By: Bianca Levine, Recruitment Manager for the Johannesburg office of PKF chartered accountants and business advisers

Varsity has been a lot of fun, but you’ve also worked really hard and exams have totally drained you. Finally, though, it’s holiday time and you’ve earned the right to relax and do nothing until next term – right? Well, maybe. But if you’re studying accounting and thinking of serving articles, why don’t you consider spending one or two weeks a year – during the June/July vacation or sometime in November or December – working at different accounting firms to find out which one suits you and where you would like to serve articles once you’ve graduated.

Firms are not all the same. They have different cultures, and it’s worth trying them out to see where you will feel most comfortable. Some will be fairly formal and have a strong corporate atmosphere, while others will be more relaxed. At PKF we think of ourselves as a family where trainees enjoy a lot of personal attention. I know that our vac students, apart from learning a lot about how the profession works, have a lot of fun and often refer their friends to us.Size is another major difference between firms, of course. You may think that articles at one of the Big Four accounting firms is the most desirable thing, and of course it would be great if you could spend some time at one of them to see how they operate. But it would also be well worth your while to check out smaller firms to understand what they do and the markets they serve.

Mid-tier accounting firms generally work for a wide range of clients, from large corporations listed on the JSE  to smaller owner-managed, highly entrepreneurial firms. Trainees therefore gain a wide range of experience during audit work, spending time at enterprises in different industries such as media and telecommunications, financial services and insurance, as well as a variety of manufacturing concerns.If you do work at an accounting firm like ours during a vacation, you will spend about two days visiting companies where we are busy with audits, getting the chance to speak with the trainee accountants , managers, and possibly even the partner involved. In my experience, this time observing a real audit in progress is sometimes quite revelatory, since the theory you learn at university gives you only a vague idea of what accountancy is like in practice. After all, these are vibrant businesses having a big impact on our lives, and a visit to e-TV, for example – just one of our clients – can be really exciting.

The rest of the week at PKF is spent working on mock business plans, considering strategies, and learning to work in teams. It’s hard work – like the real working world – but also stimulating, even exhilarating. At the same time you will experience the camaraderie at PKF, and on the final Friday afternoon enjoy a social outing to wrap it all up. Actually, there is one last thing you’ll get as you leave at the end of the week – a payslip with what I’m sure will be welcome pocket money for the rest of your vacation. Just to help you relax that much more.

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