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Inexperienced Audit Associate Is Curious What Happens Once Work Starts

What did public accountants do 20 years ago when they had to face a new career on their very first day without the guidance of the entire accounting community on the Internet behind them? This is why partners drink as much as they do nowadays. You're still allowed to drink but instead of heading to the bar, hit us up with your questions and we'll do what we can to convince you that you made the right career choice. No promises.

Good Afternoon Adrienne,
First off, I really enjoy Going Concern's informative and at times, comical posts. I read GC on a daily basis and have yet to see a post on the following subject matter.
As you know, fall start dates for new hires is approaching. I am one of the fortunate new hires that was able to land an audit position (big 4) without serving a prior internship (on campus recruiting). As such, I was never exposed to the auditing work environment that many  of my fellow new hires experienced through their past internships.
Therefore, I was wondering if you could provide insight into the day to day activities of the first couple of months for a new audit associate (makeup of the typical engagement team, my role and expected responsiblities, amount of hours per work during non-busy season etc.) I am not sure if it this makes a difference, but I was told my first client was a fortune 100 company. I am aware that the first two weeks involve training both in and out of office, but I am looking for further clarity in the day to day operations of the audit team. Thanks for any insight that you can provide.

God, it really is that time of year, isn't it? Alright, in the interest of being helpful, let's talk a little about what you should expect on your first day of school, er, work.

Remember, the firms' version of your first few weeks and the real version might differ just a bit so be careful while you're out there Googling for insight.

A couple things to keep in mind:

  • Don't expect to do anything important right away. You are there to observe and learn. So shut up and do it.
  • Ask questions – but not just to appear like you want to learn more. If you don't know how to do something that's been asked of you, ask for clarification so no one will have to fix your mistakes later but this will also be the time in your career you develop your independence so don't be too reliant on your seniors to hold your hand either. It's a good balance between figuring stuff out on your own and getting guidance where needed so your seniors don't have to clean up after you.
  • Be eager – but not too eager. As addressed above, ask good questions but don't be annoying about it either.
  • Find a mentor. What kind of auditor do you want to be? The overachiever, the office superstar, the slacker or the invisible guy? Whichever career path you have your sights set on, find someone in your office who embodies everything you want to be when you grow up and try to learn their secrets.

Your job the first few weeks or months will be to observe, help out and learn. That's it. If part of those duties entail coffee runs, do it but don't volunteer yourself for it either. The same people barking orders at you will be ones who experienced those first few weeks of being the new guy themselves and trickle down is a time-honored tradition in the industry. You don't have to be excessively happy about the situation but try not to be a downer about it either, it's called paying your dues and everyone has to do it. If your job for the day is to make copies, make copies like a motherfucker!

Your engagement team, specific responsibilities and work load can vary widely between firms and regions depending on your firm's clients and the general attitude of the people you'll be working with. In your first year, you could be shmoozing big clients in downtown skyrises or you could be doing actual cow inventory counts on the farm, who knows. Expect to be making a lot of copies and lunch orders at first until you really get into your groove. Your first year is really a crapshoot and no one can tell you what it will be like as it is different for everyone, though the general theme is the same: learn, learn, learn. This is the time in your career you have the unique opportunity to figure out not only the kind of auditor you want to be but the auditor you don't want to be. Chances are you'll work with both people you admire and people you hate, so part of your early career will be spent learning how to survive in that environment and still do good work.

Once you start doing real work, you'll probably be auditing cash and other easy stuff at the client and otherwise filling in for your more experienced seniors. You'll write a lot of memos and be exposed to a lot of (sometimes silly) review notes that will help you further hone your skills. Even if you can't stand this part, take it as a learning experience.

Remember, the impression you make in those early weeks can set the tone for your entire career. Worry more about making yourself a valuable member of the team than what kind of exciting work you'll be doing (because fact is, you probably won't be doing much of it, at least at first). Be the guy your team wants to have a beer with, not the guy people are worried is snitching them out to the partner. It'll make your work life that much more bearable, even when the work isn't.

It sounds pretty trite but just go with the flow. If your team is going out for lunch, go with. If they're going out for drinks after, go with (but don't drink too much and make an ass of yourself). If they're totally aware the client is a fraud and not saying anything… well… maybe go find another job. Otherwise, assuming you're working for a legit firm, just enjoy this time in your career as before you know it, you'll be jaded and bitter like everyone else.

And please, for the love of God, wear a decent shirt on your first day. Good luck!