Careers Blog

Audit Internship vs. Tax Internship

Stephanie Atkins - Herbein Intern

Audit Internship vs. Tax Internship

I’ve been asked many times by many different people, “What are the differences between interning in the tax department and the audit department?”   At first this question seemed easy because tax and audit have so many obvious differences.  I could easily tell people the biggest different is that during the spring I was in the office the entire time and now I have the opportunity to be out of the office at clients.  In the tax department I was doing data entry for 1040s and in the audit department I am working on planning and field work.  Then I realized if the person asking me was not familiar with accounting terms, they most likely had no idea what I was talking about and my answer was pretty much pointless.  I started to really think about the differences between the two internships when my mom recently asked me the question.  She is completely accounting illiterate and I found that it was difficult to explain to her how different the two areas are and the different things I was learning.  I came up with a few really big differences and some similarities that I think are important between the two areas.

One of the big differences between the tax and audit internship is that being an intern in the tax department most of the work I did was independent.  I would receive a client’s folder with the necessary documentation and input it into the software.  I would reconcile it with an Excel spreadsheet and pass it off for review.  In the audit department, the work is done with a team of people.  Each engagement has so many sections that need to be completed for the audit that the work is divided among a group of people.  When you’re out doing field work, you are with others who are working on the same client just a difference section.  I really like this aspect of the audit internship because there is more interaction with the other coworkers.  Another big difference is the information I was actually learning from both internships.

In the tax department I learned the difference between deductible and nondeductible expenses, how depreciation is tax deductible in different situations, the different schedules that are part of a 1040, the different tax forms that are needed to complete a 1040, and different tax laws that I never knew existed.  In the audit department I am learning the content of financial statements, how to interact with clients, the many steps it takes to complete an audit, and so much more.  Both internships taught me a lot of important things in the public accounting career and I’m very fortunate that I got to experience both ends of the spectrum.  Even though there are major differences in the tax and audit internships there are also a few things that are similar.  In both, it is extremely important to be precise about the work that is being done.  In the tax department, a keying error can make a huge change to a 1040.  In the audit department, a keying error can make the information on a work paper wrong.  It is so important to double and triple check your work in any situation.  Another similarity between the two internships is that you will get out of the internship what you put in.  If you are interning and just do the work but don’t necessarily understand why or what you are doing, you won’t learn much.  When I was interning in the tax department I asked a thousand questions and bugged every person I could to explain things to me.  If I saw that someone was getting a deduction and I didn’t know why or where it came from, I didn’t just let it go or ask if it was okay.  I would always ask for the explanation behind it so if I saw the same situation again, I would understand why it was happening and not have to ask again.  The same goes for the audit department.  You could be an intern and working in the cash section of an audit and complete the work papers, but have no idea why you are actually doing the tasks.  On my first audit I was lucky to have Pavel who went into in depth explanations about each step I was completing and why it had to be done.

In my opinion it is always important to understand how and why you are doing something, especially in the work place because more than likely you will doing that task again.