July 2008 - Posts
A quick piece of math to share with you all.
I know, for a blog run by a CA, there's really very little math, eh?
Don't act so shocked - in my day job I'm really more of an auditor than an accountant, despite what the "A" stands for in CA.
Yes, this photo's only tenuous connection to math is the presence of the "30". Nothing says "I hope I'm going to carry the one correctly" like a speed limit sign. ... What? You try and find a better accounting related photo in my vacation photo collection!
Anyway, a reader wrote in to ask how much time I spent studying for the UFE and the related preparatory exams.
I've written on this subject several times, but after a quick search of my archives, I don't think I bothered to try and figure out the total. So here we go.
We'll estimate the number of weeks first, then convert that to hours at the rate of 40 per week. This is a bit of a 'cheat', since sometimes you're doing 50-60 hours a week - especially during the SOA, I would say - while during UFE prep days a 30-35 hour week is not only possible, but recommended to avoid burnout.
So, let's break things down by exam:
- CKE: you study for two weeks before the exam itself - while enjoying the Christmas holidays, and get a couple of weeks of training from your company, either when you start, throughout the fall, or usually a combination of both. Total: about 4 weeks. Some people study more. I didn't, I had to spend some quality time in the hospital. Fun. I'm probably forgetting a week, so let's make it five.
- SOA: some people spend the month before the exam getting ready. I kept going to work instead, a choice I clearly don't regret. I did some prep work the week before, then spent three months attending the SOA, attended firm-provided training, and wrote the exam. Total: about five weeks.
- UFE: studying was completely on hold until results came out. Then studying started in earnest. That was roughly nine weeks - let's say ten to account for some time I forgot about.
This adds up to twenty weeks, or 800 hours.
I probably shamelessly low-balled the estimate. If you include time spent meeting with my mentors - yes, plural, reviewing cases during the 'off-season' - that is, in the springtime between the CKE and the SOA, writing my posts here at ACS, and doing other studying-related things, that's easily another 5 weeks, or 200 hours worth.
So I think it's reasonable to estimate the time spent studying was at least 1000 hours for the successful year spent preparing for the UFE in Ontario.
You can see that someone who starts studying earlier, and how takes more time off, say in May, to study can easily hit a higher total, tossing in another 150-200 hours or much more.
I don't think it's necessary, though, unless you really think you're going to get the Gold Medal. But that's another story.
Speaking of loosely stories, the July spam count is 902. A troubling increase, unfortunately - in June there were only 788 pieces of junk mail.
Today's special trivia: bonus points to the first person who correctly identifies the general area where today's loosely-math-related photo was taken.
Much ink has been spilled, and electrons zapped, discussing the merits of working at a Big Four firm versus smaller firms. To get started, check out a post by the esteemed Steve McIntyre-Smith who writes about the upsides of working in a smaller firm.
To brutally paraphrase his argument, if you want to be an accountant who helps small and mid-sized businesses with their numbers, it's the way to go to get experience doing the nitty gritty technical experience that they'll find indispensable.
His post is aimed not at students, though, but rather at CAs who are looking to sell themselves to smart students looking for work. As a result, he of course doesn't spend much time on the Big Four side's arguments, because to those with experience they're well known.
For the sake of my many readers who are still in school or about to start their first big time jobs, in a nutshell the upside to the Big Four side boils down to the fact that you deal with Big Audits, and the associated prestige that comes with that. Travel is more common, and the resources you have to support you (from in-house UFE prep programs, to related training) are much stronger. Plus, large firms mean big groups of people your own age, since a few hundred people get hired every year at your own rank - so if you lost touch with your university friends, you won't have trouble meeting new people. Don't overlook that "Big Audits" reference, either. That refers to audits of big huge multinationals. If you'd like to work for one of those one day, this is a good way to get started down that path.
Conversely if you hate large groups - some compare the experience to high school, except with smarter and more mature people - then a smaller firm may be just what you want. You may be the only new kid, or one of less than a dozen depending on how small, exactly, your smaller firm is.
Because smaller firms deal with local clients, travel is less frequent, and to less distant locations. Depending on your preferences, this can either be a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.
If this were a UFE case I would make a complete, neat list of arguments and point in one direction or another, and make a conclusion. In that spirit, all else held equal, go for the Big Firm.
It is generally a little tougher to get into them, and they still have excellent reputations that'll take you far. And if you decide you prefer pure "accounting" over "audit", which is where they specialize more heavily, you can always apply to work for smaller firms, who will invariably be very pleased to have you join them. Or if neither of those directions appeals to you, the Big Firms have many specialized departments that you can consider picking from.
Keep in mind that upon transferring you'll have to learn a whole bunch of new things that you never did at the Big Firm or didn't have to do at the Smaller Firm, just due to the nature of the client mix and size of the audits.
Switching: easier than passing the UFE
I will say, however, that you shouldn't stress out too much over whether you end up here or there. With a few years of experience under your belt, you'll hear from people. If you want to switch, having your CA - or having successfully written your exams, anyway - will make it easier for you to find a new job in a different company.
I've seen people leave both big and small firms, to try out the "other side". Some stuck around and were pleased with their new arrangements.
Others decided what they really wanted was to go into "industry" - lingo for any non-CA-firm job.
So remember the first trick is to get yourself hired. Be as picky as you can afford to be - i.e., decide which type of company you'd like to first try. If it works out, wonderful. If not, Steve argues that it may be tricky to come back from industry to "the profession." I will defer to his wisdom - he's been around a lot longer than I have, so it may in fact be tricky to make a complete shift back. But I've seen people do it as well, so although it may be difficult, it's not impossible.
Steve has only written a few articles on his site, but they're filled with some interesting ideas - worth checking out. He's also had some writings published, including this article published in the Bottom Line on the topic of staying versus going.
Worth a read, especially when recruiters start calling you and you need help deciding what to do. The example is a little "too perfect", though Steve doesn't apologize for the scenario, given that he strongly favours the Profession.
One of the more interesting hidden points linked with his argument that you'll do better in The Profession than in Industry is the subtle statistic showing the inflation in salaries over the past ten years.
What he cites as decent pay for someone with a mere three years experience a decade ago, is now considered average starting pay.
Though it makes you wonder what the true inflation rate in the general economy has been through all these past few years.
It's easy to say that this post wins the prize for "most descriptive headline ever."
It's even better than that one. Oh England.
Just as I booted my computer I thought to myself, "gee, it's been a while since someone contacted me here with a question."
Question in my inbox, in reference to a recent post.
For a first year, do you actually get to take the
entire month of July off after writing the SOA? In the Big 4 firms, do
the UFE in-house training classes begin in August, or late July?
Anyway, thanks for the questions - the answer to the first one is, yes, unless you want to work - and your company allows you to.
This isn't a consistent rule by any means. I got to return to work after the SOA for three weeks. It was an enjoyable return, since I got to travel during that time, one week going to an exotic client site, another week attending an training course for my day job, IT audit. I remember that week well - it only took place a mere two years ago.
I was in class, feverishly hitting "F5" on Friday morning, waiting for the results to come out. I was still listening to our instructor, but I had warned him in advance that I'd need to actually be using my laptop to check the results.*
The moment they did I instant-messaged my friends - I made it!
One of them was both kind and bold enough to announce it to the entire class - IT auditors don't all sit for CA exams, so not everyone was paying attention to this the way I was.
The class congratulated me. A really happy moment, I have to say.
Fun side note: it's a little rude to sit on your laptop while someone's
teaching you unless you're taking notes, or you have some other good
reason. But at the same time I don't act want you think I'm all high and mighty - those 'good reasons' do in fact exist. Check
out comment 186 for more of my opinions on that topic. 188 wins the award for, "good for
you, but I'd like to never meet you to avoid having my eyes roll back
so hard I can see my brain." #189 wanted to pick holes with my argument and brings religion into the mix, so I went ahead and pointed out that they broke one of the Ten Commandments in their response to my comment. Score? Catholic Computer Users 1, Presbyterians 0.
I heard that this year all the people who wrote were supposed to take the time off. And I know we're busy with work, so rather than keeping people away because there's nothing for them to do, this seems to have more of a tactical decision to encourage people to relax rather instead.
But I'm sure that as with me, there can be exceptions if you really truly want to back in the office to earn a few extra bucks instead of taking unpaid time off.
As for the second question, yes, in-house training begins either in late July or early August. The exact details depend on the firm you're with and the calender itself. Some years you'll start the Monday immediately following the release of the SOA results, other years if the results are released relatively earlier - or if the UFE takes places later in September, the whole schedule gets shifted slightly.
That should take some mystery out of the process - there's mystery enough to it all without the Wikipedia bureacrats deleting large sections of the UFE article on a whim. The link you'll get isn't the regular UFE article but to a "comparison" page showing the dog's breakfast the article has turned into since I last touched it.
I quickly decided to go and fix things up because some people with minimal energy had last touched the article and it was an embarassment to the CA community at large in its current state.
I just wrote about getting the CPA designation - a relatively easy task for someone who already has either a Canadian or Australian CA at this time.
You might ask - "so does this mean that's the next step for Krupo?".
Well, probably not.I feel like I have enough designations at the moment.
The CA is great, more than enough really.
But thinking that Neil was going to write in June - trickery! - I wanted to be just like all the other cool kids - peer pressure is alive and well - so I went ahead and registered.
Bonus points to the first person who leave a comment which correctly identifies what's in the above photo.
Fast forward to a few days ago - dateline last Tuesday - I received confirmation this week that I passed the June CISA exam.
With no false modesty, There was never any serious doubt I wouldn't. I mean, I walked out of the exam hall in under three hours.
It's a four hour exam.
Some argue that the exam is subjective:
You will not know how you did when you finish the exam because the questions are extremely subjective.
I, as you can imagine, disagree. I also chuckle and yell "HA!" when I see that sort of sentiment.
The trick to an exam like that the CISA is similar to the CKE - don't overthink your answers.
The simplest "correct" solution is usually the right one. Thinking, "oh, but what if this is also true" will lead to your failure if the "what if" isn't stated anywhere in the question.
Study all you want, but if you overthink it, you're going to suffer.
When talking about the "school" side of accounting, I mostly write about the CA exam process, because that's what I'm familiar with. It's fun to talk to students who are working hard on becoming Chartered Accountants.
But in the US things are very different, as I've learned from paying attention to learned people like Francine.
If you're an American reader looking for hints on becoming a Certified Public Accountant - a designation I'm not 100% familiar with by far, then you don't have to look far - The Journey to Success site - itself a home to some useful hints - recently put out a call for more CPA exam blogs and one gentleman happily obliged.
His site's only been up a month, but it already has a pretty handy primer on the CPA exam process for those who know very little about how to get started. Hopefully you'll find that helpful.
It took me a while to find facts for the next point - while doing research for my 'bonus' fact I came across a handy link to a "CPA career path" page. If you ever wondered, "what will I do with this designation?", this page will give you some ideas.
I do have one bonus fact for Canadian CAs though.
You are lucky in that you get to write a relatively straightforward reciprocity exam so your hard-earned CA gets the CPA to stand alongside it.
Do many people do it? Well, I think substantially less than half of CAs do - this is based solely on anecdotal evidence. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say perhaps 5% or less Canadian CAs bother - our own designation stands quite well on its own around the world, fortunately, and in some American jursidictions having a CPA is not necessary, depending on what type of work you're doing.
Some states, however, have strict rules which will actually stop you from working there if you're a 'foreign' CA.
This will only really be an issue if you plan to cross the border a lot to work on audit engagements in States where the rules are especially strict.
If this is an issue, a quick search yields many resources. The New York CPAs put together an excellent resource on this topic - talking about CPAs getting a CA, and CAs getting the CPA. That should be enough to get you started.
Check out this post for HR people, teaching them how to deal with the plague of non-HR people taking on the "VP of HR" job position, even if you're not in HR, it's relevant.
Just replace "VP of HR" with "VP of what you're interested in" and mentally replace references to "HR" in the rest of the article with whichever group you're in (finance, audit, marketing, IT).
I'm really working my way towards "VP of Playing with Fire"
Here's six of the most pertinent of the eight suggestions - check out the site for the full list.
- Get out of human resources! No not permanently, but try to take on
some other responsible role in your organization in order to learn the
operational side of the business.
- Learn the financials of
your business, of business in general. If you skipped those finance
classes in school go get the education.
- Pay attention to your industry beyond the HR aspects. Read industry periodicals. Read the marketing and operations stuff.
- Speak up! Make observations, make suggestions. Get paid attention to. Be a resource for solutions in general.
- Take on the hard assignments. Volunteer.
do what you are currently doing VERY WELL. If you don't know your own
craft and you do slip-shod work no one is going to care what else you
Think about that list. Rearrange the words to refer to whatever you're doing and the areas you're currently not familiar with. It's almost scary how well the advice crosses over to help those in other areas too, eh?
If you're going to e-mail me a job offer - where'd you get my address from, anyway? - consider running a spellcheck on your announcement first.
And hire a decent proofreader or editor to make your pitch look serious.
If you can't even bother to do that, at least do something proper with your layout.
Misaligned paragraphs and bullet points make me think you really have no idea what you're doing. I was thinking of demonstrating it myself with some funky formatting but the very idea hurts my brain and upsets my eyes. I'm sure you've seen ugly formatting before, no need to commit another atrocity of design
No matter how tantalizing your offer is, nothing make me think of my friend's warning that "recruiters are there to help a company with high turnover and often unpleasant work environments" faster than a basic failure to look act like a professional.
Instead, these small tragedies cause me to picture a greasy, dank boiler room where the product is people, and they're hunted for profit.
Using a string of dollar signs, and exclamation marks for that matter, is more likely to get me to respond by crying "Agh, sketchy", rather than a call back for more information - or to refer my friends for that matter..
Example of how exclamation marks often hurt more than they help. "NEW!" Who cares? Especially when you don't have the best reputation to begin with.
really need to be on your best behaviour if you're pitching something
like this at me. After all, I like to pick where I'm going. If you're
going to cold call me with a suggestion - and it happens surprisingly often - do at least be ready to share fun information like the pay range you're floating before me - it's a most convenient way to figure out the true nature of the "high demand" for mildly experienced CAs - and useful information for anyone wondering what they want to do with their lives.
Keep in mind I'm already in the mood to chuckle at the idea of you merely contacting me out of the blue.
What's this? A phonecall? E-mail? Courier pigeon? With a job offer?
friends are in school or have just graduated and are scrambling to find
a job. I feel a wee bit guilty by this embarrassment of job offers. I
do think about calling these people back to see if they can hook up my friends.
I'm still very much in the "happy with what I'm doing with my life" camp, though, so the tongue-in-cheek analysis continues.
But I do believe I should see if my friends can somehow get help. The main problem, of course, is that they aren't "recently qualified CAs", so I'm not sure if the recruiters will be much help for them. Well, that, and I don't think I want to entrust just anyone with my friends' fledgling careers.
Be sure to check out that atrocity of design link for the #1 hit for that phrase at the moment - it's awesomely horrible. And click here to login and leave comments.
Part three in the series of "vacation question" posts. Click here for part two.
Another reader's question:
Is it common for juniors to take extra unpaid time off to study for CKE, SOA, and UFE? If so, on average how many unpaid days/weeks do people take for each of those tests?
Using paid time off (PTO) is both common, and essential.
Most companies will give you some paid time off to study, in addition to your vacation time. So you're looking at anywhere between 20 and 50 paid days off to study - most likely a number somewhere in the middle of that range. At the upper end, 50 days translates to 10 5-day weeks. Most juniors take a week or two off for the CKE - the Christmas holidays help you save some of that precious PTO.
I never knew the joy of travel during my UFE writing year. But then I didn't show up to work for an entire month the following spring - guess when I took this photo? - so I feel like things balanced out nicely.
The SOA is the next big 'sink'. It's about 3 or 4 weeks - your total use is now up to roughly 5 weeks of your PTO. Some people choose to take time off in May to prepare for the SOA. I didn't and was quite happy with my decision. Others worked on crazy-busy jobs and needed some time to unwind.
After SOA some people go on vacation. I had just taken a long adventure to travel before starting my job the year before, so I took "going back to work" over "relaxing." So the month of July will either be another stretch of PTO - you're going to now exhaust it - or time to make some extra cash by showing up at the office.
In late July - for 2008 it's actually this Friday - you find out if you passed the SOA. After that larger firms run their in-house training courses to prepare you for the UFE. Smaller firms send you to a course run by a third party. This time is often treated as "work" and as such, you don't have to use your PTO.
But by early-mid August the work-sponsored training will wind down. You'll be on self-study time and you'll find that either you've cleverly saved another week or three of PTO, or it's all gone. If you're living on your own budget carefuly for August/September when your paycheque suddenly disappears.
So to answer your question, an unpaid leave of absence of at least a couple of weeks to as much as two months or more is possible and will occur. I did all I could to minimize the unpaid time off, others don't care about earning the cash as much and decide to rest instead.
Hope that helps answer your questions.
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This is part two, continuing a series of three posts. Previous post.
A reader asks:
I assume it's next to impossible to take vacation during the busy season, so that leaves April to October, and maybe mid-late December open for vacation requests? But as a junior staff accountant, how hard is it to get vacation during this period, with so many things going on (CKE/SOA/UFE exams)? From your experience, are there any legitimate "tricks" that would maximize one's chances of getting vacation requests approved (e.g. submitting requests at a certain time)?
First off, if you're going to take time off during your first year, it means unpaid time off unless you have the Most Generous Employer Ever. I'll explain why tomorrow in part three, but in a nutshell, all your vacation time will be "spent" on study leave, so if you want to take a vacation it's doable, but it'll cost you.
If you insist on submitting a vacation request for your first year, do it as soon as you know who to contact - don't wait at all. That reduces the risk someone will assign you "work" you can't get out of. And if they do, there will be plenty of time to fix up your schedule. If you want vacation in July, don't worry, that's given out freely in most places, though.
Having said that, let's assume you want to take time off after you've finished with the exam and no longer need to sacrifice your summer to studying.
If you look carefully you'll see treadmarks on the sidewalk. A sidewalk I had been walking on moments earlier. Great driving buddy, take a vacation.
It's not impossible to take time off during busy season, but it's certainly inadvisable. There are seven things to keep in mind:
- Most (Canadian) firms want you to take your vacation time so you don't burnout.
- Firms will assign you a schedule a year in advance, or even longer.
- You have the luxury of booking your time yourself.
- If you're smart, you'll avoid official or unofficial "blackout periods".
- People won't think of you favourably if you actively dodged work.
- Skipping out on the big clients means you'll lose out on the biggest learning opportunities available to you in preparation for your professional exams. This is huge.
- If you have something more important than learning - let's say, the most important family wedding imaginable which you must fly to India or Europe to attend because you're the maid of honour or the best man - most companies will let you take off even in the middle of the worst part of busy season. But you better have that reason and repeat it so all know why you're doing what you're doing.
Before diving into the details, here's my strategy - which has been working for years now. Look at your schedule, find the gaps. If you have work booked on a stable client, avoid losing that "reliable" work by getting yourself removed to go on vacation.
You will most likely have some delicious gaps to fill if you're looking far enough in advance. If you're booked 100%, force a gap into existence, taking time off the least 'important' client. And by that, I mean a client where you've never worked on before - in that case anyone can replace you - it's not critical that you and only you do that work.
Looking in advance to book time off is key whether you're a CA or an employee in a small store - owners need to plan to have replacements on hand to cover while you're away. No matter what profession you're in, use the magic of Sufficient Advance Notice to do virtually anything conceivable, or find a workplace that can better accommodate your life - that was probably my 395th suggestion to consider quitting in favour of a better workplace in the past month.
Remember - as much as you're a unique snowflake, you're also an interchangeable cog in the machine who can be easily replaced by anyone else.
No blackouts! Well, short blackouts.
What should be considered "good news" by anyone worried about an insanely small selection of vacation dates is that fact that the "blackout period" is a lot shorter than you think. For plain vanilla auditors, it's January/February. For tax people it's April or June, depending on whether you deal mainly with personal or corporate income taxes - in Canada, anyway. In other parts of the world deadlines shift around of course.
In small firms you're more likely to be dragged into helping with taxes, so your "blackout period" may actually be longer than I predict. Large firms, on the other hand, often put people into separate "silos" so unless you volunteer to torture yourself - you'd be surprised how many people do - you'll have plenty of flexibility with respect to planning your vacation.
Holidays for all, except auditors
But, with one big fat exception, you can at least count on the fact that around Christmas your office will be absolutely dead, because:
- Many managers will be taking time off so they don't lose their vacation days before the year end,
- Your religious colleagues will go off and celebrate the Holy Days with prayer and related festivities - who would Blackberry more work to you from Midnight Mass? See the Avoid Sociopaths rule - and
- People like to boost their paid vacation days with public holidays, and Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year's turbo charge the time off.
As with everything I write, I did hedge the above with a mention of a big fat exception; first year financial auditors have a huge one to keep in mind: inventory counts.
One of the chores I've been able to avoid experiencing by working in IT audit is the dreaded inventory count - I have tested inventory controls at crazy hours to boot - but I haven't had to find myself ordered to attend an inventory count. Regular auditors, on the other hand, are required throughout their first couple of years to do a few counts - the exact number depending on how busy your office is, of course.
Inventory counts often happen at the year-end. That means there's a chance you will up be sent to do an inventory count. Near, or perhaps on December 31.
Kiss New Year's Eve or other vacation plans goodbye.
First, you'll probably make it out to the evening's parties - the client you're auditing probably wants to go home too.
I think I just heard the bitter laughter of someone whose inventory count lasted past midnight and into the new year - there are companies that specialize in running inventory counts so your client's staff don't have to, which could of course still make your life hell.
Secondly, you now know this little piece of hell exists, so you can do something about it.
Make friends with whoever has the power to set the schedule, and volunteer to do counts in October, November or early December instead.
Either that, or simply plan your vacation in advance - by booking it off at work as early as possible. If you think just buying tickets to Punta Cana will help, it won't. It does nothing. Planning in advance - 9 to 12 months lead time is a good idea will save you all kinds of silly hassles, especially those associated with counting boxes and supplies in a drafty warehouse or snowy field.
Tomorrow: part three - how does time off work for CA students?
Leaving comments - new readers: click here to sign in and leave comments. I hate signing up with a new ID everywhere too, but just hook up a new username with a valid e-mail address and you're set.
I just wrote about the importance of taking your vacation time - and got some great comments and questions in response. In fact, I'm running a three-part response. This is part one.
One of the comments I received points out that the mere ability to think about going on a decent vacation depends on where you live:
It may sound insane to not take as many paid vacation days as possible,
but it is a common practice in Asian countries, notably in Japan and
Hong Kong. Even though employees are entitled to vacation days on
paper, most of them do not take them. It is a given that employees
should work just as hard as their bosses. This is not only done to
impress the bosses, but also because this kind of brutal work culture
is so entrenched in the society that this is simply "the way it is."
That's a good point. And is yet another reason why I'm not to keen on working out there. Visiting, sure. Transfers, no thanks.
Smoking is not a recommended way of dealing with the stress of heavy workloads.
Readers chimed in with more questions though, having been thoroughly scared by the forewarnings of nasty hours.
Is there anything a first-year audit junior can do to avoid working excessively long hours on the job? I have heard, and understand, that during the busy season long hours are unavoidable, but are there at least some things one can do to keep them at a minimum? Or is everyone pretty much stuck with this brutal "rite of passage" on the quest for CA?
Fortunately I can say yes, there are. The first move is self-evident - don't work in Hong Kong or the "crazy work ethic" parts of Asia.
Assuming you're now settled in Canada, continue by doing as much research as you can to find a firm or department with a good culture that encourages balance. In my experience, hours are worst on finance industry clients, and get better in most other areas - so if you're at a larger firm and have a choice of 'industry areas', remember that the banks and insurance companies have some of the toughest 'crunch time' seasons, where the most hours are worked.
Having started with that, I continued thinking and came up with some more tips to go along with the above - this list got so extensive I feel like I should probably produce a Videojug clip to demonstrate these suggestions:
- Top tip: If you're stuck doing something boring and repetitive, find a way to do it faster! And remember some other key audit tips that should make the work more along more smoothly. Examples:
- Look at last year's workpapers. If they don't make sense, ask questions until you understand what they mean.
- If you find anything that makes you feel stuck, don't spend more than a couple of minutes wrestling with it. Everyone would rather you ask a quesiton than waste 2 hours on a wild goose chase.
- Always ask your senior or manager if there's a more efficient way to do whatever you're doing, if it feels like it's taking forever. Demonstrate what you mean by "taking forever". Maybe you're doing it right, and maybe you should be using the "copy and paste" features in Excel more!
- If that senior or manager is busy, switch to working on something else until they can answer your question.
- If they're busy, write down your questions so you don't forget them when it's time to get answers.
- Sometimes the client can explain what you're looking at - use your professional judgement. As an auditor you'll often be asking "what does this mean". If their answer doesn't satisfy you, check again with your superiors to see if what you just heard is reasonable, or if you need to dig deeper. Avoid digging deeper when you're new unless you know that it's what you should be doing
- Remember to speak up when you have a huge workload. If someone says,
"could you also do this", don't just say "yes" and suffer until
midnight. Make it clear you have a life.
- Some jokingly suggest that having small children that you have to pick up from daycare is a way to get to leave work earlier. Of course they joke about this, because you have to become a parent, spend time parenting, and often log back in on your computer from home to keep working later. Young parents, if anything, have a heavier workload than you can imagine, so let's write off this idea.
- If you're not a young parent, then you may have a boyfriend, girlfriend or just parents you haven't seen you in weeks. In that case, make sure your manager knows. The managers are usually not much older than you and unless they're sociopaths, they won't want to feel guilt for the failure of your relationships!
- Avoid sociopathic managers.
- Even if you're single, commit to activities outside work - a work or non-work sports team is a good choice. You need exercise, and letting down another team would mean you're a bad team player. Managers respond well to the teamwork argument.
- Be ready to stay late on other nights to help the team make its deadlines. There's some give and take - yes, people will be nice to you, but you'll have to give out a judicious amount of support yourself. This is probably the "easy" part of the equation - few people will make it hard for you to stay busy. But before going home at 5 p.m., do offer to help your senior to finish some more work. If you run out the door without reporting back to them some will become bitter. I've never had this problem - the people I've worked with have been wonderfully hard working, but you don't want to be known as that kid who "just takes off and never offers to help."
- Now that you're known as the "hard worker", reap the fruits of your rewards. You worked hard and offered to help. When you're done turn off your cell phone and ignore it until the sun comes back up when you're going home - you worked hard to meet the deadlines you were given. If you're 'released', run like the wind. Nothing sucks more than trying to go home at 8:30 p.m. only to be roped back in because you were naive enough to answer your phone at 8:45.
- Avoid getting double booked. As a first-year this is less likely, but
then again, anything's possible. You should feel happy to know though,
that first-years are generally spared the worst brunt of workload. Your third or fourth year in a firm is often the worst, as you now know how to do stuff, and you're required to teach others how to do it too.
- In addition to all the above tips, it's most important that you avoid goofing off. Seriously - sometimes heavy workloads crush you. Sometimes you crush yourself by procrastinating and not getting work done quickly and instead taking long smoke, coffee, myspace, suntan, and staring-into-space breaks. In that case you have no one to blame but yourself.
- A dozen magic words: "Do we have the budget to have me working here that late?"
There's usually more than one reason to end up working long hours - learning ways to get work done more efficiently as well as making sure you do all you can to 'manage your managers' will help you greatly.
These weren't the only questions I received. I also received questions related to booking time off in the first place to enjoy those vacations. I'll continue with a "part two" tomorrow.
Leaving comments - a note to new readers: click here to sign in and leave comments.
I hate signing up with a new ID on separate sites, but all you need is
a quick username and your e-mail address (not shared with anyone!) and
you're set. I'm still working on finding a way to make leaving comments
more obvious/elegant, but short notes like this will have to suffice
Every time I see someone write about how they have "so much paid time off" to take, and no time to take it, I can't help but shake my head.
Shortly after coming back from vacation last April I already started plotting my next bit of time off.
It'll be in December, when I use up the remainder of this year's vacation time.
Thanks to some careful planning I still have over a week off, and
the Christmas holidays mean I get to enjoy almost a full two weeks off,
which is simply awesome.
Plotting time off, as well as fancy dinners.
This all of course reminds me of a friend who scoffed in response to all this gleeful talk of vacation planning - "your entire life is a vacation."
Hey, if you can pull that off, more power to you, I say.
Even a child can realize that the world we live in asks that people work far too much considering the abundance of resources on the planet and the number of able bodied people able to help harvest the fruits of our collective labour.
In a way, not taking enough vacation time is a good way to help Destroy the Planet.
You earn more money, but you waste more of it on toys to make you more productive, like disposable meals - you don't have time to cook, after all.
Besides that, ask yourself - how else do I waste resources by staying up late?
You get sleepy, make mistakes, and end up wasting paper, electricity and anything else you consume in your job. Burning out means getting sloppy. Which means inefficiency.
I haven't done any thorough research - but a quick google search already points out one study that reminds us of the stress our health care workers suffer from.
Multiply making a mistake a day by 365 by 6 billion people, and you're contending with over a trillion avoidable errors a year. Yes, that assumes every single person makes a mistake, but it also assumes you only make one a day.
For argument's sake, there's still a lot of avoidable errors. And some are minor. Many others end up killing people - think of all the botched hospital surgeries you're heard of, for example.
If you don't take time off, your company will use you to do the job of two or maybe even three people.
Those are the additional people they would've hired had you not decided to work until 10 or 11 pm every night.
Great move, ruiner
If you're not taking your time off and if you're working too late for that matter, you're causing mistakes that waste money - money that would've been better spent employing another university graduate who is instead forced, at best, to work a lame service industry job to try and pay off mountains of student debt.
And all those underpaid kids end up subsisting on toxic junk food instead of something more nutritious, like the organic food we should all be trying to eat more of. But they can't afford it because all the funds are showing up in your pocket. And no matter how much you're paid, it's never enough either - you end up spending it on more toys as well.
Gizmos and machines that end up in the garbage heap in a year or two, while you're still heavily in debt because you're trying to buy yourself the happiness you lack because you're working yourself - and the world - to death.
Yes, this all started off as a quick reference to the importance of taking your vacation days, and now we're raising the spectre of global apocalypse - let no one ever say I don't have a flair for the dramatic.
And at least now there's no mistaking how seriously I take a balanced work week and judicious use of your alloted time off either.
Shortly after writing about how to get hired to work in audit, I got another question from another reader: "when can I transfer out?"
There are two issues - how do you transfer, and when do you transfer?
The when is relatively easy: anywhere after about a year after joining the company you're at. But let's get specific.
Most people stick around until they write the UFE. Note I didn't say "pass", just write
One of my friends took off before the results even came out!
Most, however, will wait until they find out if the passed. If they did, it's easy to pick between departments, though most will wait another year or so - once you're a "senior" or on the verge of hitting the rank for those with two years of experience, many more doors begin to open. They stay open as you become a manager too - so there's no rush either.
If, unfortunately, you fail, you'll be more likely to stick around for another year to attempt to write. Some companies give you one or two shots before forcing you out of the audit arm of the firm, others are more generous and give you three or four shots before giving you the option of either moving to another division other than audit, or walking out the door.
The reason for the "forced transfers" is that audit firms need you have certifications before your rank gets too high in the firm. It's an ugly downside to UFE prep which definitely gives people a little more stress than they need. It's best to ignore it as best you can - remember, you'll eventually succeed, and if you have to work somewhere else to finish, you will find an office that wants you. A young auditor with 2 or 3 years of experience will always be valued by someone, somewhere.
Since it takes at least a year in most cases between joining a firm and writing the UFE - even longer in Canada's Western provinces where you have go through several prep 'modules' - that answers the question, "what's the minimum time before I can try and transfer."
Realistically, you generally won't look attractive to others until you have between 2 and 3 years of experience anyway. This generally coincides with the time it takes to get your CA certification - 30 months - but if you're a few months away from getting it, you'll probably get the same treatment as someone who already has it - assuming you're going to do more "Big 4" work of some sort, you'll probably get enough experience to finish your CA "apprenticeship" period.
Next comes the how part - you can't just pick any department you want and go there. Well, if you're lucky, you can. But in most situations if you're good at your job, and the company you work for doesn't want to lose you, they'll let you transfer.
Some companies will even have 'internal career fairs' where they show
off the other groups - tax, consulting, fraud investigation, even HR.
The reasoning being they'd rather have you take on a new challenge
instead of quitting the firm and joining the competition because it
feels like there's "nothing there for you."
But sometimes politics will block a transfer. Either the other group you're trying to join doesn't need you - which should be made apparent quickly - any competent group will make it clear whether or not they need more people. If they need you, they'll pull all the strings they can to get you in! But the ugly side of politics is when the people you're working for don't want to lose you, which can be subtle and is always unfortunate if you really want out.
There's only so much you can do - and it all centres on telling people with "decision making power" what you want to do. If they sympathize with your goals, you may get lucky. If you're not blessed with supportive bosses, you suffer the same fate as befalls proletariat the world over - you're trapped in the shop unless you stage your own little October revolution, answering the recruiters the calls, loosening your shackles and moving on.
I can't predict what situation you'll find yourself in. Every company and every city has a different set of people working there. The optimist in me suggests that you're more likely to get support than resistance, but the cynic in me won't guarantee it.
Of course, if you're in a situation where people are blocking your goals, it's probably in your best interest to find some new bosses to work for.
Just be careful and make sure you're truly being "blocked" or are being held up for a short period while major jobs are wrapped up. That's completely valid, and you wouldn't want to senselessly burn your bridges unless you know that you're doing it for the right reasons.
A reader wrote to ask:
is it fairly easy to get hired at CA training office in Toronto? How
difficult it is, what do they look for while hiring new interns?
The short answer is no, it's not that easy, unless you have top marks in your accounting and audit courses and some strong supporting interests on your resume, like participation in student groups, part-time job experience or something else that helps you stand out from the crowd.
If all you do is put together a resume and blindly shoot of resumes to every firm in sight, your chances of getting hired - either full-time or as an intern - are going to be 'average' at best.
But you want to fly around the world doing audits - how do you stand out? It's not too hard.
It starts with planning. And to plan, you need to set some goals.
Your goals are as follows:
- Know what you're doing. This includes knowing when you should apply for the job.
- Show potential employers you know what you're doing. This includes getting the right marks and experience, and meeting with potential recruiters when you have the chance.
- Figure out that this is really what you want to do.
The first point is easiest to answer here - ask around, either at your university or by contacting the firms themselves to learn when recruiting season occurs. It's often 9 to 12 months ahead of the date when you'll start working. Exceptions sometimes pop up, but as I've written, I wouldn't count on that approach.
If you plan on starting full-time work at a Big Four in Canada around September 2009, you're going to be applying for work this September/October. If you're applying for internships for the summer of 2009, you will similarly be showing up for those fall recruiting events. Sometimes there are separate events for full-time job seekers and interns, but I've seen them just as often combined into one event.
Some firms invite you to visit their offices as a group from school, others will come visit your campus. Many do both.
Take advantage of those trips. You'll feel busy balancing life with firm visits, but if you want to get a head start on applying, this is probably the best thing you can do. I was going to say I didn't bother much with recruiting events as a student - which is true - but I did do a few firm visits as a member of my campus accounting students group - I was the newsmagazine editor, naturally.
Marks and resume building
Mentioning the Student Group angle is a good segue to the second point - you need to plan ahead to have a strong resume to get in to the more competitive offices. If you know you're not going to get straight A's, plan to have some strong extra-curriculars to shore up your resume. Even if you get perfect on all your tests and rarely flub your CR's and DR's, you need to show you have a life outside the classroom, so do find some activity to show you have a life.
I went to the crazy extreme of being somewhat bored with classes, so I definitely overloaded on the extracurricular side, but it worked out well for me - nothing like explaining that your non-A marks were due to being involved in so many extra-curriculars and getting hired anyway.
I don't find anything wrong with this, naturally - who else would have experience filing corporate meeting minutes, doing tax returns for a federal corporation - including filing GST (VAT) refunds, and training a new generation to take over the job upon graduation? But you should definitely be careful with this approach because not all employers will necessarily recognize all that hard work, instead filtering you out of the applicant pool solely because of your marks.
Marks aren't that important at all firms - you need at least a B- average in your CA courses to be eligible to write the UFE - and people with better marks tend to do better on the UFE than those with B averages, but you can easily show you're the exception that beats the rule if you're smart about it - by just showing you're naturally clever through your conversations and interviews.
Obviously you need to plan far in advance to set up a study schedule that allows you to succeed in your courses. If you see you're failing in a course, don't soldier through it, DROP IT and take it again next semester!
And having a resume jam-packed with extra-curriculars in 4th year university and a big blank spot from 1st through 3rd year does scream "padding" or "fluff" - do try and start getting involved in 2nd year or sooner. In addition to making the resume look stronger by virtue of your longer involvement time, you'll be more likely to reach a senior 'leadership' position in the group you're involved in. And "participant" never looks as good as "captain" or "organizer", obviously.
So put those thoughts of "resume padding" or "fluff" aside - find
something you're actually interested in - it can be a sport or activity
like being in the film study club to support your minor - perhaps as
its treasurer, or something fun like an intramural sport - and you'll
have a decent mix of marks and experiences to get you in the door.
What about partnership?
I've written enough today, and probably could have just saved this blurb for another today - but I really wanted to point you in the direction of an post before I forget which points out - among other things - that you're going to have to find a half million dollars when you're "invited" to become a partner in a big firm. That article, another gem from Francine, points out the difficulties associated with making it in the Big Four world, and the risks you take on by becoming a partner - which some will argue aren't sufficiently rewarded by the pay you get in return.
Definitely some interesting thoughts to consider - and reading that will make it easier - or maybe harder - to answer the question, "do you want to stick around and make partner?" - that people will occasionally pester you with once you're hired and have stuck around for long enough for people to engage you in small talk about big things.
Before getting into some commentary that won't appeal to most readers, I'll start by doing a super Q&A right now for those of you starting on your summer internships:
I invite you to send me more questions about either getting into the
CA program, what it's like when you're already there, or any other random
questions you have. There's a handy "e-mail me" link here or you can send mail to my gmail account. It's "acsblog".
What should I expect to be paid during my internship?
If you're doing an internship for a newspaper or other publications, quite possibly zero. But you probably knew that already.
If you're working for a CA firm, on the other hand, your average paycheque will be close to if not very similar to that of newly hired "full-time" staff.
I am not just writing that to rub salt in the wounds of my friends studying English. But I am aware that this is a side effect of stating those facts.
What should I expect during my internship?
The luck of the draw. You will either...
- Find yourself on a series of serious jobs where budgets are tight, the number of staff is short, and they're relying you on the start to help meet crucial deadlines, giving you more overtime than you ever expected to see in your short stint in the professional world. You don't joke about bringing a cot into the office either because you fear they'll say "good idea" or because it's already happened. Your family files a missing person report when they fail to hear from you and you really do feel like you've been kidnapped.
- End up sitting or walking around, waiting for "real" work, and instead doing what people in medical fields call "scut work" - make friends with the photocopier. If you don't know how to fax, you soon will. Older staff take advantage of you being there by volunteering you for work which may or may not actually be real, such as car-wash fundraisers for the "Human Fund" - and I don't mean the group in Cleveland - or the ever-popular "Skyscraper Window Washer for a Day" job swaps.
- Have trouble staying sober because it's party time every night of the week - or if it isn't, it just feels that way. Special social team-building events, excursions to locations both near and exotic, and tons of swag to drown in. Your liver hates you, but you don't care - this is what you spent all that time figuring out the difference between DR and CR to get a 100% score on your exams in first year accounting so you could score an intern, and now you're letting loose - you know you look damn fine in a cowboy hat, no matter how pasty your skin is..
Whichever extreme scenario you tend towards, good luck this summer.
It goes without saying that some combination of the above in less extreme proportions is equally - or perhaps more - likely. But people love hearing about the extremes - although it says a lot about you whether you prefer to hear about #1 or #3 - so I had to oblige with the best caricature a few hastily written lines of text could create.
Enough about interns - what's the deal with the lack of activity here?
I haven't been exceptionally busy, but I've had a steady stream of things to do. In spite of that, last month was one of my most quiet on record, in terms of writing here - scratch that, it was the quietest - just 4 posts.
I could just blame the summer weather, and it's partially to thank.
That and getting involved all of a sudden in four sports - if you count biking to work as one of the four sports, anyway.
Maybe coaching people for the School of Accountancy exams had something to do with it too - the exam was written just this Wednesday. Results come out later this month - fingers crossed that everyone made it.
And, continuing the incredibly disparate tangents, is there any correlation between the lack of writing and the fact that I only got hit by spam 788 times? The May post where I mentioned I got hit 801 times actually sheds some light on what happened to the last month - I was writing an exam myself!
Between trying to actually spend time with friends - catching up with those who I didn't see while squirreling away with the exam prep books - and all the other distractions June just flew by.
I have much to write about but won't start now because it's late, I'm tired, and I doubt many people will soldier through to the end of this little self-indulgent bit of meta-commentary. But if you did, I salute you and invite you to read some of my recent pearls of wisdom on this now 123 comment long posting on another site.