I applied to my Big Four firm in Singapore as an auditor not because I was particularly ambitious, but because I thought it would be a stable graduate job (I have a BBA in accountancy from the National University of Singapore). Compared with banking, not many people get made redundant from the Big Four.
Having been with my firm for more than two years, however, my thoughts have changed somewhat. One of the main reasons to apply to the Big Four as a graduate is the fact that you get to work alongside a lot of other young people – which is really fun. It’s sort of like working on an ongoing university group project…and getting paid for it. Big Four firms usually hire more grads than even the larger banks in Singapore do, which means the grad cohort is huge no matter what team you’re in.
My working and social relations with the people in my year are fantastic because we’re a big enough group to support each other and be a fairly strong force within the firm. I’m not just one of a few grads among masses of other employees – overlooked and given menial tasks – as perhaps I would be at a big bank in Singapore.
Moreover (and I didn’t realise this before I started), my whole team is pretty young. The so-called ‘seniors’, even including my boss, are typically only four or five years older than me: they’re still in their 20s. The lack of a big age gap makes the team non-hierarchical and means I can just go up to anyone and ask them questions without feeling embarrassed. That makes me more efficient in my job.
I’m also surprised by how friendly my workplace is. It may not all be down to peoples’ ages, but I’m not sure I’d feel so comfortable in an ‘older’ team. I typically leave work at 11pm during the peak audit season…but I don’t mind. That’s partly because I enjoy the technical side of the job, but it’s also because I get on with everyone and I know someone will always support me with a client problem (without creating any office politics and without making a fuss).
Perhaps I should have suspected all this during the interview process, which was thorough without being too formal or long. There were no assessment centres, so after the psychometric test I was thrown straight into a one-on-one interview with a partner. He asked technical accounting questions and situational questions for the first half-hour, with an emphasis on understanding how well I work in teams (for example: “When you were at university, what did you do when you encountered problems during group work?”).
Surprisingly to me at the time, my Big Four job interview then became an informative and quite causal chat in which I asked the questions and the partner gave me frank answers about the pros and cons of the firm. What are the working hours like? “Not easy compared with many other grad jobs,” he replied.
I also got to ask about overseas secondments, the route to partnership and other things that might normally be deemed too selfish and inappropriate for a student to ask a senior manager. So my advice is this: don’t go for a Big Four audit role because it’s an easier option than banking or because you have less chance of being laid off…go for it because you’ll probably enjoy the job.
Polly Seah works for a Big Four firm in Singapore.
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