November 29, 2020

Already Doubtful Big 4 Advisory Intern Needs Help Managing Expectations

Just starting out your career and unsure of your path? Worried that drinking Dr Pepper 10 and using too much Axe body spray might give your co-workers the wrong impression? Need help picking out your outfit for your first day as a new hire? GC is here to help, hit us up.
I'm currently a Big 4 advisory intern, and I was wondering if I could seek your advice. The past two summers, I had two different but similar industry internships and wanted to give consulting a try. I wasn't particularly surprised when I was placed into the risk group within advisory. I interviewed with another Big 4 firm and a boutique consulting firm as well for the summer, but I found the people I interviewed with in my current job to be friendlier and much more humble, so I immediately accepted the offer.
 
That being said, the work in risk has not been what I was expecting. I may just be disappointed that my fellow interns are traveling, going out for dinner and drinks with their teams, and constantly getting assignments, while I'm on a client that's in limbo at the moment. But it seems that the work for the more senior people (managers, directors, etc) in my group is just not something I would be interested in, nor is the work that our clients do. I've been told from those above me that it's not a good group to start a career in for various reasons I won't get into here.
 
I'm wondering, therefore, whether I would be able to pull off switching groups within advisory before I start full time (assuming I get a FT offer), maybe to something in financial services or strategy. I've heard that this can be challenging, and although I feel I've done well in my internship, it'd be difficult to make a name for myself in eight weeks and have partners/directors dying to pull me onto their teams just because I smiled a lot and made a couple error-free excel spreadsheets.
 
I think it would be silly to turn down an offer if I get one and try to interview elsewhere, especially since I like the people. I just don't want to join a group thinking I'll be able to move into something that's more interesting to me, and end up getting pigeonholed in work that's just not my cup of tea.
 
I apologize if this was a bit lengthy. I would sincerely appreciate any insight you may be able to offer. I just don't want to ask a question like this at work and give someone the impression I don't want to be there, because that couldn't be further from the truth.
 
Thank you so much,
 
Unsettled Intern
Ah, youth. I'm old now but young enough to remember when I first began forging my way in the world, feeling both exhilarated and horrified by what adulthood meant. It meant doing whatever the hell I wanted as a grown-up but it also meant paying bills and learning that the grass usually is greener on the other side (usually because the neighborhood dogs shit on that part of the grass). Having stomped my way around quite a few lawns in my day, I can completely relate to your predicament, UI. The problem here is that you are looking for more than any of these opportunities can offer you.
 
The great thing about your career is that you're never actually stuck anywhere. Assuming you don't have too many responsibilities at this point such as a family who depend on the paycheck you slave away for, you're pretty free to bail on anything that isn't working out for you. You certainly wouldn't be the first person in a Big 4 firm to be thinking about other opportunities before you've even capitalized on your current ones.
 
The key here is to keep in mind that you are never actually pigeonholed anywhere unless you are incarcerated for life in a prison cell. While your career ahead of you may closely resemble a life sentence, I assure you it is not. There is always a way out and it won't necessarily mean working for Starbucks until you figure out what you want to be when you grow up. The opportunity you want might just land in your lap one day, and if you're working with a good group of people, you'll be in a far better head space to be receptive to that opportunity than you would be working with a bunch of people you hate in a line of work you aren't sure you even want to be in. You with me?
 
As far as your little intern friends having the time of their lives, it might not be as exciting as they make it out to be. Think about it; you said they're always "going out for dinner and drinks with their teams" and "constantly getting assignments" – that sounds horrible! Wouldn't you rather make your own dinner plans with your own friends and not the people whose faces you see every day at the office anyway?
 
I am a fan of interns getting exposed to as many different aspects of "the life" as possible, especially interns like you that believe work should be something you enjoy, not just something you do. Just be sure you're managing your expectations here and not expecting to find the dream life in your first year in the industry. It could take you quite a bit of bouncing around before you find "The One," if you find it at all. Ideally you want some fulfillment in your work life but you should also be prepared to be horribly disappointed to realize that your "dream career" is a fantasy you'll forget about once you're in your 30s. By then, it won't seem so bad (trust me on this one, I wanted to be a novelist by 21 and ended up writing for an accounting tabloid at 28 – you learn to settle).
 
In the meantime, I'd say do the best you can in whatever it is you're doing, keep your eyes and ears open for new opportunities and network your ass off. It seems to me like you've already told yourself this isn't where you want to be right now but you're settling for it and there's really nothing wrong with that, you have good reasons to stick around. A great team can make all the difference between a miserable work life and a tolerable one. Even if the work you're doing isn't what you think you want to do forever, working with good people is a huge plus I'm sure any number of GC readers would love to say they have.
 
I have faith the solution will be clear to you once you've got a bit stronger foundation in the industry. For now, I'd advise against bouncing around too much for reasons you already stated. Make a good impression on everyone you come across, do good work and learn as much as you can. Simple as that. For the moment, at least.

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