailing address, etc.) from the tens of thousands of individual data points that we have in our system.  By the end of today, I’ll have created individualized engagement letters for all of our tax clients.

This week I learned how to perform – and actually completed – a number of Math Checks.  A Math Check is the final independent review of a financial statement before it goes out to the client.  Math Checks call for the utmost attention, because they serve to insure that every number and word is correct.  It was empowering to know that my managers trusted me with something this important.

One of the things that really resonated with me upon my return this week was the level of communication and cooperation between the firm’s employees. For full disclosure, I’ve never worked in an office before – my last job involved manual labor.  Perhaps we are unique; however, in our mid-size firm, the communication never ends.  Employees at all levels of management are always asking each other questions and working together to solve problems.  Movement, interestingly enough, is a constant theme – there are always people moving back and forth throughout the office, but, at the same time, no one seems rushed.  This dynamic helps liven up the office, and does a great job of keeping everyone engaged throughout the eight-hour workday.

One of the most important things I’ve learned so far is consistent with the old adage “do what you love, and love what you do.”  You can tell that the employees here love what they do – to others, accounting may just seem like “a bunch of numbers”; to us, those numbers serve as our window into how individuals and businesses conduct their day-to-day lives.  The ability to understand these people and their relationships through numbers – and enjoy it – is a skill that I believe is unique to accountants.  On a less philosophical level (e.g., to put it bluntly), there’s no way that anyone in this office could manage to sit at their desks all day if they didn’t enjoy everything they were doing.

To anyone in college reading this, I cannot stress the importance of finding a substantive internship whenever and wherever you can.  I don’t know if I’ll choose accounting as a career, but my exposure to it here has shown me that I could definitely enjoy it.  I’m not even done, and these weeks at Stephano Slack have been more influential on my career plans than my first two years in college combined.

I’m sad to say that I am more than halfway done with my internship at Stephano Slack.  For the last five weeks of my time here, I will continue to write a weekly blog post with a description of day-to-day life at the Firm, life as an accounting intern, and the acclimations that are required when switching from classroom culture to a 9-5 culture.  Hopefully, this will help to enlighten college students or aspiring accountants to understand what it might be like to work in an accounting firm.  Feel free to contact me at kpollack@stephanoslack.com if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for these blog posts. If I cannot answer any of your questions, I will make sure they are directed to the appropriate person.

Thanks for reading.

Kurt Pollack

July 12, 2013