Starting your Career in Auditing: The Audit Agony Aunt
Whether you are considering taking your first step into a career in audit or are already graduated, you are bound to have some questions on what to do next. Here you will find questions and answers from our Audit Agony Aunt series, all focused on 'Starting a career in Auditing'.
I am currently awaiting an expected termination interview with a Big four company having failed to pass an accountancy re-sit - by two marks. Only 7 weeks into what I hoped to be the start of a great career qualifying as an ACCA I am really uncertain what to do next. With a 2:1 in history from a top ten university but such a fast exit, is my career in audit over before it has begun? Will other accountancy firms even consider me? What options do I have realistically?
Bad luck on your exam results, I'm sorry to hear that you are facing termination. Unfortunately, the Big 4 are notoriously rigid on exam policy, so let's expect the worst and I'll base my advice around the prospects of you having to face a career re-start.
The absolutely key question here is, how do you feel about audit and accountancy in general? While I don't know what practical experience you had beforehand, I'm wondering how you took the decision to go from a history degree to a finance career. Is this really what you want? How have you found the work so far? Can you see this as being your passion? It may be that you have already answered these questions in the positive - as a history graduate myself, I found my vocation in audit - but for some from an arts and humanities background it can prove rather an unknown quantity and doesn't always prove to be the best career match. If you are certain audit is where you want to be, read on, if not, then go back to the drawing board and work your way through Your Career by Design.
If you do want to stay in accountancy and audit, despair not, some of the very best practitioners have worked through one or more exam hitches and come out the other side stronger and more resilient for the experience.
Your practical experience in a Big 4 environment can be put to use in your job search as you will now have a much deeper understanding of audit, assurance, compliance and risk - and of course accounting and financial management. Be prepared to cast your net wider: you may want to start with applying to some of the mid tier or smaller firms to stay in professional practice but don't forget that there is a much wider audit world out there too. You might like to consider internal audit; take a look at our guide for graduates. Internal audit could take you out of professional practice into 'industry' or the public sector and don't forget there are many other accounting and finance roles too - management accounting, financial analysis, business partnering, commercial accounting - and so on.
The beauty of the ACCA is that it is a flexible qualification (not structured round a three year training contract, with strict timescales like the ACA) and I can promise you that many, many successful ACCAs will have encountered exam re-sits during their career. So don't give up if this is what you really want. Once you have done your own personal due diligence and know that you are in the right career area, take a deep breath and start again, you might find it useful to work through our Resilience Programme to take stock and rebuild your personal resources.
I had a tax internship with one of the "Big 4" and right now I am doing an audit internship. I have to make a decision as of whether I want to start my full-time in tax/audit. Honestly, I enjoyed my tax internship more than audit one but I worked very long hours. For audit, I am in metro right now but I feel like more interested in FS. My dilemma is that it is so hard to pick which one to start my career and I do not want to regret my decision later on.
So could you give me some insight/helpful points that would help me with my decision?
Thank you for getting in touch and I appreciate your dilemma, it can feel like a big decision to have to make at the very start of your career.
Having said that, you are in a stronger position than most, in that you will have directly experienced work in both tax and audit. Many new starters make the choice blindly as they don't have the benefit of practical, hands-on experience. So do make sure that you really leverage this experience in coming to your decision. First though, take the long hours out of the equation; the reality is that in any Big 4 service line, you are going to find yourself doing long, demanding hours at certain times of the year. In this respect, internships, owing to their seasonal nature, do not necessarily give a representative picture of potential work patterns.
So starting with your tax internship, what exactly did you enjoy about it? Was it the work itself? And if so, what skills and competencies were you employing that gave you the most satisfaction? Perhaps you enjoyed the opportunity to translate technical learning into a practical benefit; maybe you liked using your analytical expertise and logic to solve problems or you discovered a natural proficiency for a high level of accuracy and attention to detail. But besides the actual work itself there are other reasons why the tax internship might have been more enjoyable for you; were you more office based (as opposed to going out to clients' premises) or did you especially appreciate the environment, the atmosphere or your particular team? It is helpful to separate these extraneous factors from the work itself. Environment is, of course, important, but you need to be absolutely clear on the precise aspects of the internships that captured your imagination and be sure that they are indeed replicable in your chosen career path.
Consider also, your experience in audit, and decide what it was about the audit internship that swayed you towards tax. Use the questioning techniques in the previous paragraphs to get to get the nub of the issues and really dissect the two experiences.
You also mention Financial Services but do not say what it is that might appeal to you as opposed to mainstream audit. On these pages recently, I have offered advice on making such an audit sector decision. The key here is whether you can credibly establish a strong interest in FS (or indeed a particular area of FS - banking, insurance, pensions etc.). This is quite tricky to do at this point in your career but it is not a major deal breaker as newly (and not so newly) qualifieds do frequently make the move from mainstream audit to FS and vice versa.
Similarly, Big 4 trained professionals do often move from audit to a tax specialism post qualification (and vice versa, though less frequently). This is made possible by the broad base of an ACCA or ACA (the latter being the norm for Big 4) training contract, although if you did do a tax qualification (eg CIOT) then a sideways move to audit would be unlikely.
So in summary, use the self coaching questions I have suggested above to test and analyse your motivators. You will never get a perfect decision but you can be reassured that, in the main, the decision that you make now is not a self-limiting career one. Just aim to make the most informed choice that you can at this point in time and ride that decision through your training contract, after which you can continue to career plan strategically.
I am about to start an ACA training contract with one of the Big 4 Firms in London.
I can't decide if I should join the financial services audit or the non-financial services audit. The main objective according to some of my seniors is to pass the exam which takes up a lot of time. According to them, financial services has longer hours than usual audit which will give me less time to focus on my exams.
My question is, does it matter which sector I choose? Would I be able to transition from one to the other if I have a change of heart? Say from FS to non-FS or vice-versa.
Hello, and congratulations on your Big 4 training contract, no mean achievement!
You've done the hardest part by getting the job offer, now you have some leeway with your career choices. If you are qualifying as a chartered accountant, then there will be a broad general business base to your learning and development whichever department you choose to join. As such, ACAs, both qualified and part-qualified, make the switch between Financial Services and mainstream audit all the time so you should not think of your decision as a career-limiting one.
If you look at the job ads you will see plenty of call for financial services specialists, often with 'conversion' training for mainstream auditors and there is certainly scope to make the move vice versa too. I also think that the 'long hours' argument is a bit of a red herring. In Big 4 Audit there will be times of the year when you will be expected to work very heavy hours, regardless of the sector. Financial Services may or may not prove heavier than one of the other audit groups, it's difficult to generalise as you don't know what you are comparing it to.
So transfer possibilities and hours aside, here are some other considerations for you. Financial Services itself is a broad sector comprising banking, capital markets, investment management, insurance and pensions, and that's just for starters. If you do decide on FS, your specialism will be more precise than just 'financial services', so you may like to do some research into these segments and ascertain if they could inspire passion in you. Ultimately, finding a passion and building a deeper specialism could potentially enable you to carve out a very marketable and lucrative niche as an expert in a particular strand of FS.
The other consideration is geographical. The various sectors within FS are less geographically diverse than for general mainstream audit and consultancy work. Of course, specialist clustering doesn't just apply to FS, Silicon Valley in California and Tech City in London being two of the more obvious examples. But within FS the concentration is more pronounced, with a high proportion of jobs being centred round one of the world's top international financial centres - New York, London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Zurich and so on. Of course, these cities are not exclusive, and you can find FS roles anywhere in the world but the consideration of the cluster effect is not to be dismissed for career progression.
So the question comes down to how strong an interest you have in FS. Financial Services can offer you a fast track to roles in highly marketable positions which is great if you have a passion. If your interest is less pronounced you may be better to take a broader foundation in mainstream audit and unearth your passion from actual doing the job. It's time for reflection...
I came across your site while searching for acca related articles, I have a dilemma that I would like you to help me solve, can one break into the big four audit firms with a second class lower degree in accounting and an acca affiliate. Thank you in advance.
Thank you for visiting the site and raising this interesting question.
Despite the hype, there have always been ways to enter the Big Four outside of the mainstream routes. The obvious example is via the school leaver path, which has been available in some shape or form since the Big Four began, and is today particularly prominent as a way to avoid university debt. In the early 2000s, I led a major staff change programme at EY which involved drastically reducing the number of traditional graduate entrants (the ones with the very high academics) in favour of a much broader mix from diverse backgrounds able to contribute a wide array of experiences. We called this the 'technician' track and it included entry level accountants as well as qualified and part qualifieds from all the accounting bodies, with and without a whole mix of degrees and classifications. It sounds divisive, and I suppose it was, but it actually reflected more accurately, reality; the high academics were clearly on 'partner track' and their reduced numbers was a better reflection of the percentage who actually make it to this elite Big Four position. Today, I see many of technicians I recruited back then as senior managers and directors, indistinguishable from their high academic contemporaries who are more than likely holding the same positions.
You will find contemporary versions of this model throughout the Big Four, sometimes clearly publicised but more than likely to be found by digging deeper. As you would expect, the competition will be strong so you will need to find your personal differentiator(s). At one level this may simply be sector experience; so if you are in the fortunate position of having, for instance, an expertise in a particular areas of Financial Services that is short on supply but high on demand, then you are already in a strong position. However, due to the nature of the markets served by the Big Four, this not the norm, so you will need to look deeper to find your USP (unique selling point).
Don't do this in isolation. First make sure that you fully understand the competencies, behaviours and values that the particular firm is espousing; they may sound similar to the uninitiated but the language will be different and it is critical that you appreciate and acknowledge this in your application. And then look to your experiences and achievements and see how you can align them to support and exceed their requirements. Don't limit this to your work experiences; think broadly about extra-curricular activities and events to demonstrate your high-performing mindset or entrepreneurial skill-set.
And one last tip. Relationships with current employees can be highly valuable in helping you break into the Big Four arena. They will have a good knowledge of their service line, know what recruitment strategies are in place and understand what a differentiator might look like. Further, they are likely to be highly incentivised to help you as, in most cases, very generous introduction bonuses are on offer for employees (and alumni!) who bring in new starters. So get virtual networking - you could make some very influential new friends!
I’m thinking about doing a degree in accounting and finance. Is this as well regarded by the big 4 firms later when I want a training contract as a degree in a more traditional academic subject? Someone has suggested that such a degree could be seen as a ‘soft option’.
Thank you for raising this very relevant and intriguing question. It's also a topical area too, bearing in mind the dynamic academic times in which we operate.
And I can confirm that the assertion of 'accounting and finance' being seen as a soft option by the big 4, historically, has some veracity. But only historically, and even then, it's a perception particular to certain geographical regions, namely the UK.
The academic and accounting landscape of the twenty first century is very different place. Big 4 firms are now actively engaging with a variety of academic institutions to sponsor accounting and finance degrees in a plethora of different ways, so clearly they are voting with their feet as far as the 'relevant' degree is concerned.
However, many students will not take the this route and the traditional pathway of 'non-relevant' degree and training contract is still highly popular as it keeps open a wide range of options which can be imperative at such a formative time in a student's professional life. For this reason, the age-old advice of using passion and aptitude to choose your degree subject is as relevant today as it ever was. For the big 4, you will need a first or 2i so you should select a degree subject where you are most likely to achieve this. This is not just a hard measure; if you have passion for your academic area you are in a much better position to portray this attribute convincingly at interview. In other words, talking animatedly about your studies can convey much about your potential professional enthusiasm too.
In theory, a wide range of degree subjects could be acceptable, but in practice, a graduate of a subject far removed from accountancy, let's say fine art, will have a challenging job aligning their degree interest with their career interest. But that is an extreme example. With most of the more traditional subjects - say history or biology - it's not difficult to make a strong case for transferable skills (and passion). But also consider the quality of the academic institution you choose too. The concept of 'facilitating' (competitive) and 'recruiting' universities could be relevant and a degree from the former has the potential to give you an edge.
The advice above is specifically for big 4 careers. As you work down the (size) league tables the picture changes. At the other end of the continuum, a local firm is more likely to consider a business-related or accounting degree is as a pre-requisite for a career in accountancy. At the mid tier level you will see a gradual evolution from the big firm stance to the smaller firm position.
So all in all, do your career due diligence as thoroughly as you can. Don't embark on a degree in accounting and finance unless you are sure this is the right career direction for you, and choose a degree which gives you the best chance of achieving at the highest level and exhibiting the most passion!
"I am an ACCA finalist and I will be writing my final papers soon. I don't have any relevant work experience yet. I want to know if prospective employers (especially the Big 4 accounting firms) will be interested in first time passes in all ACCA papers and if they will also be interested in my scores. I have a bachelor's degree in accounting. How much do these issues really matter in terms of getting a job?"
First time passes and high scores are the icing on the cake. Nice to have, but they only count if the cake they are on is top quality!
So, let's take them in order. A degree in accountancy demonstrates a solid interest in, and commitment to, the profession. A good result in your degree is important since degree categories are broad and anything less than a 2i will raise eyebrows as regards perceived dedication to accounting study. With your ACCA results, it is less clear cut. There is no doubt that first time passes will impress, but scrutiny of detailed scores is less likely.
Note that the Big 4, and some of the mid-tier firms, will also look at A level grades. Many candidates get screened out of graduate training contracts on UCAS scores alone. With an ACCA qualification, I assume you would not be applying for entry at this level, but if you did, then check the firms' individual websites for their current UCAS point requirements.
So, there's your icing; strong A levels, a 2i degree in accounting and first time ACCA passes, together they all present a robust image of hard working, academically strong, fledging accountant.
Now for the cake. You won't get far on even the strongest academics without a rounded CV. That is, a CV that supports your interest in the profession, preferably with some relevant work experience (unpaid is fine) and evidence of transferable skills. Use your wider experience at work and college to demonstrate your work ethic, conscientious attitude and ability to self-manage. Further proof of interpersonal skills is crucial. While undoubtedly these will be tested at interview, to even get to interview stage you'll need examples on your CV. Typically any customer facing experience helps, from any and all areas of your life and experience.
So while academics are important, make sure that you have some relevant accountancy exposure and wider work experience to demonstrate that vital rounded skill set.
"I am an ACCA affiliate with no relevant work experience. I completed my qualification almost a year ago but have had no luck landing a job in audit/accounts/finance. Ideally, I would love to work in audit mainly because of the exposure it would provide me. I am currently based in Pakistan. I have even tried to go to the Gulf countries but the job market there doesn't seem to be looking up either. My greatest handicap seems to be the fact that I do not have a Bachelors degree, even though ACCA offers the opportunity to complete a thesis, which on achieving a pass mark results in the Oxford Brookes degree in Applied Accounting. I recently considered pursuing an MSc Accountancy and Finance from Birmingham City University. I would like to know if this would be a worthwhile investment given my current situation. Also, would it improve my prospects of starting a career in audit, even though I possess ACCA. I have great communication skills, recently scoring a 8.5 overall in IELTS Academic. How would you suggest I go about starting my career should I choose not to pursue the MSc program?"
I would be inclined to steer you away from further professional or academic qualification at this point in your career. What you really need is some solid hands-on experience to demonstrate that you can apply your learning to practical effect and to prove to yourself that accounting is the right career for you.
In lieu of a full time, permanent, paid role which is the ultimate objective, I would strongly advise you to get some relevant field experience. This could be anything and everything, from helping a family member with some book-keeping, to an unpaid internship at a accountancy practice to shadowing a member of the finance team in a local business. And there is no reason for you to look further afield than your immediate neighbourhood. The best thing about accounting and finance skills is that they are universally in demand; every organisation needs them - education and healthcare as much as professional practice and corporate business. Granted, you may not get paid to begin with, but you do already have valuable skills that can make a contribute to any organisation.
Once you have some tangible practical experience to supplement your CV you can use this to establish your worth to a recruiter. You will be able to describe on-the job achievements and articulate how you have added value or made a difference to an organisation. An example, might be your communication skills, which on paper are clearly of the highest quality. Hands-on practical experience will allow you to demonstrate on your CV how you have applied them in a work environment, to practical effect, to the benefit of the business.
In addition, you will have a much more convincing case for choosing a particular career path, based on real, hard job experience. In due course you may decide to return to studying but until you have proved to yourself and potential employers by actually having a go at doing the job, that accounting and finance is for you, then I would advise against further investment in study at this stage.
"I am an ACA graduate who has been with my current firm for just over a year. I would not say that I am unhappy but I know that once qualifying I would need to move in order to progress.
I have recently been approached by another firm who have offered me a similar role within external audit. Whilst I believe the working environment of a smaller firm would suit me, the opportunities to progress and gain more experience would be better, I am not sure it is the right move just now.
I have had a career change prior to my current role and feel I need to make the right decision for a longer term career move next. Whilst I enjoy external audit I also feel there are other disciplines better aligned to my personality perhaps, and I should qualify with one firm and then look to make move.
It would be great if you could give me advice on qualifying with one firm? Is it best to move after being in my current role longer?"
It’s fair to say that, usually, although not always, it is better to complete your contract with your training firm. Why? Well clearly there are the obvious aspects such as loyalty to the firm, evidence of robust decision-making and sheer steadfastness. Don’t underestimate how it ‘looks’, both inside and outside the organisation and the longer term impact this can have on your career.
But even more importantly, training contracts are designed over specific periods (usually three years) and it’s only over the complete contract term that you can truly experience and benefit from the full range of development opportunities. Completing your entire contract enables you to professionally develop, build momentum and fully leverage your training opportunity, without the stop/start of dealing with the challenges of a new environment, culture, team and set of processes.
In your particular case, all of this is reinforced by the fact that you’ve already made a career change.
The perceived opportunities to progress quicker with a smaller firm may seem appealing right now, but with all due respect, you are only a year into contract. At this point you can’t fully appreciate the bigger picture of your training contract; you don’t know how you’ll evolve over the next two years, how your preferences might change as you build a new skill set.
Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule. For instance if you find yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable with the organisational cultural or values, where you need a different type of study support or where you are truly unhappy. As this isn’t one of them, I’d advise you to stick.
I am currently an ACCA finalist and have recently taken my final exam and now am awaiting results. I have always work in commerce and industry with solid experience in management accounts but have always had a passion for auditing and forensic accounting. I have applied for many audit jobs but seem to be rejected for most of these. I’m finding the market quite tough at the moment and even harder to break in to the audit field. Can you help?"
In theory this should be quite a straightforward career transition, but as you’ve discovered in tough market conditions, employers ‘play it safe’ and are less likely to take a chance on a cross-disciplinary move.
To maximise your chances of success, be prepared to invest time and energy into the following areas:
- Understand what potential employers really want. Don’t make assumptions but do some first-hand research. Recruitment agencies plus online groups and forums will provide valuable intelligence. Supplement this with direct contact with potential employers and their employees. Consider informal ‘off the record’ talks, work-shadowing and even getting yourself a mentor. And use modelling to really get to grips with what counts. What are the requisite skills, behaviours, characteristics and competencies?
- Look hard at your own experience and skills to identify the transferable components relevant to this particular career move. Do your own skills audit, together with a gap analysis and come up with a plan to fill that gap.
- Become a consummate communicator. What value are you going to bring to an audit role? Can you articulate your ‘business case’ to a potential employer? Use your experience in commerce and industry to really stand out against competing candidates. If you are thinking that this is all about your Unique Selling Proposition – you would be right! Check out Discovering your USP.
- Finally, you need a strong and convincing personal ‘case’ for your career move. In other words you need to persuade employers that this is not just a ‘whim’ but a properly researched career strategy. Don’t underestimate this. Conveying your passion and authenticity could prove critical in managing employers’ risk concerns.
"I am currently studying an Msc in Audit Management and Consultancy at Birmingham City University which I will finish in September. My first degree was in History and I have two years banking experience, but not in Internal Audit. I am wondering what the career prospects are for a trainee auditor. I have no audit experience but as part of the course I will be sitting IIA exams during the year. Will this count as experience?" Abdullah
You’re in good company; my first degree was history too! I entered into an Institute of Chartered Accountants training contract with Ernst & Young, undertaking my practical experience in their Audit department. This, of course, is a well-trodden graduate path into audit, indeed a path that you could consider yourself. If you look back at my ‘Agony Aunt’ responses over the last few months, you will find some considerations and advice on this particular route. Your banking experience could prove very appealing to a potential employer if you choose a firm with Financial Services clients.
However, I appreciate that you wish to take into account your IIA qualification. By far, your best port of call for advice is your university careers service as well as the team who are actually delivering your MSc learning. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel as they will be able to share with you examples of how previous students have exploited their IIA qualification. This specific advice will be very valuable because on the face of it many students will be in your position – where the academic qualification is not parallel to the practical experience. Some of your banking experience may be relevant but if you were not involved in auditing itself, most will not be.
The Institute of Internal Auditors lay down the criteria for what constitutes ‘approved practical experience’ and here’s a taster for the PIIA:
- Participation in audit assignments
- Observation/understanding of risk assessment exercises
- Participation in improvement projects within the internal audit function
- Understanding the importance of effective business communications
- Demonstration of practical IT skills
Without a doubt your university department will have worked closely with the IIA on the syllabus, so they will have a good appreciation of how to bridge the gap between the theory and the practice.
Part-qualified IIA jobs are available with a variety of different organisations in both the corporate and public sectors. Worst possible scenario is starting from the bottom in terms of practical experience. However, the fact that you have already completed the exams will give you to a head start over other potential trainees and could make you a more attractive candidate.
But that’s worst possible scenario. Talk to your tutors and career advisors and find out how past students have exploited the qualification before you. Good luck!
"I was wondering if you could highlight some of the specialisation available in the global industry after obtaining the CA qualification (the degree I am doing is audit focused). I am from South Africa, and the only obvious paths here are to do a Masters in Tax or Accounting science. The universities are rather tight-lipped about what the curriculums entail.
Are there any general guidelines you could share with regards to the international trend and demand for post qualification specialisations?"
Just to be clear, let me summarise your request. My understanding is that you are doing a first degree, with an audit focus, then planning to qualify as a Chartered Accountant in South Africa. You are also now considering a further qualification or specialisation.
So here are some considerations:
Where does your passion lie?
Always, always, this should be your starting point. It’s no good going for the most marketable experience or qualification in the world if it’s not going to fulfil your aspirations or suit your inherent strengths. I suggest that you compile a personal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Call up experience from all aspects of your life: academia, work experience, leisure interests, extra-curricular activities, to determine where your strengths lie and what excites you. You can use your findings to map across to your ‘perfect role’. For more information to flesh out this exercise, read my article Your Career by Design, here.
You are, or you will be, of course, already highly qualified for the global market. The decision to take another qualification will depend to a large part on what you discover about your ‘perfect role’ and whether it requires further specialised study. And it may seem obvious but there is a risk attached to ‘putting all your eggs into one basket’ at such an early point in your career. Deep specialising at this stage will not take into account either your own personal evolution nor commercial developments. My advice would be don’t box yourself in too soon; at the very least get some hands on work experience in your chosen field before you add another qualification to your repertoire.
Specialisation by experience, on the other hand, comes in all shapes and forms: by industry (say, financial services), by role (audit, tax, IT), by organisation (public sector, global, practice, industry). And that’s just for starters. It could be that by doing the exercise above you come out with a very obvious match, say tax (perhaps because you’re looking for a technical role with strong intellectual challenge) which takes you clearly down a particular path. But it is likely at this stage in your life the match won’t be so clear cut and you are left with the possibility of a number of different paths to follow. Don’t despair! This is why a high percentage of graduates choose a broader base to start with – like audit, where they can develop a wide range of transferable skills. A couple of years in, this puts you in a great position to make an more practically informed career choose with the benefit of hands on experience. You might choose to make audit your long term career specialism or you may select aspects of this early career choice to develop into deeper expertise in another field.
Specialisation is important. But it doesn’t have to happen at once. The trick is to find some specialisation in whatever you choose – to give you your USP (unique selling proposition) – but build a broad range of softer, transferable skills at the same time.
Global trends and marketability
And it’s these softer, transferable skills that are really going to count as we move into the second decade of the 21st century.
While the traditional fields of public accounting and auditing, cost or management accounting, internal auditing, taxation and corporate recovery still figure, some new accounting specialisations are emerging. The post Enron world requires increasingly, assurance services for quality control and risk assessment as well as forensic accounting and fraud detection. Additionally environmental accounting is a big growth area. And e-commerce continues to flourish and will have huge impact on work in the sector in the future.
Vastly improved technology itself means that accountants spend more time on financial analysis, adding value to the business and to their role. A role which is broadening as the corporate world continues to globalise, becoming more team-oriented and business practices develop increasing complexity. All of this will require a more diverse skills base from flexible interpersonal abilities to project management and adroitness to change.
Any experience you can leverage right now on the transferable skills front, will stand you in good stead in ultimately securing Your Career by Design.
And a last word on geographical demand, check out our Region Focus series, where you can see the trends and demands in countries from Australia and Greece, to the Caymans and the Middle East.
"I want to build my career in Audit but I do not have any specific experience in auditing field. I have been trying to find an audit related job but the employers require audit experience.
Please advise me how to get into audit field and find a placement."
Your CV portrays a part qualified accountant, with an honours degree in Commerce and nearly 3 years general practice accounting experience.
As you don’t have any specific audit experience, my first recommendation would be to identify and communicate more strongly, those transferable skills which would be relevant to audit. For example, you could mention your client handling experience, as well as expand on your team skills and analytical strength. It would be evident then that you have a strong foundation, as well as a proven track record, with some practical experience directly relevant to an audit career. This would have the effect of making your CV more appealing to a prospective employer.
Remember, that each CV should be tailored to the individual position for which you are applying. It is a good idea to have a master CV – like the one you have – but be prepared to adapt it for specific roles.
I am also wondering if you are applying for audit jobs at the appropriate level. While your accounting experience provides a useful foundation, it would not be valued on a pro rata time basis. In other words you could not expect to enter audit at the third year experience level.
Have you considered graduate entry programmes? It might mean starting at the bottom with the new graduates, but with your professional experience you could expect to rise at swifter rate.
Finally, you could try and find some pro bono audit work – for a charity for example. A few hours a month, ‘apprenticed’ to a more experience auditor would provide you with some creditable audit experience as well as making a valuable personal contribution.
"I am ACCA part Qualified, still studying. I am really interested in taking a pathway into audit. At the time of this mail I have got no work experience. How can you help me - even for a voluntary role in audit. This will help me kick off my path to the profession. I live in the UK and am ready to relocate to any location. Thanks"
You’re absolutely right to rate highly the importance of practical work experience – for two reasons. Firstly, to ensure that you make your career decision from a fully informed stand point. And secondly, to effectively market yourself once you have made that decision. Even unpaid work will be valuable in confirming your suitability for your chosen career and equip you with the knowledge you need to articulate your strengths and ‘fit’ more effectively to a prospective employer.
Work shadowing is a great place to start. Many firms offer this to school leavers as well as those further on in their studies. Some of the bigger firms operate formal work shadowing schemes but you also have a good chance seeking an ad hoc opportunity. You will generally need to contact the firms directly. But also consider if you have any contacts who could introduce you to their organisation and short circuit the application process.
Another way in is to use networking to build your contacts within the audit profession. You could consider online networking and forums to find a buddy or a mentor – who could the find you an opening in their organisation.
Work shadowing can be a great introduction into an organisation. Once you’re known around the place, it could provide the break you’re looking for – leading to further unpaid or paid work.
Of course, the other possibility is direct entry. Many organisations have direct entry schemes where they’ll take you on with nil experience, providing on the job training and put you through the relevant exams if appropriate. And this is not just Big 4 graduate schemes. There are opportunities for non-graduates in external and internal audit positions in a vast range of organisations.
That said though, some work experience will boost your CV. Even if not audit experience, any commercial exposure will be well-received by prospective employer. And it will give you a commercial, practical base from which to make an informed decision on your chosen career. Take retail work for example; get the practical experience and use this to appreciate where the role of an auditor would come in. This sort of practical understanding and articulation of the role could prove very beneficial in securing your success at interview.
"I am an ACCA Professional Stage student in Nigeria. I work as finance manager for a small privately owned company but my real desire is to work in audit for one of the Big four audit firms.
The challenge is how to get recruited by them as employment by these Big 4 firms here in Nigeria is highly competitive. I have submitted my cv at these firms and I wonder if there is any advice you can give me in order to help me increase my chances of being called for an interview at these firms."
Your starting point should be to get a strong handle on exactly what these firms are looking for, what they really value in their experienced hires at the relevant entry point for someone with your particular background. Your knowledge and understanding of the firms’ competency framework is vital to enable you to measure your current skills and experience against their basic requirements. Core competencies for the Big 4 audit will vary but are likely to comprise: communication skills (written and verbal), team work/relationship building, leadership, drive and ambition, problem solving and practical intellect skills, and ability to add value. This information should be readily available from recruitment literature, Human Resources and/or an informal discussion with a current employee.
But don’t overlook less formal research. An example would be investigating the background of successful part qualified entrants and experienced hires. This will help you build a modelling blue print to enable you to design your own recipe for success.
Once you’ve identified the essential requirements, you can move on to develop your personal USP (Unique selling proposition). You are looking for personal qualities and experience that make you stand out above other equally qualified candidates. Remember though, it is vital to map this across to the firm’s requirements. In other words, your particular USP has got to be something that the firm will value.
Your research will obviously involve acquiring information about the firm - from hard copy brochures and from their website. But I would also highly recommend ‘people’ research; try and get to know some of the incumbent staff to add a further dimension to your knowledge and understand the underlying culture. Use your own local networks to find employees of your target firms but also look out for open meetings (recruitment days, technical updates etc) where you can extend your network of contacts within the firm and request introductions to other relevant contacts. You can even consider contacting the firm direct and asking them for a work shadowing opportunity – invaluable in optimising your understanding of their requirements but it also gets you on the map in terms of them getting to know you. Don’t forget online networking too; you may be able to track down ‘insiders’ via blogs and forums.
Once you’ve grasped what the firms really want in their candidates you can then turn to your presentation to ensure you can effectively communicate it. You will have built up a checklist of competencies and you need to map your own experience and skills to match these. This is not just at the application stage; make sure you can clearly articulate these key qualities and be prepared to back them up with practical examples. You may find at this point that you’ve identified gaps in your skill set; depending on the degree, you may decide to seize the opportunity seek practical experiences or further training to fill those gaps.
Clearly your CV and/or application form will be your point of entry to the firm, so it is vital that they effectively communicate not only that you meet the firms basic requirements, but also in such a competitive environment, that you have even more to offer. Beyond the initial application stage, the networking activities that I’ve mentioned above will also be very useful in achieving that ‘foot in the door’, getting your face known and remembered, and possibly even short circuiting your application as a candidate ‘not to be missed’.
All in all, the key is patience. A highly competitive market place means you can’t necessarily expect overnight success. Instead, take a longer view and plan your medium term strategy – and this will maximise your chances of getting you to where you want to be.
I hope this points you in the right direction.
"I am currently at the stage of final assessment for various firms for a graduate audit position. I do not have an accounting background (degree in Biology) but have read up on auditing and have a fairly good feel for what the job is. Could you give me a few things that you feel are crucial for me to know about within auditing so that I am fully prepared for my final interviews."
The key point here is that the interviewer is much more interested in assessing your potential as opposed to testing your breadth of knowledge. That’s precisely why recruiters are happy with non-relevant degrees – it’s not the discipline that’s important it’s the potential demonstrated by the achievement of that degree.
That said, it is vital to demonstrate a genuine interest in business, particularly where you don’t have an accountancy degree. So be sure to keep up to date with the latest business stories; scan a decent newspaper on the day of your interview(s) and make sure you know more than an inkling of what’s going on economically – at least in the UK.
The interviews and assessments will be designed to measure you against the core competencies required for the job. These will vary depending on the organisation you are applying to, but here’s an indication:
- Communication skills, written and verbal
- Team work, relationship building
- Ethics, professionalism, personal motivation
- Attention to detail, high quality standards
- Problem solving and practical intellect skills
- Ability to work under pressure, to deadline
And typically for a graduate entrant:
- Drive, ambition, leadership potential
You can expect a good return on the time you spend investing in a strong articulation of how you can demonstrate these qualities.
As for the technical side of auditing, it’s actually your practical understanding that will count. For instance, be sure you can articulate what you perceive as a typical ‘day in the life of an auditor’, crucially for that specific organisation. Your research could include speaking to an incumbent staff member in this or a similar firm.
And be ready too, for some very practical questions, calling for common sense and creative problems solving skills. A favourite in my previous firm was: ‘as an auditor at a chocolate biscuit factory, how would you go about verifying the stock figures’.
Lastly, but somewhat down the priority order, it could be handy to be up to date with developments in auditing (eg the world post-Enron, ISA – International Auditing Standards, UK IFRS convergence) but this will be specific to the organisation to which you are applying.
The real crunch will be the aforementioned: general business awareness, core competencies and a practical understanding of the job.
P.S. a real differentiator is an ability to articulate a strong, convincing business case for choosing a particular firm. Challenging but priceless.
"I am currently trying to embark on a career in audit. I hold a degree in an unrelated discipline and would like advice on what is the best qualification to obtain. I am starting a 1 year full time AAT diploma in September. I have found that as I have little accounts experience and no formal qualification I am not very employable. For this reason the AAT will give me at least a foot in the door.
I have worked since I was 16 years old but from 30 to 34 I have a 4 year gap in my work history due to a health problem. I am now 35 so would like to be in work as soon as possible. Any advice you could give me would be very much appreciated."
My first thought: are really capitalising on all the assets you already have? For example, have you considered graduate entry programmes? A non-relevant degree needn’t be a deterrent; many graduate employers are looking for the skills and potential conferred on the degree holder rather than the technical subject matter itself. Also, as a more mature candidate with 14 years work experience there will be lots of transferable skills that you will have within your repertoire. The trick here is a bit of lateral thinking to match the relevance of your past experience to your future aspirations – tricky-but loads to play for.
As you have already committed to the AAT diploma make sure you get the most out of it during your year of study. Once you’ve mastered the basics of double entry book keeping you should find it easy to get some practical experience, working with a charity for example. This will be a valuable addition to your CV as well as giving you the opportunity to turn theory into practice and really hone those skills. In fact any practical experience you can get paid or unpaid during the one year course will stand you in good stead.
Having decided that audit is your future, I would recommend that you actually find your perfect role(s) and then look at the route to qualification. Is it internal or external audit that you are attracted to? What sort of organisation do you want to work for? – SME, blue-chip, not-for profit? What are your personal financial requirements and aspirations?
First find the job you love, then travel back from the destination to find the starting point.
And once you’ve done a bit more delving, to paint the picture of your dream job, come back to us and we’ll talk more specifically about qualifications.
“What is the average first year salary of a qualified auditor and what can I expect to earn after 3 or 4 years?”
Salary levels for newly qualified auditors vary from region to region and there are obviously substantial differences between the salaries paid by the ‘Big 4’ and smaller public practice firms.
Additionally, the type of qualification you have also has an effect on your market value, with the ACA qualification usually commanding the highest salary levels. However, in the interest of answering your question without providing a myriad of variations, I could say that newly qualified auditors should be earning somewhere in the very high £20k level in smaller firms or regions, moving up to mid- late £30k for London and the South East.
An additional 3-4 years experience should see you in a managerial role and earning in the mid- late £40k level, up to anything in the £50k- early £60k bracket range for the most prestigious firms.
I hope this information has been helpful.