How to Audit (Part 9): Audit is Like High School Because…

Work at a Big-4 auditor is a lot different from my perceptions before I joined. It’s not a boring 9-to-5 tie-wearing job. Every week has been different from the last. In fact, audit is a lot more like high school than anything else.

1. Exams

Never before has a generation been examined so much: Key Stage exams, GCSEs, A Levels, university and now the ICAEW exams. If I stack my accumulated textbooks and notes, it would reach one 232,830,406th of the way to the moon, i.e. 5’5”.

The exams are horrific but going to college is a refreshing change from work. It harks back to a simpler time in our lives: classrooms of 30; a teacher at the front; registers; morning, lunch and afternoon breaks; homework; and (best of all) finishing early. Also, we get paid for attending, and I get bullied less.

2.  Pencil Case

Despite being adults, we still need to carry a pencil and calculator. You don’t notice that it is odd until you produce a calculator when the dinner bill arrives.

Not at the dinner table. Photo by Nick J. Adams


3. Bully the 1st Years

New trainees start not knowing which way to hold a pen and thinking that “casting” is a way to listen to a briefly popular 90s indie band from Liverpool. Although, they are impeccably dressed.

In order to teach them the ways of accounting for a part disposal of a foreign subsidiary using the fair value method of non-controlling interest under International Financial Reporting Standards as adopted by South Sudan**, they must endure endless hours of photocopy and confusion.

Please note that this blog does not condone bullying. The 1st years are valuable, but the first year is always a hard learning experience.

Audit combines a genuinely open work atmosphere (reference to the last blog post about partners serving tea) with a clear hierarchy. Mistaking someone’s grade is a mild faux pas. A while ago I was mistaken for an intern and got asked to do some printing! The distinction is important because each year’s experience is worth a lot. Knowing someone’s grade gives an easy guide to the level of work that he/she can do.

4. Day Trips

Auditors lead a very active social life and the firm subsidises social events throughout the year. Except, your legal guardians won’t be phoned if you get lost on a night out. The post-social drop in productivity is balanced by department bonding.

5. Cliques

The value of professional firms is in its employees. How else can a audit report, which is just a some paragraphs stating that the financial statements are true an fair, be worth so much? Good relationships are vital for working effectively. Some interesting cliques do develop:

  • Infernos – a club in London for the young professional who wants to relive their university partying days. Unfortunately it costs a lot more and you will run into other auditors.
  • Geeks – these previous social outcasts become sought after for their intimate knowledge of auditing standards and Excel.
  • Asian Kids – Recently, audit firms have recruited from Mainland China. The group is large enough for me to apply a meaningless label to them.
  • Wantaways – Those who decided that audit was not for them and are just waiting to pass their exams and leave. Every auditor will go through this phase after a few hard weekends of work.
  • Audit Lovers – A rare breed indeed.
  • Jocks – A good deal of auditors play sports and go to the gym. Intra-department matches are popular, except the opposition may wear pink tutus.

Real-life auditors don’t necessarily fit into these categories. The audit lovers do still go to Infernos and the Asian kids aren’t always geeks.


Audit is like high school, except for the work, which means the high school analogy isn’t appropriate. I have responsibilities and deadlines. If I stop working then I won’t be able to live in London. However, that is true of any job. Audit has its faults but you cannot say that it is not varied.

**For those who are interested, the answer to the problem in part three is a combination of IAS 27 and IAS 21. The South Sudanese accounting standards have not been written yet.

How to Audit (Part 8): The Audit Room

Busy season is upon us. Auditors will leave the safety of the office and go out to the client. They will be given a conference room from which to work. Often, it will be too small. But it becomes a second home as more time is spent there than in bed. This is the audit room.

The Facts

This blog post will dispel the myths about the audit room. And it will provide useful advice.

1) Watch your back
I’m not talking about other auditors stealing your stationery. Audit rooms come with a health warning. The long hours unadjustable conference room chairs and high tables means your back takes severe punishment. The audit room air gets stale. Some trainees say that their eyesight gets worse after some time in audit. However, I consider this to be an urban myth.

Exercise is the key. However, long hours sap the will to exercise and, when combined with frequent snacking, means that it is easy to grow your waistline. Why does busy season have to come after Christmas?

2) 200 cm2
This is the average table space you have to work with. It has to fit your: laptop, mouse, working papers, coffee, pens and arms. Audit rooms get cramp. There is no easy answer. Not using a mouse increases the risk of RSI (repetitive strain injury). Using your lap doubles working space but hurts the neck. Stopping coffee reduces audit efficiency by 110.5%.

3) Fun
The audit room should be fun and usually is fun – at least when working with me. Their is plenty of banter, gossip, amusing reconciliations and the knowledge that, although the work is hard, everyone is in the same situation.

For the bored auditor, there is a list of fun activities:

    • Mass email chains involving the whole year. It says nothing useful. The aim is to get 100 unread emails in the 10 minutes that someone has walked away from their desk. This provokes angry reply-all responses asking to be taken off the email chain.
    • Sending emails from an unlocked computer.
    • Changing the auto-correct options from an unlocked computer. Go for something that won’t be discovered for several months. For example auto-correcting “judgementally” to zzzzzz.

Remember: fun activities are sackable offenses.

conference room
Before the auditors move in by New Chengdu

4) Food
Managers will generously provide sweets, chocolate and cookies for their audit team. It’s always welcome but means that audit rooms get very messy very quickly.

The mess describes the auditors’ life: stray markers and unfindable staplers; piles of wanted and unwanted paper; wires, power cables and hubs; ladies shoes and headphones; empty sandwich packs and half eaten chocolate.

But the mess does clear and the reward for the good audit team is a meal paid for by the partner.

5) Etiquette
There are many unwritten customs and assumed behaviours in the audit room. All of them should be obeyed to ensure a smooth audit and reduce audicidal tendencies (audicidal is from the Latin “audicide”, which means to seriously maim ones auditor in the pursuit of better financial statements):

    • Always offer to make tea. This applies to all grades. I was privileged and humbled when a partner made tea for me.
    • Share your power. The socket to laptop ratio is never high enough. Shared power keeps the audit running.
    • Don’t run away. You don’t want to be the trainee that runs away from an intimidating substantive audit test, doesn’t tell the manager, and sparks a police search operation.

Audit War Room Stories

I’ve made audit rooms sound unpleasant and unhygienic. But is it a bonding experience and has given me memorable stories. I’m certain that I will get more audit war room stories in the coming year(s).

How to Audit (Part 7): The Circle of Audit

The 847th day since the start of my audit career is a good time to reflect on lessons learnt. I’m into my third year and I feel like an old hand.

The New Trainees

I have seen two batches of new trainees. Last year, I had the excitement of welcoming the new trainees and not being the fresh meat anymore. This year, although it is still fun seeing the new trainees, I do feel more distant. I have one solitary exam remaining, compared to fifteen for the new joiners. The age gap feels larger than it should. A lot of my peers took (multiple) gap years, whereas the majority of the new trainees have not. I speculate that this is because of the recession, but it would be easier to get over being older.

Unnecessary Photo. By Paul Goyette

I’ve come a long way from the nervous first year in a ironed shirt and Windsor-knot tie. Now, I give audit lectures in an un-ironed disguised by a jumper. What advice can I give to the next generation of auditors?

1.) Ask For Help
Everyone starts off with zero knowledge. I struggled to work out which way round to hold a pen. The only way to learn is to swallow your pride and ask for help. Do use every person and resource available – except this blog, which does not comply with any International Standards of Auditing.

2.) Be Known
Auditors are extremely friendly and hold lots of social events. Attend as many as you can so that you get known by the department. It fosters good relationships and aids teamwork. This is more than a cynical networking exercise – it is a chance to defend yourself against any malicious rumours that might be spread.

3.) Know Your Rights
Being new and having no experience makes it hard to assert yourself. The tendency is to stay at work until everyone else has finished, even if your work was finished. I used to tentatively and nervously ask permission to go home, as if I was back at school. Know your rights: self-review your work, ask if there is any more to be done and then ask to go home.

4.) Do Your Homework
Trainees are quickly forgotten if they fail their exams and get kicked out. The best career advice I got given was to pass my exams first time. Also, try and pass by more than 1%. Although such trainees are paraded as examples of efficient revision, it is too fine a margin. I reckon that exam performance can vary on the day by ±5% due to nerves or lucky cramming. Unless you possess audit-jedi skills, don’t leave it to chance.

5.) Enjoy Today
The three year training contract is a treadmill that does not stop. It is easy to focus on the next deadline, whether it be the end of an audit or an exam date. There will be hard days. So you get through the pain of today to make it to a better tomorrow. However, there is always another target to get through and, before you know it, years have passed.

My best advice and most controversial statement is: enjoy audit. Smile at the reconciliations that add up, the days in college, the horrific Christmas party hangovers, the cool clients, the nice managers and doing something different every day.

The Circle

The new trainees bring a sense of renewal to the department. It’s a time to reflect on how much I have learnt in the past year. It is the Circle of Life Audit

I’m nostalgic about my first year, but would I do it again? Absolutely not. I never want to take those exams again. My tedious photocopying can be delegated to some First Year.