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How to Survive at a Big 4 | Tips for New Starts

If you landed a job with the Big 4 as a budding accountant - congratulations! With work starting a few weeks/months away - are you nervous about how you should best prepare for your new career and first day of work? Well don't be! Looking back on my experience, I have a few simple tips that will help you form a good reputation at the firm without stressing over if you are prepared enough for your first day!

1) Be openminded and accept all kinds of work the first year (don't be so picky)

You have studied 4 years in accounting at uni and you feel excited to be handling big client work and doing exciting projects, first day of work. As a new start, keep in mind that you are there to learn - even if it means doing admin stuff. In a way, you have to pay your dues and be willing to accept jobs that might not be so glamorous - but somebody needs to do them, right? Having that positive mindset and attitude, and of course, doing a good job, will definitely help you build a good first impression. In a way, that will help you land cool projects in the future, as seniors have say over which junior staffs to book on their clients and projects.

2) Doing your homework and due diligence before going to a Senior

When I first started work, I thought of my Seniors as my mentors not teachers. Think of it as you are getting paid to do the work and learn on the job, and no longer paying for an education and tuition that pays for the professors. This is a different mindset. So while it is important to ask questions and not spin your wheels on a task (aka bad for the WIP or Work In Progress billings), Seniors are busy people and they would appreciate it if you do the following:

1. Compile your questions as you work through the task (unless it is a big question that stumps progress moving forward)

2. Research credible sources or refer to past year's files to see if you could answer your own questions

3. Ask your peers the questions you have on your list

I find that someone is resourceful when they are trying to do the work to figure out their own questions rather than simply relying on a Senior to answer all their questions. Remember, all time is billable and a Senior's time is more expensive than your time. So accordingly, it is important to ask questions that respect their expertise (ie. ask the meaty, good questions) rather than simple ones that you could have easily figured out yourself by researching, checking prior year's files, and/or even asking your peers!

Also, this may be given, but always self-review your work and emails before sending for review to a Senior. Those details count and build your reputation at the firm!

3) Try to understand what you are doing

As a new start, you have the advantage of being "green." This means, that people at work are willing to overlook the fact that you may not know anything and that you may make silly mistakes. Seniors understand what it was like to be in your shoes and are more understanding of explaining things to you. What does this mean? It means, take advantage of this! It's ok to make mistakes and ask questions (keep in mind point 2 above) and don't be worried that you aren't delivering "perfect" work from the getgo.

At the same time, it is a time for you to absorb things like a sponge as there is a steep learning curve the first year or two. I advise not to simply get "work done," but to actually step back and understand what you are doing. Are you simply following prior year's work or did you understand why it was done the way it was done? If you did, did you pick up on updates that needed to be made or changes that needed following up with the client to confirm? Or instead, did you rely on the Senior to do all the heavy lifting?

While it is not expected for a new start to identify all the issues while working on a file - be actively thinking and ask critical questions about the file. This will help accelerate your learning and help advance your technical skills.

4) Speak out if you feel overwhelmed or overworked

I know, there are a couple of horror stories floating around that as a new start at a Big 4, you are expected to work crazy hours and that you won't have a life. I don't think this is necessarily true - it was definitely not true in my case. Maybe it depends on which city you are in; for example, I'm sure if you are on the East coast, such as Toronto and New York (the financial capitals), you tend to be busier than the West coast, such as Vancouver and LA.

However, I don't believe you should be working to the point where you feel your mental sanity is at risk. While it is good to have a positive attitude and accept work without being picky (refer to point 1) - it is equally important to know your limits and stand up for yourself when you feel you are being overworked.

If you are inundated with work, and there is capacity within the system for other peers to be taking on work - you should speak up. Whether it is reaching out to HR or your Coach, having that conversation of how many projects you are on and how many hours you are working, and whether it is practically feasible. I believe firms are reasonable and fair when it comes to their people, and they see you as their long-term assets so your well-being is important to them as well.

5) Enjoy the journey

I often find new starts very eager (which is good) but also worried that they might not be prepared enough for the job. Like I mentioned in point 3, people expect you to know nothing. So take advantage of this and give yourself a teeny break. You just graduated from university, stressed yourself out trying to land a job, and now you are finally starting your first professional job! You should enjoy the experience - build meaningful relationships, get to know your peers, and go to that happy hour after work (though this is a little difficult during WFH and pandemic times).

I often look back when I was a new start, and I'm glad I took the time to enjoy the journey - taking vacations to travel, working late with my peers and ordering food, going to happy hour on Fridays to relieve stress, preparing for the CPA exam with my study buddy. I think I would have regretted it if I sacrificed those early years just working and not enjoying life.


#careerinaccounting #careerintax #big4accountant #tipsfornewstarts

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