A Counting School - Hardcore Chartered Accountancy

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Epic levels of whinging about work in AuditLand - did someone not know what they were getting into?

Recently there's been a spate of people getting really depressed about their lot in life. No doubt this has a lot to do with the fact that the audit busy season is in high gear for a lot of people right now - many people are working 6 or 7 days a week, waking up too early and staying at audit sites until far too late.

I refer to a conversation I've been keeping an eye on - this relatively big thread featuring these unhappy, mostly young auditors.

Although the 250 comments in the conversation comprise a lot since the conversation started in late 2006, with over half a million people working for the Big Four firms around the world, not to mention all the small and medium sized firms I'm not counting, there's a lot of people in this line of work. Some even enjoy what they're doing and drop in to see what people are saying.

And so I don't feel like letting people indulge in their little pity party today.

Because it's a pretty damned interesting year to be an auditor.

The US economic system is facing possible implosion. As dark as it sounds, that makes this a pretty exciting time to be doing audits, the brutal hours notwithstanding, as you're testing all sorts of things that don't become issues during economic boom times.

And yet there's so much angry or depressed kvetching about working in a field that's not interesting or makes you miserable. One such person writes, thinking about how long it'll take to get their CA:

"If I make it, I’m am going to quit right away and actually start living my life. I’ll be almost 25 by then. Oh god, I know I will regret wasting my best years doing this horrible mess of a job."

I'm curious to know how many people staggered into this line of work not knowing that:

  1. The first few years on the job are pretty damn harsh - your "hell years" is the way some of my profs described it.
  2. You learn a lot. Auditing is a crash course in learning what works - and often what doesn't work.
  3. The learning you will experience will be "full immersion" - people will assume that you either know what's going on, or are smart enough to point out you have no idea what's going on. If you don't accept this, you will flail about helplessly unless you stumble upon someone willing to set you straight.
  4. Your work will be subject to constant investigation and "criticism" - this is known as the "review" process. Some people give review notes in a nicer way than others. Regardless, you need a thick skin to understand that whenever your work is challenged, it's in the spirit of clarifying or improving what you did - it's not a shot against you or your own skills.
  5. If someone gives really harsh review notes, well, look forward to working with someone else down the road - but if other people have survived their review notes, you will too. And you might learn something in the process.
  6. You were probably going to "waste" the best years of your life anyway, generally speaking, anyway. Get through the process in one piece and you'll end up in an excellent position to see the world or do whatever else grabs your fancy.
  7. "Almost 25" is still bloody young. Some people don't even start their jobs in firms like this until they're older.

While slogging through the Worst Audits Imaginable you may rightly encounter that feeling of "WTF am I doing?", but you can't let that overshadow the fact that few people experience what you're going through - which is exactly what makes you such a valuable employee when you emerge from the trials of AuditLand. I quote that same depressed commenter again:

I’ve been working for 1.5 years at a Big 4 firm and I really hate it. Going into a job without much knowledge of anything, trying to figure out how the entire accounting system and all the business cycles work in 1-3 weeks’ time… it’s a nightmare.

As much as it can be a nightmare, it's also the crucial learning experience that anybody with a sharp mind and an interest in becoming a hardcore CA is desperate to experience.

How many people can say that they've seen four or fourteen companies in a year, learned what makes them tick in a week or three - when it takes many people years to master an understanding of their day job let alone the entire company - and can then apply what they've learned to new scenarios?

Well most decent CAs and other professionals who have run through this intense training regimen masquerading as a job can, but as a fraction of the world's 6 billion person population, it's a pretty elite group - which is exactly why it's so hard to get a job here in the first place. There's a limited number of spaces, and those who are selected need to be able to hit the ground running.

Many of the commenters are worried that they're stuck in accounting forever, well, you're not. Yes, "Manager of Corporate Reporting" and "Controller" are common homes for qualified Chartered Accountants who wander out into the 'real world' outside AuditLand, but if that's all you can think of as a future option, you need to read more. CA magazine has regular profiles of the crazy ventures people with a bit of experience get into.

Think about that next time you find yourself trying to tie together balance sheets that won't balance. There are people who want to be doing the same thing as you - and even getting paid for the pleasure too - since there's many other things to look forward to if you get bored of it.

Posted: Feb 21 2009, 01:27 AM by Krupo | with 3 comment(s)
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michaelk said:

I agree with the description of it being a hell time. I went through several audit firms in the 2 years it took to finish CA school, though the varied experiences definitely taught me to enjoy working in small firms.

However, there is little good to come out of this screwed economy. A lot of clients may have low control risk but inherent risk is significantly higher, meaning a lot more work for the same pay. In addition, firms are having to spend more time in the planning phase to cover their asses in terms of assessing audit risk properly. All this goes to say: more work, less recovery per audit = not good.

# February 21, 2009 6:47 PM

Krupo said:

You're right - from an engagement economics perspective it can quickly become a pile of suck - but at least you're not yet a partner so you can enjoy the learning that comes out of it.

What I had in mind while writing this post was the experience of real estate brokers have now. If you think we have it bad, think about all the people who joined real estate in the past few years of "BULL BULL BULL - BUY BUY BUY" - now that it's no longer a seller's market they're going to have hustle harder than ever, for falling commissions too.

At least you don't have to worry about commissions - phew.

# February 22, 2009 12:21 AM

The Work - part 2 « “Look at last year’s file” said:

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# March 2, 2009 10:42 PM