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How is an auditing career different from what students will learn about in school?

I am an Accountancy & Finance student graduating this May. I was in a short internship in external auditing and it was an experience totally different from what I envisioned while still schooling. Unfortunately my time there was shortened because of Covid 19.
Hope to hear more from your experiences!
#auditing #internship #accountancy


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Jonathan’s Answer

Hello Yew,

Great question! I have been working in auditing for several years and agree that the on the job experience varies in many ways from what you learn in the classroom. Ultimately the auditing concepts and financial accounting skills you learn in school are very important, but there are other areas that you can only really appreciate through actual experience. One notable area that differs from what you learn in school is the client communication aspect of auditing. While we are independent from our client we are also in the business of client service so we must do our job in a way that offers the best possible service out clients.

The ability to communicate and work with our clients is extremely important and cannot be learned in the classroom. Sometimes these communications include asking difficult questions.

Wish you the best and keep asking great questions!

Jon

Hi Jon, thanks for answering my question! Communication is key indeed. Yew Kin L.

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Daniel P.’s Answer

Hi that's a great question. My experience was that my professors in college (excellent as they were) did not really grasp what the role entails in the real world. To be successful as a external (verifying the financial statements are free of material misstatements) or internal auditor (helping to test and recommend process changes to the internal control structures of your company) it helps to be a people person who has an abundance of intellectual curiosity and like to learn how things work. I know it sounds like a boring career, but it can be far from it. Auditors are one of the only groups to see how the entire company works and they can ask for anything they need to see to make their decision on how things are working. Also, you may get to do fraud investigations and work on lots of projects other than auditing. Its a great job, and very well respected. So bottom line - in school you just scratch the surface of the role. I'd highly recommend auditing as a career, or a great jumping off point for other senior roles (CFO, CEO, CIO, Chief Technology Officer) in an organization. Also I've been able to travel the world (Europe, Asia) and my company paid for all my travel!

Hi Daniel, that's really an interesting insight into how dynamic and exciting such a career can be! :) Yew Kin L.

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Emily’s Answer

Great question! I recently graduated from graduate school and just started with PwC in October 2019 and there are a lot of differences between school and working. To start, school teaches you the more technical aspect of auditing and my school in particular didn't do the best job at applying that to what we will be doing in the real-world. My auditing class taught me principles and definitions I needed to know for my exams in the class and prepared me for the CPA exam, but it did not necessarily prepare me for my career. Another thing I wish my school had done was teach us about some of the different applications we would be using on the job. For example, I use the application Alteryx a lot in my jobs and would have appreciated that being introduced to me during school rather than having to learn on the job now. Overall, school can only teach you so much - with this career on the job experiences is truly how I have learned so much so far and will get you the knowledge you need for the rest of your career. Hope this helps!

Hi Emily, thank you so much for your insights! :) Yew Kin L.

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Mark’s Answer

Hi Yew! Great question. External audit is unique when compared to your classes taken - in many accounting programs you might only take one or two auditing classes while the majority of the classes provide you with a broad understanding of accounting. This sounds a bit like your experience, and I experienced the same during my internship as well. For me, an auditing class is helpful at an audit planning and strategy level, however as an intern you most likely didn't get the opportunity to view the audit from these levels depending on the timing of your internship in relation to the entire audit's life cycle. In addition, audits can certainly be overwhelming when you first jump in with many moving pieces. Everything you're learning in school on audit should be a part of the audit you interned on, just in my experience it's hard to see everything you learned in a few short months during an internship. As others have said, it is certainly a very good place to start your career and provides you many opportunities to learn about businesses as a whole, so don't let the internship discourage you from pursuing a career in external audit if that's what you're interested in! Hope this helps!

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Christina’s Answer

Hi Yew, hope all is well with you! This is a great question, as I feel as though my auditing class in college did not give an accurate representation of what a career in auditing is like. In class, they focus more so on the conceptual areas of auditing. For example, assertions were taught heavily during my college course. I believe that my college course lacked practical examples. There are many different areas of testing depending on the industry in which you service. That being said, having a solid understanding of the concepts will help you excel if you choose a career in accounting. I am sorry to hear that you did not get to enjoy a complete audit internship. My advice would be to stay connected with the professionals that you were able to meet during your internship. Perhaps, you could ask if it would be okay if you set up time to discuss what a true career in auditing is like with them to get a true sense of the work that you would be doing if you were to pursue a career in accounting. Best of luck!

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Beth’s Answer

As others have mentioned in their responses, the classroom is good place to obtain a foundational knowledge about what auditing is and important information about the standards that apply to the work performed. However, I did not find that my classroom experience was representative of what benefits a career in auditing would actually have, or what my day to day life would be like as an auditor. I'd love to highlight some of the experiences that I've had as someone who joined a big 4 audit practice right out of college and has continued to grow professionally within that practice over the last 10 years.

First, something you may not imagine in the classroom, is how much being an auditor means working as a part of a team, with exceptional coaching and development opportunities. For me the most fulfilling part of my job, especially as I became more tenured with my firm, has been coaching younger staff on the work they are performing, and also helping mentor staff on their career and ultimately help them get to where they want to go. This seems to be very ingrained in the culture of audit teams, and the opportunities to coach team members starts at a very young age with most firms.

Another aspect that is very rewarding is the continued variety that allows for continual learning and growth. You can really get a wide range of experiences and opportunities even if your schedule results in you working on one big client most of time. I've worked primarily on a large global public engagement, and even without a lot of client variety, I've continued to have opportunities to learn and touch new things. Early on this was through assignments to different areas of the audit, and as I've progressed further in my career, through more involvement with unique transactions and accounting matters that arise. I really enjoy how well rounded my experiences have been as an auditor, and especially as compared to some of my peers who joined corporate accounting right out of school. Overall, I enjoy the variety in auditing, and that I can count on the fact that I won't get bored doing the same thing day in and day out.

The last experience I'll highlight from my audit career, has been the opportunity to work with an expanded network of individuals, including members of our global firms in various countries (e.g. UK, Australia, Mexico, Nigeria, India, etc). I enjoy getting to know more about other cultures and find the experience of working with a global team to be very meaningful to my personal and professional growth. As an added bonus, I've had the opportunity to do some international travel to some of these locations.

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Jessica’s Answer

I'd say the biggest difference I experienced between school and work was that in school, audit projects were practically perfect. The client gave you exactly what you needed and you just had to do the work. In public accounting, that's very much not the case. Often, client's provide information that is not complete, or create more questions. Additionally, there's a lot more research required, especially for more complicated transactions. School very much teaches you how to do things right when you are given all the tools. Work experience uses that base knowledge but requires much more critical thinking and interaction with clients. Hope that helps!

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Camellia’s Answer

My school wasn't very good at teaching me how to audit. I found that in school we focused a lot on how to account for certain things, the concepts of which proved to be important when studying for the FAR section of the CPA exam. However, in school we weren't really taught how to look at the big picture. I feel like at work to be successful it is more about understanding the risks that you are trying to address, and designing tests that will maximize your ability to gain comfort. I also wish that in school we learned more about internal controls and system applications and how they may affect the audit. In my current job, I find myself reading a lot and researching to get to the right answer which I didn't really imagine in school. Hope this helps!

Hi Camellia, thank you for your insights! :) Yew Kin L.

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Sarah’s Answer

When you're in school, you learn very high-level accounting concepts but never truly have the platform to apply them. The underlying concepts are important; but, I noticed that I learned much more about accounting, in general, in the actual field. In school, the answers to the accounting problems are much more cut-and-dry than the typical accounting problems I face in the field.

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Dustin’s Answer

The biggest difference to me was that what you learn in school is typically at a much higher level than the work you will do starting as an associate at a public accounting firm. While the accounting knowledge itself in terms of debits and credits is important the audit specific knowledge that you gain in school does not immediately translate to day to day work. The positive is that when you do begin a job in public accounting you receive coaching and a ton of on the job training that helps you quickly adapt and allows you to successfully do your job. At the end of the day you will use some of what you learn but most of your day to day will come from on the job training.

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Heather’s Answer

There are many different skills needed to be a successful auditor and professional. Although it's been quite a long time since I was in school, I found there was much more to learn about the profession once in the actual job. Understanding the entity itself that you are auditing, the industry, the related framework and risks of the organization are all important, but also, a big part of being successful is approach to relationships, at the client and within the audit firm and investment in the relationships, which quite often lead to further understanding the organizations you are auditing better, helping navigate through items, and also being able to offer additional values/insights and opportunities. I think an auditor needs to have solid auditing skills, but also needs to have a solid foundation of accounting and technical skills, be able to also see the big picture, and effective communication is critical. The skill sets that are learned can also be applied to many other roles in a variety of industries later on in ones career.

Thank you so much for your insights! 🙌 Yew Kin L.

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Sarah’s Answer

When you're in school, you learn very high-level accounting concepts but never truly have the platform to apply them. The underlying concepts are important; but, I noticed that I learned much more about accounting, in general, in the actual field. In school, the answers to the accounting problems are much more cut-and-dry than the typical accounting problems I face in the field.

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Josephine’s Answer

Hi Yew Kin L.,

Based on my experience working in public accounting firms and private organization, here's what I think:

- documentation and reporting are different in terms of style / preferences.
- soft skills including communication skills and working with other stakeholders are key assets to having a career as auditors
- different types of tools and applications. As you continue in your career, the tools will be different, we need to stay abreast with the latest techniques and tools
- some of the most current leading practices are often provided by experts in the field, what we learned in school may not be sufficient, we need to continue looking at other training / resources. School isn't the only place to learn auditing
- topics in school tend to be broader, you obtain more details through actual learning on the job and eventually be an expert in your own field ;)
- applying audit techniques may vary depending on the industry and company you work for - certain industry (e.g., banking) requires more stringent auditing procedures compared to a less regulated industry

I hope this helps.

Hi Josephine, thank you for answering my question! 🙌 Yew Kin L.

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Jason’s Answer

Hi Yew, thanks for the question and I hope you are staying well.

Something a Big Four recruiter said when I was in college has stuck with me and I believe may answer this question. "10% of what you do in your job you learn in college, 20% of what you do in your job you learn in training, and 70% of what you do in your job you learn on the job."

This is not to devalue the importance of college, just that the specifics of what your day in and day out will look like, is not what you are taught in school. Your accounting and general business classes will give you an overall understanding of business and accounting principals that are the foundation that you career will be built on.

One thing I believe public accounting does very well is teach it's employees. The firms will provide everyone with the ability to utilize their knowledge and when they have shown they have that ability, they are given a new task allowing for you to learn more. College prepares you well for this as you are learning new things with the various classes you take.

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Melanie’s Answer

Hey Yew!

I often wondered the same thing when I was in college. Given that I didn't have anyone in my family or friends in the industry, I really didn't know what to expect. I graduated college about a year ago and began working full time in October- so hopefully my fresh perspective is insightful for you!

Throughout my time in college, the Accounting Department often tried to implement new projects or coursework that would better prepare you for what you might experience on the job. However, these were always more overwhelming than they were effective in my opinion. Looking back, I honestly don't think that college coursework can mimic the profession. The reason being is that the field is more broad than we think. Many study accounting and then pursue careers in private accounting while others go into public accounting. Within public accounting, you can choose audit, tax, or advisory- all very different career paths. Even within one particular career path such as audit, you can have a very different professional experience than another auditor at the same or different firm because the nature of your work often depends on the client that you are assigned to. For example, I work on a large public client while I have colleagues that work on smaller private clients. Our experiences, strengths, and competencies are very different.

What I've learned is that the most important thing you can learn in college is discipline. Do your best, learn to ask questions, seek opportunities for growth, and build your network! These are all transferable soft skills that will be very valuable as you transition to your career. Of course, you want to have some technical skill as well so that you have a foundation to develop your business acumen. However, the most important thing isn't what you already know, but what you are eager to know!

Best of luck to you!

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Alem’s Answer

Hello Yew!

Similar to you I have also graduated with a Finance and Accounting double major. I was solely a finance major and thought that accounting was challenging. As I took on more course work, I realised that the Accounting major was complimentary to the Finance degree and that it offered a broad variety of knowledge. The accounting major offered a variety of knowledge by giving me a glimpse of what type of career you can create with that major whether it be in Audit, Tax, Advisory or corporate accounting through extensive coursework. The accounting coursework in college requires discipline, attention to detail and curiosity - these skills are transferable to any job and especially to a job in the accounting industry. In my personal experience, the scholastic work taught me the "language of accounting" and the discipline of working for extensive hours that are needed to get a project done. I would say that school work is just a fundamental building block to your experience and knowledge of Accounting & Finance, while the work related experience is the skyscraper that you build on that building block. Therefore, I wouldn't try to look for the differences that exist between the school work and the real world work but I would try to focus on leveraging the tools that you learned in school to succeed in the real world. Be the same everyday learner filled with curiosity at work - as you were/are in school.

Wishing you the best in your career marathon!

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Michael Ivelin’s Answer

Good question. Even though I have been an auditor for several years now, I do remember my audit class experience which honestly not great. The actual stuff that you learn in school is very dry and as exciting as the real job. One of the main aspects that I like about the job is the flexibility. You can be working from the company's office, then the next day you are at a client site, then you are working a day from home. Because of technology and the nature of the job, you are not just going to an office and desk everyday. As you grow in the company, you will also work with multiple teams and clients. This expands your network significantly and opens the door for various opportunities. Also with the bigger firms, there are various rotations that can done domestically and internationally which can further make your experience very unique. At the end of the day, school does not show you the exciting part of the job, but it rather just focuses on the technical part.

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Emily’s Answer

In school, you learn fundamental accounting concepts, but have only one or two classes on auditing itself. This may make it seem like any job in the accounting field, including audit, is a sit at your desk, doing calculations and spreadsheets job - which is not at all what auditing is like! Auditing is client-facing, interactive and every day is different - different clients, working with different team members, and looking at different parts of the client's business (how they generate revenue, how they handle their cash, etc.). All of the accounting and everything that you learn in class is important and understanding those concepts is the basis of audit, but may not reflect what the day to day responsibilities of a job in external audit are.

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Andrew’s Answer

One difference between my experience as an accounting major in college and my experience in public accounting is the importance of learning digital skills. Most college accounting programs will focus on high-level concepts, so spending free time to become familiar with coding programs, Excel Macros and other digital tools such as Alteryx is something that can differentiate yourself from others as you begin your career.

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