The Auditor Dossiers - Profile 2: The Audit Senior
Profile 2: The Audit Senior (at a local firm moving to a Big Four firm)
Name: Claire Harbourne
Employer: Small firm, general practice, started as graduate trainee, making first career move to big four.
Claire was just coming up to the end of her ACA training contract when we first met. I wanted to find out how she had made her initial career decision on graduating and how she had found the experience of working in a smaller, local firm. But things change! During the course of our meetings she made her next, highly significant career decision and she is now moving cities to join the Audit & Risk Compliance department of one of the big four – so readers, lots to talk about that’s decidedly relevant to CareerinAudit.com followers!
I’ve never been a subscriber to professional stereotypes; I don’t think that I would ever try to profile a ‘typical’ auditor and Claire’s background and cultural interests are no exception. She adores musical theatre, has studied at the Royal Academy of Music, as well as performing in, and directing, numerous productions, and she’s currently singing in a band. An arts graduate, she didn’t demonstrate any profound mathematical or business bent at school, yet she’s an accountancy prize winner, who achieved first time passes in her exams and has been chair of her local ACA student society.
What she also didn’t do though, was go into her audit and accounting career, blind. She built up her commercial exposure while at university, working part-time as an accounts assistant for a local business. This then gave her an informed experience base to ask great questions in order to pursue a best-fit training contract. She considered ACCA and CIMA training but chose ACA for its perceived breadth and depth of study and future career prospects. Her due diligence didn’t stop there; she visited a number for organisations and attended many interviews. Ultimately, she chose her training firm on ‘gut instinct’. This has worked well for her and without hesitation she offers the following advice to prospective entrants: “It’s all about the chemistry. Go with the firm you feel is a good 'fit' for you in terms of culture, training, location”.
Having said that, whether by design or happy accident, Claire has been pretty canny in her choice of training office. She chose a smaller, local firm with just four partners for its more ‘rounded’ experience; she’s spent around 75% of her time on audit but has also had good accounting and tax exposure too. She’s loved working with highly motivated teams on a wide variety of clients, with a professional qualification at the end of it all to boot! Smaller firms have smaller trainee intakes and this can been seen as a disadvantage because you don’t have a ready-made peer group. However, Claire’s firm was part of a large network which placed in her a national cohort for exam training and additional learning and development opportunities. This did give her a peer group – which has been very important to her – but she thinks this is relatively unusual outside of the larger and mid tier training offices. She believes she had the best of both worlds (big and small firm) in that she had a choice of study options, including front-ended study and how many exams to take and when. Again, she believes this to be non-standard but may be a critical consideration for some candidates.
So what has she enjoyed most about her auditing career thus far?
“Where do I start!” she enthuses. “I’ve loved working with local businesses of all different shapes and sizes, small and large, even up to £100m turnover. The sheer diversity has been amazing and I’ve come to develop a deep understanding and interest in all business. Highlights for me have included the strong one-to-one relationships I’ve built with owners and employees, as well as senioring teams with multiple team members”.
As a newly qualified, I asked Claire what she could now offer to prospective employers as a marketable prospect. She described a heady mixed of quite diverse qualities: a keen eye for detail, masses of enthusiasm and sociability and strong diligence. Who would not do well in an audit career, I ventured? She stressed attention to detail again and also added “a good auditor would be able to interact with the client and colleagues, communicate clearly and demonstrate strong analytical skills“. As a tip for potential interviewees she added: “I think it would also be helpful to show awareness of the importance of ethics in the industry”.
Claire has loved her first three years auditing with a small, local practice but she’s now ready to take on fresh challenges in a new city with a much bigger firm. She was highly thankful for her strong audit background since she was asked a number of challenging ‘how to audit’ type questions in her interview. Her recent exam study stood her in good stead but she was also able to drawn on real life scenarios, the pragmatic, messier side of real life audits.
I wondered what she was expecting from her career move. We ruefully agreed that big four audit is not for the faint hearted but she is going in with her eyes wide open. Her interest was piqued when chatting to an auditor on a job where she was providing accountancy services. “I expect to come across more complex business situations, wildly different processes when auditing a client as well as working with an increased number and variety of colleagues and service lines. And there’s going to be a lot more travelling!”
She’s made the decision – she is going 100% audit – and she’s promised to come back and tell us all about this next exciting path in her intrepid career journey. Good luck Claire!