How to Audit (Part 18): Alight Here for Connecting Trains

A Big 4 training contract is like taking the train. The journey takes three years. Emotions range from boredom to terror to farcical humour. The dining car has dry lunchtime sandwiches and gourmet client meals. It is always well stocked with alcohol.

There are many stops for exams. Some passengers will be kicked off for failing. Others will get off even if the train is moving. With great incredulity and relief, the train makes arrives at its qualification destination. Strangely, it looks like Crewe.

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The favourite pastime of 3 out of 10 auditors. Photo by JohnGreyTurner

Crewe is regarded as the railway nexus for Western Europe. Here, you can change your career journey. The first class upgrade is complimentary. If you are unsure about where to go, then staff (aka recruitment consultants) are ready to help.

Having this choice is a marked contrast from the fixed path trainees have been used to. It is probably the first major career decision. Going through the education system is a broadly fixed path. Choices were dictated by parents. Attainment came from parental pressure and self expectation.

A training contract continues this fixed path. The difference is that you pay more taxes than at university. It’s a valuable first-time experience of the business world. However, at the end of it is the time to decide and specialise on a career.

For the time poor qualified-accountant, this blog post is a quick guide to your career choices.

Take a Plane

The Big 4 is a good option for living abroad because of secondments to overseas offices. The interview process is less onerous because it’s internal. There is support for work visas and moving costs. You maintain a professional job without any retraining.

The disadvantage is that all countries outside Europe work harder and have less holiday. You’ll find that the inside of a plane is the same as a train, i.e. the work is all the same.

Change Coaches

This means trying a different function within the firm. This is possible because bean counters don’t actually count beans. The majority of the Big 4’s revenue comes from consulting and tax services, not audit. The main benefit is being able to stay within the firm and try something new.

The main hurdle is making a business case saying that it is better for you to work for to earn money for a different department. Secondments are the hottest trend in the audit fashion world. This reflects Generation Y’s desire to have a variety of experiences (and to put off major decisions).

Change Trains

Aka working in industry / the client side. That is to say, being the internal preparer of accounts rather than the external checker of accounts. Generally, the work lifestyle is more stable. You perform the same tasks for the same team in the same office.

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There's a world outside audit, but I have not known it. Photo by eamoncurry123.

A recruitment consultant can guide you to the right job. Magically, your telephone number becomes known to 25% of recruitment consultants as soon as you qualify. The remaining 75% get your number from chain letters.

Stay Seated

In the short term, most newly-qualified auditors will stay on. The most sensible (and depressing) piece of advice I’ve been given is that I will have a long career. Due to growing life expectancies and the future insolvency of social security, I will be working for another 50 years. Changing for the sake of change is silly.

Eventually, everyone will leave audit and will usually go to industry. The timing does matter. A year in audit is worth more than a year in industry. Those with long experience in audit can move onto very senior positions. That is, more senior than those who start in industry after qualification.

Is That It?

There are wider options available to the newly qualified auditor. One is becoming an anti-capitalist anarchist. However, if that was ever a remote option, then they wouldn’t have boarded the audit train in the first place.

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Bringing peace to controversial accounting policies. Photo by Cranky Media Guide

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