Ah yes, the eternal dilemma facing any auditor, or member of the band the Clash – should I stay or should I go now? Or, more specifically, should I hang in there until I reach the level of Audit Manager? We know how difficult the world of public accounting can be.
Staying for another busy season is almost too much to contemplate sometimes. You might even be asking yourself what skills you’ll gain as a manager.
When we sat down with Jim Barbour, CPA, CIA, CRMA, CFSA, CFE, he had some very specific feedback that we wanted to share regarding these career questions. As someone who has worked in Big 4 firms and now in a mid-sized, growth focused organization, Jim has faced similar forks in his own career highway.
Leaving in General
When candidates are asked why they want to transition out of a given role, they will often mention professional stagnation as the impetus for change. Jim Barbour, from Crowe Horwath, echoes this point of view, “When you’re no longer enjoying the work, the challenge isn’t there, or there’s no opportunity for advancement” then it’s clear that the clock is ticking on the role. To Jim, a company’s culture is critical in determining whether to stay or go, since becoming a manager is unlikely to repair what’s broken in the work place. Whether it’s because the firm’s values aren’t aligned with your own, you don’t feel that your concerns are being heard, or there’s a poor relationship with your superiors or peers, a company culture that isn’t a fit is a good reason to start developing an exit strategy.
Testing the Marketplace
We all know that lifelong learning is necessary and that growth leads to better opportunity. With that in mind, make lifelong learning part of your decision process and measure your opportunities (both internally and externally) in light of this. Consider evaluating what the marketplace has to offer someone of your skills and experience. According to Jim Barbour, “If you’re still learning, you may want to stay on until you reach manager, but you should test the marketplace to see what roles are available with your current experience.” After all, the knowledge you gain by testing the marketplace is invaluable as it helps you to truly understand your options.
The argument could be made that becoming a manager greatly increases your marketability. It shows that you follow through, have leadership ability and that people have bought into you. Jim’s take on this was particularly interesting, “A lot of the firms have standardized the Manager title to a point that it’s really more of a mentor than a true manager. For example, I left a role as a Senior Manager, but didn’t really understand what it meant to manage a fixed team of people. In a Big 4 firm you can just remove people from an engagement if you want, but with a fixed team you can’t do that. You need to find a way to problem solve and deal with people efficiently out in industry; you don’t always get that experience at the Manager level in the firm”.
In Jim’s eyes the full scope of Audit Manager has been narrowed in the last 10-15 years, limiting the impact on your marketability from a purely skills acquisition point of view. He acknowledges, however, that there are gains to be made in how potential employers see your professional brand. Your experience as an Audit Manager, for example, goes a long way in convincing a hiring agent that you could also be a successful Finance Manager.
We asked Jim about his thoughts on the infamous busy season. Specifically, we wondered if it was ok to transition out during the time that others sardonically call the “Great Season.” Jim was fairly succinct in this answer, “That’s an interesting question. The reason to stay through busy season is because you believe that leaving would display a lack of loyalty. It is a good, general rule. Realistically though, if you have a great opportunity that has incredible value then you should take it.”
Improve Your Chances
We all want to improve our chances of landing the role that we want and we know that stepping up and taking on leadership roles, while still excelling in the trenches can help fast track our careers. When we asked Jim about this he went silent for a moment and it was clear he was reflecting back on the choices he had made and how they got him to where he was. When he spoke again it was slowly, “Ask for work that challenges you to showcase your talents. Work with people so that they get to know you and your capabilities and perhaps most importantly, build your network to get your name out there. The next role will often come from someone you know.”
Staying until you become an Audit Manager can be an interesting prospect. The idea of leading a team, or the chance to see a different side of the business can be tempting, even when the thought of having to survive another busy season leaves you trembling in your boots. But the question must be asked – is this the firm you want to do it with? Can you continue to learn? Grow? Is there a fit with the firm’s values and culture? The decision to stay until manager is really about asking yourself if this is the company you want to do it with. The answer drives the decision.
Jim Barbour is the Managing Director at Crowe Horwath Global Risk Consulting and has worked in both small and large risk consulting/audit firms.
He’s the president of the Toronto chapter of the Institute of Internal Auditors and was the Senior Manager at Deloitte, where he built a successful network within global Enterprise Risk Services to serve Canadian and international clients.
He lives the core values of Crowe Horwath Global Risk Consulting (care, share, invest and grow) through his charitable work with Haiti Mission.
Your Next Step
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