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Showing posts from 2011

which auditing group should you join?

Is there any particular industry you recommend for an associate to being with? 

I wouldn't recommend any one industry, it all depends on your interest. The core sectors are - Technology/Software, Manufacturing, Hedge Funds and Mutual Funds, Insurance, Banks, Retail, Government, Real Estate, Entertainment, Biotechnology, Energy, Alternative Energy and Non-Profits. I'm sure there's more. I started breaking down why you'd want to join each industry, but then realized it all came down to one more thing - your interest in that particular industry. If you see yourself in that industry long-term (after your stint in auditing), choose that industry. Simple as that. One thing you'd want to take into consideration is specialization. For example, if you go into the financial service industry, it will be hard to transition to manufacturing, retail and technology. Consider the similarities between the industries if you don't know what you want to do and want to keep your opt…

big 4 jobs vs other jobs

How often do big 4 auditors compare how their situations are with others working in Fortune 500s, Investment Banking, Consulting, etc jobs?

Sadly, a good amount. Let's break it down - 

Fortune 500 - I'm going to group in all public companies here. This is what most employees compare their jobs to. When you audit these companies, you get to say their payroll reports, and so you know exactly how much each individual makes. You get mad when you see people who are not as competent but make a ton more than you. Then while you're slaving away through 8-9 pm, you see these guys jet faster than Usain Bolt at 5:30 pm, so they can enjoy life, and work to live rather than live to work. 

Ibanking: You know it's a miserable job but you get riled up when you see how much they make, be it 5x, 10x or 20x the amount you make. It hits you when you audit banking fees on certain transactions, and you look at the amount of money they make for each transaction. You barely ever see them outside…

masters or credits

What's your advice for a soon to be college grad interested in the big 4 but dealing with the new 150 credit hour law? It seems like everyones advice is to go right for your masters after graduation. Is the Masters program worth it or would extra credits from a community college still look good?

At the end of the day, all that matters is your CPA. Your masters program's only help is getting you credits towards the 150 requirement. If the costs are much higher for a masters vs credits from a community college, then just do the credits from the comm college. I've seen many either do the masters or the credits from the comm college, but nobody really cares as long as you have your CPA. The two kinds of people who get their masters in accounting are - a) people who need the 150 and b) people who were non-accounting majors but now want to switch to an accounting career.

Understaffed and overwhelmed

Still in the questions from September,backed up...

Was hoping you could help me out. Due to the staffing issues that I've heard are plaguing all of the Big 4 many teams are severely understaffed. What advice would you give to a first year who's starting on a team where there are no Seniors and has to work directly with the manager. 

The Big 4 are just getting destroyed by staffing issues, it is really bad. I understand that the fat had to be trimmed in  2008, and I have no issues with that move. But they really need to do a better strategizing hiring. Given the amount of inactivity in the markets from 2008-early 2010, many knew the M&A,IPO activity was bound to shoot up. So they should have anticipated this and hired more. Now the Firms are trying their best to poach from other Firms, and offering all sorts of incentives and bonuses to jump ship, which was previously a no-no. Looks like all bets are off at this point. People who are sitting pretty at this point are the senio…

public to private

Been a couple months,sorry for the delay.On to the questions...

I currently work for the a department of the US Government doing some auditing and analyzing of government-sponsored and government-assisted programs. I will be completing my master's degree in accounting next spring and have begun all of the big 4 interviews this fall. My question is, how common or "normal" is it for people to move from the public secotr to the private sector, or vice versa? I have been told that it would be a good idea to stick with the federal job for a few years and then attempt to move to a big firm, but not to stay for too long because I wouldn't want to get "stuck" working for the government due to its percieved laziness. And on the other hand, I have been told that it would make no sense to work in the private sector and then return to the government stuff later...Anyways, I am currently more in favor of taking an associate audit position at the big 4 if I was to be offe…

dealing with workaholics

Could you suggest a smooth way of dealing with my workaholic managers who expect me to work as much? 

Can't say I've never expected people to work hard. Ask yourself, if you were your manager, is your work adequate? Your manager has to answer to the partners if her review isn't adequate, which is never good. Now, if your manager is truly being unreasonable, then there are ways to deal with it. Tell him or her in a humorous way that they're expecting too much, so as not to be too direct. If you want brownie points, work just as hard as them to a point where they truly appreciate your work, then they'll be okay with you not working as much once in a while. Or work efficiently to make sure you achieve what they want you to achieve. Or convince the manager that you have other important clients and so you need to balance your workload.
Try a combination of'll most likely help. Now, if you're just average and it's more like your manager's expecta…

Better Performance Reviews

Finally onto the September questions. Also, keep in mind that if I've answered certain new questions in past blogs, I'll usually refrain from answering them again.
What are some examples of the above-and-beyond work performed by staff at the associate level?
Here are a few traits that will get you a better performance review as a staff associate -  a) Everytime you finish a task, ask for a new one, don't just surf the web. Reach a point where the senior associate runs out of work to do. b) When the senior associate complains about something, ask him or her how you can help reduce their workload. c) Volunteer for coffee runs, etc. Don't complain. d) While you are at other clients, if your senior reaches out to you to help with something, make time to help. e) Be social, but don't yap your tail off too much. Let everyone focus. f) Listen and take notes when you're asked to do something g) Don't tell the senior associate you've done something when you haven't h)…

busy season hours

How long do you actually work during busy season? I've heard 60 on average but I worked that much doing a Product Control role this summer at a bank. Alot of ex-Big 4 auditors worked there and told me the work was NOTHING compared to audit. Regardless whenever I hear about how many hrs busy seasons involve I hear it's like 55-65, which to me at least...doesn't sound bad... do you also work weekends, etc???

It really depends on your client and your industry. I'd say, on average, you work from 8:30 am - 8:30 pm monday - thursday, a normal workday friday, and then 9-1 on saturdays, which comes out to 60 hours a week. Now, the operative word here is average. You could be on a team that works from 9 am - 11 pm monday-thursday, 9 - 7 on fridays, and then 9-5 saturday and sunday, that comes out to 80 hours for the week. If you get lucky, you work from 8:30-7:30 four days a week, and a 9-6 friday, which comes to about 53 hours a week. So basically, it really varies.

tax, consulting at big 4

After interning in tax, I'm not sure if a career in the Big 4, or even accounting, is right for me. I was wondering what career opportunities there are in tax after maybe 2 or 3 years at a Big 4 firm? Also, is a career in consulting worth pursuing instead of audit or tax?I feel like consulting can be a gateway to many other career opportunities, but what's appealing about audit/tax is that there is greater job stability. If I were to consider consulting I was thinking Deloitte would be my best bet since their consulting practice is more established.

Like the old cliche goes, there are only two certainties in life - death and taxes. So there will be plenty of opportunities after tax experience at the big 4. Every company, heck, even those companies that are set up to not pay taxes, needs tax specialists. So you can go into tax compliance, or more the more lucrative tax consulting.

Is a career in consulting worth pursuing? If you're looking for something broader from a career …

no cpa on business card

Why won't they let you print CPA on your business card if you already have your license?

Good question. And it's frustrating especially when a lot of your clients have the CPA tag after their names on their business cards or in their email signatures. But I understand the Firms' stance. Here's why I think this is the case - if the Firms start differentiating amongst their employees, clients will begin to demand only individuals with CPAs on their teams, and this isn't really right.  Heck, I'd do that if I was a client. The goal of the Firms is to say that every one of their employees is equally capable, so all clients are treated with the "best" service.

big office vs small office

Can you talk about working at a big office versus a small office? I interned at small office, but will work at one of the largest offices in our area. I've heard the hours are worse and throwing peers under the bus is common. I'm kind of freaked out about some of the negativity I hear. Any advice on navigating a bigger office? 

Working at a small office Pros a) you will get to know everyone at your office, including every partner b) there are a set number of clients with locations you are most likely aware of already c) potentially less red tape to get what you want Cons a) everyone will be aware of office gossip b) not enough clients and other industries to get a diverse experience c) you might have to travel more Working at a big office has its pros and cons. Don't worry about the negativity, it'll just give you a more diverse experience and more people to get to know. Plus there's more positions available so you can get promoted without much of a hassle. The h…

response to reviews

The firm I work for does annual reviews (I know other firms have little evaluations much more frequently.) My first review will be coming up in a couple of months. Do you have any advice for a first-year on how to prep for a review? I don't think that the reviewee is expected to bring a written self-evaluation to the table, but I feel the need to write one for myself to help bolster me mentally against criticisms, and potentially to argue on my own behalf. What should I expect? Should I be prepared to counter the reviewers evaluation of my "weak points" or do I just sit and listen quietly?

The most effective way is for you to keep notes of all the good things you did, especially the above-and-beyond work you performed. Also, you should probably have a good idea of the weaknesses that your reviewer will bring up, and so you should make sure to bring up counter-points. When the reviewer has a valid point, just agree with him or her and tell that person you're working o…


Finally into the questions that were posted in August....

How successful are Big 4 auditors in leveraging outside offers for pay raises? What is the best way in going about doing this?

On average, there's a 10-20% bump from your big 4 salary, plus a signing bonus. People usually negotiate an extra 5%, so for example, if they offer you a 15% bump, you come back with 25%, and the Company agrees to do 20%, or 15% plus a higher signing bonus.
Be honest, use your headhunter to do the negotiated since they are pretty experienced in doing so.
Some wait until they hear about their pay raises in the summer time from the audit firms, and then use that salary amount to negotiate a 15-20% raise on top. Smart move.

vacation days big 4

What are common times to take a week off? Christmas to New Years? Is it frowned upon to take days off during busy season?How do vacation days work at Big 4 firms? Do people (in particular first years) tend to use up all their days, or is there an unspoken thing where you only take them when you really need them?Many big 4 employees take their vacation in the summer time, with a week off between Christmas and New Years. The only unspoken rule is that you do not take any vacation days during busy season (jan-march/april time frame). Many individuals use up most of their days, and sometimes lose a few days but you can always get around this by planning ahead of time. The other unspoken rule is to take a day off after you've been scheduled on a client. So try taking your days off during open times in your schedules. If your schedule is packed and you run the risk of losing your days off, it is totally okay to go to scheduling and let them know, and they usually will do everything they…


Backed up on questions right now, I will try and get to the interesting ones but it will take me time.
Can you talk some about the cuisine?...Seriously, after 3 years of auditing, the thought of a decent lunch is what keeps me going.
Funny question, but still got me thinking. Let's list out what typical team members do -
1) Bring lunch from home - There are usually three types of people who bring lunch from home: people who live at their parents' home, people who are married, and women (pardon my sexism, I'm just saying'). These lunches are usually a sandwich with a can of soda. Some mix it up and get some pasta, or chicken and rice, or something on those lines. Then you have people from Asia, who end up getting ethnic food with all sorts of meat. Some look real tasty, and some just stink up the joint. People, there's nothing wrong with eating whatever you like, but understand that in audit, given the crampness of the rooms and the number of team members, we're…

client service

How much of Big 4 auditing is client services? Maybe like time spent working with clients versus actual checking accounting accuracy?

This really depends on your level. As a staff associate, I'd say 30% client communication, 70% audit work. As a senior associate, it's 50-50. As a manager, it's 70%-30%, etc.

Kool-Aid alert: This is a perk of staying at the Firms for a while. Things are always changing, and you keep building on your communication skills and learning the art of keeping the client happy.

advice for associates out of college

Sorry for the blogging delay, just haven't needed a vent like I did in the past, which could be interpreted as good and bad...

Is there any additional advice you have for someone starting as an associate straight from school?

Here are five I can think of -
a) Socialize with your peers, get to know them. You will need them when you go through the painful periods in your work life. Have fun during training, but don't go overboard as to give everyone a story to define you by. I still remember this one kid stumbling into training on Friday at 11 am because he was too drunk. The whole class applauded when he came in because we remember what he did the night before. He is a manager now, and that's still the first thing I think of everytime I see him.
b) Befriend your scheduling liason. Make sure he/she gets to like you. Say your thank yous, and make sure they think you appreciate what they do. If you don't, and are too curt with them, they could ship you off to a remote destin…

big 4 politics

Just joined one of the big 4 as a first year senior. Any tips on how to succeed and navigate the political side of things?
The audit firms are not immune to politics unfortunately, not sure if any companies are. It's part and parcel of the game unfortunately. There are three ways to play -
1) Stay above the fray - Don't play the game. If you're good at what you do, word will spread. Let your work speak for itself. People will clamor to put you on their jobs. As a senior, it's harder, since managers and partners don't spread the word as much as seniors do about staff. Why? The amount of communication decreases at higher levels, and the managers want to make sure the other managers don't steal the good ones. The only bad part about this is that you might not have control over the type of clients you get. Ideally, this is what everyone should do, but unfortunately, it's not.
2) Be a pawn in the game - Be a participant in the game. You add to the politics, you …

senior trying to get into big 4

I'm going to be an undergraduate senior with an accounting minor at UCSD this coming fall. What's your advice to getting ahead of my peers prior to fall recruitment? I've been emailing recruiters and trying to reach out to the audit staff but getting their actual contact info is difficult.
Thanks to the commenters for some good responses to this question. Other than their advice, I can offer the following - a) consider switching to an accounting major b) apply to a smaller firm. You can always try and get into a big 4 firm later. c) consider expanding your geographic choices and look outside of the bay area.
If you were an accounting minor, and only want to do it so you can get a job, then I'm not really sure if you want to pigeonhole yourself into accounting.

office transfers

When is the best time to ask for a transfer? Is it frowned upon or presumptuous to ask for a transfer in your first year or is it better to wait until you are a senior? What is proper etiquette in this situation? Also, what are your thoughts on transferring from a large office and a large market to a small office and smaller market? Any benefits or drawbacks?

I'd say the best time is after your first year as a senior associate. This way you have some leverage in that there are always offices looking for senior associates. You can always try planting the seeds for a transfer after a year, but it might be hard since it all comes down to supply and demand. Most offices have enough staff associates, but are lacking when it comes to senior associates and above. From a process standpoint, talk to your mentor/advisor first, then build a business case prior to going to HR. Don't just go to HR asking for a transfer because you want to move to a different city. I mean, that's fine, …

IT audit

Just wondering if you can offer any further insights on the job prospects for the IT counterparts?
I'm not the right one to touch on this. If there are other readers who can shed some light on the IT service industry, do so in the comments section. From what I know though, and based on conversations with an IT partner, they are really busy and are definitely looking to hire.

best time to leave

You mentioned that Sr. Mgs. can't get a Controller gig due to lack of private experience. If that's the case, when's the best time to get out? Manager? Senior III?
It really depends on what you want to do after you leave. If you want to switch career paths, leave now. If you want a 9-5 lifestyle as a senior accountant, so you can leave at a normal time and enjoy life, with the work not as challenging, leave after 2-3 years. If you want a senior revenue accountant position or something more specific that pays well, is mostly 8:30-6 but during monthly and quarterly closes, wouldn't mind working till 8 pm or so, leave after 4 years. If you want an assistant controller position, a revenue manager position or an SEC reporting manager position, leave after your manager 1 year. If you want a director of technical research position or a controller position (both of which aren't readily available), leave as a manager 3 or as a senior manager.

road to becoming a partner

A buddy at a big4 and I were talking the other day how much harder it must be to make partner nowadays. Back in the SOX boom, it seemed like the road was a lot easier.
Your friend is absolutely right. It was significantly easier back then (relatively speaking). At the end of the day, it's all about the benjamins. Money was pouring in during the 404 era and so the partners needed morehands on deck to spread the responsibility around, especially since their coffers were being filled with dollars, so there was more money to spread around. The economy was booming, there were more startups, which means more companies needing audits, and thus more $$ coming in. Life was good for the partners. Spread the wealth around, but still have enough money to buy themselves that beach house for the summer.
And then 2008 happened.

Nobody was leaving the firms, which meant a bloated payroll. There were no IPOs. Startups stopped getting financings. Companies started trying to cut costs, and aimed at aud…


What are performance reviews? They're basically a review of your performance on particular jobs, and help dictate whether you get promoted and how much your raise will be.

Man I absolutely hate writing and discussing performance reviews. When someone works with you on a three month job, you have to keep notes of key points during the 3 mth period so you can add it to the review. Then you write a two page review that ends up looking like one or two paragraphs. But you have to be real careful when writing these reviews. Odds are these individuals are going to be working with you in the future, so you don't want them being pissed off at you the whole time. You can't be too brutal in the reviews, since this might change their career path. I've reached a point where I write reviews and won't submit it for a few days, so I can re-read it and make sure it wasn't my mood at the time that dictated the review. Believe me, writing reviews can be heavily dictated by the moo…

big 4 turnover

Can you please make a blog post about the turnover rates at Big4? I think it's one of those things that get a lot of attention but never discussed enough.

Oh it's discussed a lot within the big 4. A lot. But I would guess you're right that it's not discussed externally. I'd say the attrition rate is about 15-20% a year. See my audit factory post for an earlier take on why this works for the big 4. It went down to 1-2% from 2008-2009 so the firms had no choice but to lay people off. It really is part and parcel of the game. It's a training ground for many accountants, who endure hell their first few years in order to leave and secure good jobs at public and private companies. Everyone expects 1 in every 5-8 employees to put in their notice every year. It's a fun time, with everyone trying to figure out the implications of somebody leaving, and rumors of others leaving. The thing I find funny about this - when this happens every year, some people always think…

favoritism in the big 4

I think it would be interesting if you did a post concerning favoritism in an accounting firm and how to get past it.
As a staff at my mid-size public accounting firm, it's particularly annoying when another staff gets work the day he gets back into the office (lets say Wednesday), while I've been unassigned since Monday. Thoughts?

Not going to lie, I exhibit favoritism when I can. It's a part of human nature, and it's tough to get past it, be it a conscious or unconscious decision on your part. That's one reason we have schedulers, whose job is to fairly allocate work amongst the staff and senior associates, without bias. I'm assuming this is something they're trained to ignore. Now if you get on a scheduler's bad side, you're screwed, because they can vengefully put you on a job 200 miles away without regret. Oh, it's happened before. And I don't blame them, people do not treat them with enough respect sometimes since they make scheduling er…
I have a liberal arts undergrad with a decent GPA (3.4) and was able to get into a top Masters of Accounting program. However, my Macc GPA is less than stellar (3.0-3.2ish). I was able to land a job at big 4 starting in the fall, but I'm concerned that I won't be able to break into a fortune 500 company after I leave. What are your thoughts? Is there a minimum GPA that these recruiters look for?
2-3 years after your first job, your GPA does not matter. It truly is all about your work experience from that point on. You should easily be able to get into the accounting group at a Fortune 500 company after 2-3 years. Although I must say, an accountant position at a Fortune 500 company looks good on paper, but isn't really as glamorous as you think. What I would recommend, is for you to try and get on clients in industries you're interested in. So for example, if you like a fortune 500 company like Exxon, try and get on clients in the energy industry. Bottomline, you have an…

post big 4 life

Back w/ a new post, sorry for the delay, work's been crazy busy lately. Thanks for all the comments. I've reached a point where I've flushed out everything I wanted to vent about, which is why I started this blog in the first place. So the only reason I'd post anything at this point is to answer good questions from the readers. There are quite a few questions that I flagged, and I'll get to them whenever I find time.
Since we're on the subject of leaving the Big 4, can you talk about how people you know feel about going to industry to work in an accounting department, internal audit, regulatory, etc? Are they generally happier and satisfied? Or do they miss the people from public accounting?

I cannot tell you how happy every big 4 alum is to not work in public accounting anymore. I'm talking CFOs all the way down to senior accountants. Recent alums have the biggest smile on their faces, smiles I had rarely seen before. Then they start talking about how much …

How do we look for jobs?

I always wondered how people at the Big 4 leave. Do you just call up recruiters? Or do you reach out to your alumni buddies and/or clients? Good question. We average 1-2 recruiter voicemails/emails a week, some list out available jobs at unnamed public and private companies, and some just tell you to call them since they have opportunities they think you'll be interested in. Assuming they get these "leads" through the AICPA directory or the state CPA society directory. Then they bombard you with phone calls and voicemails, hoping that somebody will bite. Most people who seriously consider leaving will either call one of these recruiters back or hear from ex co-workers who left, and use their recruiters instead. References are huge in this world, so if an alum who left had a good experience with a recruiter, the word spreads, and you tend to gravitate towards that recruiter. I usually ignore these calls, but, not going to lie, I did end up calling a few back over the cour…

Leaving public accounting

what would you say is the MOST common exit route from the Big 4? Asst/Controller, Accounting Managers? How about pay and hours speaking in a very general sense? $80-100k 60hrs a week ish?This is another one I'd need to break down by level - Staff associates and senior associates: When staff associates leave, they usually get a 10% raise over what they were making in auditing, and get senior accountant jobs. Some senior associates and managers: 15-20% raises - with jobs like assistant controllers, controller, internal audit managers, and SEC reporting manager positions available in plenty Senior managers - Controller positions, director of research positions and SEC director positions, with 20-30% raises likely. You will definitely not work as many hours or as hard. It will be close to a 8-5 lifestyle with occassional pockets of hard work periodically. It will take you time to adjust since you're so used to quick deadlines and working 12-13 hours a day.

Is the big 4 experience overrated?

It is amazing how much companies and recruiters value the big 4 experience. The multitude of calls and emails telling us about job openings and public and private companies is proof of this. They're constantly telling us that these companies are looking for auditors with 3-5+ years of business experience. Why is this the case? Well, I think it's analagous to the hiring at private equity firms and investment banks, they primarily hire people either from other private equity firms, investment banks, or ivy league colleges. There is still a ton of equally talented and smart individuals from other colleges or companies, but the private equity firms and investment banks are primary comprised of ivy leaguers and bankers, so they tend to show preferential treatment to individuals with similar backgrounds since they already know the type of experience these individuals had. The accounting groups at public companies are primarily headed up by people with public accounting experience, s…

Been a while

Guess my last post was around thanksgiving. Busy season lived up to its name. Plus to be honest, I ran out of things to blog about. Not sure whether this means I've addressed pretty much everything, or whether I'm drinking the corporate kool-aid even more. I think it's a bit of both. Not going to lie, the job does get better the higher up you go. Maybe it's a deep comfort zone I've got into, or maybe it's the stockholm syndrome I blogged about earlier. Looking at that blog from 2008, I said - "I've been railing against people drinking the kool-aid ever since I began working at my firm. Now, I'm dangerously close to getting into a comfort zone. This is one step before drinking the kool-aid myself. I still have a long ways to go before I do that. " Almost three years later, and I guess I've reached that point. I think I've realized that I could fight and complain all I want, but it's not going to change certain aspects of the industr…