How to Climb the Career Ladder to Audit Partner



The first thing to know about progressing to partner level in your external audit career is that once you reach senior management level there’s a fairly structured process in terms of what’s required of you in order for you to reach audit partner.

If we’re looking at career progression within one of the Big Four accounting firms, the first thing to be mindful of is the variation in how that structure appears depending on which company you work for and in which country. Each Big Four firm will have a slightly different hierarchy and/or distinction; for example, in Australia a senior audit manager will progress to director level and then on to partner, while in some other countries you would go directly from senior manager to partner.

Climbing the audit career ladder in South Africa, depending on which firm you’re working for and specific department, you may find a direct path from senior manager to partner or you may have to move into director level first.

A director, like a senior manager, is a salaried employee of the business. Essentially, they’re doing a similar role with similar responsibilities as partners, depending on the department, but they don’t assume the same risk as partners, and they don’t earn the profits of the business.

To become an audit partner, there needs to be what is called a business case. Making the move to audit partner is both firm-specific and case-specific but primarily your fellow partners will want to know that your business development and client retention skills are good enough to ensure that you’ll bring in sufficient revenue to sustain yourself as a partner.

As a more junior employee, at audit manager or senior audit manager level, you’re also given targets for business management which contributes to how your overall performance is rated with regards your aspirations towards partnership.

This stage in your audit career is about much more than whether you’re competent at your job, because once you’ve reached senior manager or director level the assumption is that you’re more than competent. A key differentiator comes in your people management and general people skills, but also in your ability to demonstrate your business development skills and abilities to bring new business into the firm.

In many instances, when a firm has won a lot of new clients and there aren’t enough partners to deliver on those clients; an opportunity presents itself to senior managers or directors to be promoted into the role of partner.


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