Almost Light at the End of the Tunnel

Apr 25, 2010 -


I am dedicating his post to those who may benefit from the experiences of an individual working in public accounting at a Big 4. Though my four months of busy season is not quite over, I feel that it was appropriate given that I am able to take a breather before Monday to post a brief update on my thoughts of working at a Big 4.

Busy season as many of you are aware of is a period in time (January to March) when auditors are most busy due to the fact that companies’ year ends typically follow that the calendar year. As such, it is appropriate to audit company’s books after they’ve closed following December. On occasion, companies have seemingly ridiculous year ends such as 3/31. I have had to opportunity to work on such a job. To put things in perspective, I’ve put in 350 hours of chargeable work in March. For those of you who work eight hour days, 350 hours is 15 hour days Monday through Friday. Last week alone, I can estimate that I had a 70 hour work week. That will give you an idea of my level of pure exhaustion. Is this typical? Honestly, it depends on what clients you are put on, but the best it can get during busy season is 55 hour weeks. Basically, if you are working in public accounting, get ready for long hours.

What benefit have I received from working these incredibly insane hours? I can tell you that you will not be compensated financially to the level you expect. But, I have no doubt that I have progressed significantly both in terms of intangible personable skills and accounting technical skills. However, as each client poses different challenges. It’s almost as if I take three steps forward and one step back. The moment I feel like I’ve grounded myself on auditing techniques and understanding of what needs to be accomplished, novel issues arise and my cumulative knowledge (seven months) leaves me ill prepared to remediate the issue. In other words, you are constantly learning and being pushed into waters which you have yet to navigate. It’s a grind and unfortunately or fortunately enough, I have to string together a week and push through the end of this month. I trust you can sense my mixed sentiment at this point.

So why is working at a Big 4 so challenging? Well, to summarize, it is a grown man/woman career. You are required to communicate with controllers, managers, and high level executives to gain an understanding of their business. Furthermore, you have a specified time frame to develop that understanding to the extent in which you can document it and communicate to individuals who are not on the engagement in a clear and concise manner. On top of all of that, you are expected to understand the technicalities involved in accounting straight out of college, while the individuals you are extracting information from have experience upwards toward twenty plus years. In that respect, there is a huge learning curve.

Individuals on a team have assigned ‘steps’ or standard procedures we perform, however it’s not simple as ABC. If you have no experience with auditing you will not be able to follow these procedures. The reason is they procedures are written out for individuals who have audit experience! As a first year you gain exposure to cash, property, plant, and equipment, accounts payable, and various less risky areas. You start to gain a grasp of accounting in practice and you begin to realize that it’s not as straight forward as it was written in your college textbooks. You start to see that the excel file the client is working with is largely unorganized and not eye pleasing. For someone who is not already familiar with the excel file, it is extremely difficult to follow. They have numbers all over the place and calculations that are unfathomable. There is no manual or guide as to what is going on with the spreadsheet. The only way to gain an understanding over it is to have the client explain to you. Effectively you are checking the work of some forty year old manager who has tons more experience than you do and actually has a clue of what is going on.

Furthermore, I can’t imagine anyone who welcomes auditors. You get shut down, but they understand the audit doesn’t get done if they don’t cooperate with you. Still, for whatever reason, they make it as difficult for you as possible. So what do I have to look forward to in the coming weeks? After this next week, I hopefully will be working normal hours. Then, after work I must bang the CPA books as I have an upcoming test mid May. I will have approximately two weeks to get my act together and do my best to knock this final one out. Come June, I will find out if I either have to retake that sucker in July or will be able to enjoy my long awaited vacation.


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