The Big 4 Career Path: Mary (32), Internal Audit

What is your degree in?

Bachelor of Commerce

Why did you do the degree you did?

I enjoyed studying business and accounting in secondary school, they were both subjects I did well in. Studying commerce seemed like the natural progression to make. I wasn’t that interested in studying other courses. Maybe I hadn’t carried out enough research in other areas at aged 16/17?

Did you have any idea about an internal audit career path coming out of the big 4?

Having focused my studies in accountancy in 2nd and 3rd (final) year of my course, progressing to studying for a professional qualification in Accountancy seemed like the natural next step. I had gone through the “milk round” with the big 4 Accountancy firms. PwC appealed to me more than any other of the big 4 due to the different presentations they hosted. How they described the varied work that graduates would work on and opportunities for working abroad on secondments was a huge appeal factor for me.

Beyond the graduate programme, I hadn’t fully figured out what steer my career would or could take. This even took a few years after I completed the big 4 graduate programme to figure out and is something that constantly evolves.

When you came out of the big 4 did you seek advice from anyone on an internal audit career path? 

I spoke to some friends who had gone through the big 4 graduate programme route in different firms (both current employees those that had completed the programme and progressed). I spoke to two lecturers in my final year to discuss options and seek advice (Accountancy Lecturer and Corporate Strategy Lecturer {I was considering pursuing a Masters in this area also}). Again, joining one of the big 4 firms to pursue an accountancy graduate programme seemed like a good route to follow with lots of career options with it.

Looking back, did you know what the day to day of an internal audit career path entailed starting off or were you a bit blind?

In truth, I felt a little blind starting off on the graduate programme. I wasn’t aware of what exemptions I had from exams (if any) and was a little vague on what the day to day would involve. I would put this down to my lack of detailed research, I could have looked into this more. My accountancy lecturer and friends had advised slightly on this – but mainly at a high level.

What % of what you learned in university have you used on your internal audit career path? I’m not sure if anything I learned in university I use in current day to day roles. The subjects I studied made me understand a certain “business” language, so the terms used didn’t seem unfamiliar to me. Studying management and finance subjects were useful for preparing for accountancy exams so I wasn’t starting from scratch.

With the benefit of hindsight, if you were 18 again would you do anything differently degree wise? Yes, I would have done a language with my course and ideally would have spent a year abroad on Erasmus. Never underestimate the benefits studying a language brings, but also having the experience of living and studying abroad in college.

Tell me about the jobs you’ve had since the big 4 on your internal audit finance path?

2017 – Present                    Internal Audit Manager, Airline Company

2014 – 2016                         Senior Internal Auditor, Financial Trading Company

Inspecting and testing the companies processes and controls to ensure there were no weaknesses before the external auditors conduct the audit

2013 – 2014                          Financial Analyst, Telecomms Company

2010 – 2013                         Senior Manager, ‘the Big 4’ Auditing Firm

2006 – 2009                        Audit Senior, ‘the Big 4’ Auditing Firm

Inspecting and testing companies accounts to ensure there were no weaknesses

What are the things you’ve liked and not liked about your internal audit career path? i.e. the last 10yrs working including the big 4

Like:

  • The people I have worked with – good people you meet along the way will always make your work day more enjoyable
  • Travelling to interesting places for work, exciting projects.
  • Going to talks/external presentations – listening to inspiring professional speakers

Don’t like:

  • Timesheets
  • Knowing you have challenging difficult meetings with executives ahead is never top of my favourites – although there is a lot to learn from them
  • Working weekends

 Which would you prefer to work for? A small company or big company, and why?

I was glad to have worked for a big company and would recommend it if the opportunity arose to anyone.

  • A lot of excellent professional training is provided (whether the value of it is appreciated at the time I’m not sure). Training on simple things such as email writing, client engagement, time management and softer skills development is often given. The benefits of which you can see when you move beyond practice and notice where some others may not have had the same level of training!
  • When applying for certain roles, job descriptions would often describe seeking a candidate who trained with the big 4, which immediately puts you ahead of other candidates. The chances are future employers will have connections with a big 4 firm you trained in.
  • Study leave is also very generous with big 4 firms when it comes to professional exams in comparison to smaller firms that cannot afford to give more time off than the minimum standard. This is very helpful and allows for ample time to prepare for exams.
  • I had the opportunity to work on a number of foreign secondments in great cities (San Fran, New York and L.A.) – opportunities I don’t think would have been possible if I was in a smaller practice.
  • Above all, the greatest benefit for me was meeting lots of other graduates. Joining the programme felt like an extension of univeristy starting with nearly 200 others around the same age. The social life was great and I got to know lots of people, many of which I am still great friends with today!

In relation to accountancy specifically, I always felt there was a great benefit to working in a small company to really understand the theory of what was being studied and putting into practice. I felt you would be better-rounded in subjects studied as you would be completing specifics (tax returns, management accounts prep, financial accounts) etc. I didn’t always feel like what we studied we put into practice in our day to day role in the big 4.

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Has the internal audit career path been long hours over the years?

Yes. It was made clear to me on day one of joining the big 4 graduate programme that there would be a “busy season” and I would be expected to work overtime and long hours. This didn’t bother me too much as in my case it wasn’t always entirely excessive and once I was prepared for it, it was manageable. Overtime hours had to be worked to earn study leave for exams which seemed fair. Anything in excess of “study leave requirements” could be used as annual leave which was great as I could take extended time off.

When I worked in the States on one particular secondment, I worked on average 80 hours a week for nearly 2.5 months straight (1am, 2am, 3am finishing times and weekends were standard).

Since leaving practice, I haven’t worked particularly long hours continuously. It was one of the first things I think you notice when you start working in industry – people in general work “standard” hours. When people come out of graduate programmes the first question they often ask each other is “what are the hours like” as it seems ingrained in people that hours are excessively long in all companies which is not the case.

Has your internal audit career path been much fun? and if so why?

I’ve enjoyed it, but that is largely down to the people I have been lucky to work with that have made the job “fun”. I couldn’t necessarily say the job is always fun. My jobs have certainly been interesting (and boring) over the years. I think it depends on what you are working on, what industry you are in and what projects come up that would determine if something is fun/enjoyable and interesting.

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If you could start over and you were 22, but you know all you know now, would you do anything differently career-wise? I don’t think I would change anything. I was happy with the decisions I made. The main advice I would give to someone as they progress through their career is to not be afraid to communicate to your manager/mentor what you are looking for in your career (roles you may be interested, promotions you want). Don’t assume that employers will always know or notice that this is what you want. Without saying it explicitly – they may not know. Don’t be afraid of self-promotion.

What tips would you give an 18-20yr old student now?

Enjoy every summer off that you have. You are unlikely to get the time back again once you start working, so if you can do it/afford it – go away every summer you can, live in a different city/country and enjoy it. Depending on the role you may want to spend a summer working in a field you are interested in to get experience in it……although I think I would avoid that – do the fun jobs now i.e. barperson, waiter etc., you will be working for long enough.

Get involved in extra-curricular activities in university – join clubs, even if you are joining them by yourself, get involved and meet as many people as you can.

Don’t think or worry that whatever decision you make out of university you are bound to that for the rest of your life. It can seem daunting that you have to make a very definite decision on next steps out of university but that does not mean that is it for the rest of your working years. I have seen plenty of friends who have gone through graduate programmes for a few years, obtain professional qualifications and then change career completely after. They say most people change their career at least 4-5 times in their working life

What tips would you give an 18-20yr old who was interested in an internal audit career path?

The internal audit career path is a very sociable role. A lot of it involves sitting and meeting with people across an entire organisation right up to senior management and executives. Being able to communicate with people without appearing a “nuisance” or completely disruptive to their day job allows you to build good relationships across a business and be recognised for having a valuable input which is appreciated.

If you are unsure of what your next career step is (if you are coming out of a graduate programme), the internal audit career path is a great way to learn about all areas of an organisation, understand what is involved in different roles and it can be quite very varied. It allows you to see if there are areas you want to work in further or may not be interested in (whereas before there may have been an interest). You get an opportunity to talk directors who are over those areas which gives you an added in if you want to pursue you career in a different direction.

If you are interested in an internal audit career or have any questions on the big 4 training contracts, I’d be happy to help answer any questions, just get in tough using the ‘contact’ section, thanks!

More info on the big 4 accounting firms and internal audit career paths

 

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Paul Murphy

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