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September 30, 2023

Is Deciding Between Forensic Advisory Work and Auditing Really That Difficult?

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I was fortunate enough to receive two full time entry-level offers from two Big 4 firms: 1 in Audit and 1 in Forensic Advisory (It is PwC forensic advisory for point of reference). Yes, I know advisory > audit and advisory is sexier than audit etc. however I am concerned that taking the job in forensics will pigeon hole me from the get-go and limit my skill set (since what I hear about entry level forensic advisory is you don’t learn anything your first two years). When-I-grow-up I want to be a management consultant, so the goal here is to develop problem solving logic skills early in my career so as to maybe go back and get my MBA to go for consulting firms later on. So here are my concerns… Going Concern:

Yes, forensics is advisory but it is forensics. I would be developing a very specific skill set that may be of little value to management consulting firms (or any other future employer for that matter) and I probably will not do a lot my first two years in forensics. So what are the potential exit opportunities from forensic advisory besides a boutique firm doing the same old litigation consulting if I were looking to exit after 3-5 years of service with PwC? Is it easy to move to another advisory practice once you get into advisory? Also, how prone to layoffs is the forensics advisory practice? Definitely more than audit but is it as much as other advisory practices? Also hours worked in forensics vs. hours worked in audit?

Yes, audit is the safe route and it provides a great foundation to understand business processes. However it is lame and hard to get into something more exciting once you’re in. How easy is it to jump from audit to a meaningful advisory position after a few years?

I guess bottom line is I am afraid to take forensics because I don’t know if the exit opportunities will be meaningful enough in the future. But if I take audit I can kiss my chance of management consulting goodbye (unless I get an MBA).

You've got a long-term goal of working in management consulting. And since you're talking about the distant future already, my guess is that you want the path of least resistance. So here's the deal friend: just accept the forensic gig already. Sure, it may be a narrow skillset and you don't see much potential outside of PwC now but you're assuming that in your time with the group you won't meet or work with anyone that either has direct knowledge of the career path you want or knows someone on the career path you want. From the outside, it appears that the advisory groups do not work in a bubble. People have dynamic work experiences PLUS there is a lot of work right now, so the opportunities are there. Yes, the advisory group is more susceptible to layoffs but forensic isn't as vulnerable as, say, IT Advisory or M&A. 

Audit, on the other hand, is the slow and steady business that is coming under increasing regulatory scrutiny. It needs people with expansive experience in auditing not someone who's looking to bounce around the firm to have a good time. If you join the audit group, it can be difficult to move around in the early years unless they're looking to ship you off to professional services Siberia. If you stick with auditing long enough, eventually interesting (i.e. not auditing) opportunities will find their way to you but they are few and far between. 

Bottom line is that you'll only get pigeon-holed if you allow yourself to. If things are starting to feel a little stagnant, then it's your responsibility to speak up. If you're worth keeping around, someone will go out of their way to keep you happy.

And since you asked [sigh], I'll repeat it for the last time: IF YOU TAKE A JOB WITH A BIG 4 FIRM, YOU WILL WORK A LOT OF HOURS. Audit. Advisory. Tax. Doesn't matter, YOU WILL WORK. [catching breath]  Good luck.

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