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Failure to Launch Part II

Given the most recent thread in which one of the readers submitted his tale of first job woes, I began to reflect on my own experience at my first professional job, and the ways in which I too, failed to launch. This introspection motivated me to share my story with others.

As many other Big Four applicants, I was a very motivated, ambitious, and hardworking individual in university. I was recruited earlier than the majority of my peers and was always associated with that firm in my student organizations. I felt so lucky to have been hired into one of leading accounting firms in the world, especially given my background and how I had a poor upbringing during a portion of my childhood. I definitely drank the Kool-Aid the firm served me, and this loyalty and admiration lasted all through the end of my first year as an associate at the firm.

In between my first and second year, I “took charge of my career” and requested a rotation in a different service line, and had a blast while doing it. At the end of the project, however, I felt the duty to return to audit for a couple more years, having a clear idea of what I wanted to do after my stint in audit. Had I not gulped down that Kool-Aid so much, I would have requested a transfer out of audit as soon as the rotation was over; but no, I felt the duty to “pay my dues” in audit (yes, I realize now how ridiculous that was). In addition, I felt that my first year in audit had not provide me with “proper” auditing experience, as I spent most of my time on a Fortune 100 company in which I got to test only a small part of the financials, hence not getting a full picture of the audit process. This also motivated me to return to the field.

My transition back to audit was not a smooth one. This was due to several factors: 1) being on new clients, not only new to me but to the firm, 2) having clients in which I’d be responsible for more than just a couple small audit areas, 3) no seniors on any of my engagements and the expectation that I would be performing at a level higher than mine when in fact it would be difficult for me to have performed AT my level given my experience during the previous year and 4) my paranoia over the office politics and the fact that I had taken a 4-month break from audit and how I perceived that made me look to others in the office.

The combination of some of these factors, and the fact that I tend to be a perfectionist, caused me to spend a little too much time on some audit areas (okay, a lot), and go over the budget for one of my clients. This as you know, is not appreciated by many in Big Four, and I was promptly rated below expectations, despite my hard work and the fact that I was trying and not slacking off.

After my extended, and miserable, busy season, I went on vacation for a few weeks. Upon my return, I was promptly “separated” (i.e. fired) due to that one poor performance rating (despite all of my other ratings being at or above expectations). Needless to say, I was absolutely devastated, being that I had seen myself building a career at that firm, and frustrated beyond belief at the poor hand I felt that fate had given me (e.g. asshole senior managers, shitty clients, etc.). Luckily, just a couple months earlier, I had applied for a job overseas and received an offer to start within 6 months, which I had accepted but had been having second thoughts over since I wanted to “stick it out” with my original firm. So, despite the hurt, humiliation, and anger, I was fortunate that I had back-up plan.

That back-up plan turned out to be the best thing I could have done for myself. I am currently still working at the new firm and am having a really positive experience. I am getting along very well with my managers, been told that I am performing very well, and am having a blast in this new country. I even got a large raise (double digits) after being on the job for only six months. Also got an advance on my annual bonus this week. Being let go was truly a blessing in disguise.

Despite my current contentedness, I do sometimes think back on my old firm and wonder what “could have been.” What if I hadn’t taken that rotation. What if I had played my political cards better. What if I hadn’t gotten so caught in the details and not gone over budget. What if I hadn’t worked on that one engagement that gave me the bad rating. What if.

Having only graduated from university less than three years ago, I can say that I’m by no means an expert in office politics, nor am I am an expert in employer-employee relations and how loyal exactly an employee should be. Currently, I could see myself building a career at my current firm. But am I now only just drinking another flavor of Kool-Aid? Should we just say screw it and pledge allegiance to no one?

I’m not sure. I do know I feel good where I’m at now. My only parting message is that for those who are just not having a rewarding experience at work, whether working for poor management, or dealing with petty office gossip, and any other way in which a job can suck (probably millions of ways), I hope that you take steps to find your fit, wherever it may take you. Don’t be afraid of change! I almost was, and almost missed out on one of the best experiences of my life.