Note To My Younger Self
As cliché as it may sound - time passed me by in the blink of an eye. 2021 marked a milestone – my tenth year in an eventful auditing career. I remember starting out as a wide-eyed graduate, ready to take on the long hours as a fresh associate in an international accounting firm. Now, I can barely keep my eyes open and work beyond 10.00pm.
As I look back fondly on my days as a young auditor (I had the best days of my life working hard and playing harder), I start to think about the things that I wish I had known back then, and the advice I would have given to my younger self.
Here, I reflect on the top three:
|1.||Do not be afraid to ask “Why Not?”|
It is not uncommon for auditors to ask “Why” as part of the information gathering process.
While it is easy to ask “Why” and await a response that goes verbatim into the audit working paper, it takes a thinking auditor to weigh the validity of the client’s response and consider if this could have been done differently. Being relatively fresh to the client’s business entails that you are better able to identify blind spots and provide a third-party perspective. A long-standing practice does not necessitate a right and logical practice; while a representation by the Chief Financial Officer does not necessitate a full and truthful representation. In fact, I remember disagreeing with a senior at work as he had instructed me not to ask too many questions during fieldwork and just follow the SALY (Same as Last Year) principle.
However, you should not let your lack of experience or pressure from your supervisors inhibit you from asking the right questions. Instead, you should always think logically and exercise professional skepticism. You could play it safe by settling with the initial response, or you could potentially make a difference by probing further and challenging the status quo. Start your question with “Why Not” and be ready to offer practical alternatives and justifications. This is how you add value to the business and earn yourself the coveted “Trusted Advisor” badge.
|2.||Do not be afraid to ask “How?”|
In my first year as an auditor, I spent hours on a Saturday night trying to reconcile two reports. Despite being unable to match the figures, I did not go to my senior as I was afraid of being judged as incompetent. To some extent, my ego had prevented me from seeking help. However, after a few more hours of hard pressing on the calculator, I gave up and called my senior - it turned out I was missing a page!
As a young auditor, you may think that there is nothing insurmountable at work. After all, you aced the interviews and impressed the interviewers with your achievements. You are here to make a difference and show what you can contribute to the firm. Asking for help would be a display of weakness. However, embracing a growth mindset and asking “How?” is an even stronger show of strength. Besides getting to the answers quicker, it shows that you acknowledge your shortcomings, and that you are willing to work on it to improve. In fact, asking “How” opens you to new learnings and accelerates your professional growth. Steve Jobs’ famous “Stay hungry, Stay foolish” quote during a commencement speech at Stanford University could not have been more apt.
|3.||Do not be afraid to say “Me!”|
I remember attending a sharing session by a business leader a few years ago. When asked what the secret to his success was, he replied “Volunteer for whatever jobs that nobody wants to do and let your success shine doubly bright”. It was honest advice, yet a practically tough one as well.
When you have settled well in your role and achieved success, it is difficult to exit the highway for an off the beaten path adventure. However, the rewards gained might far exceed the initial discomfort and pain.
So, there’s an audit engagement in a far-flung developing country? Raise your hand and say “Me!”
What about that remote audit engagement that’s 16 hours behind your time zone? Raise your hand again and say “Me!”
And what about that complicated litigation support engagement involving a potential multimillion-dollar claim? Enough said.
Do not let the fear of the unknown hinder your career development. Learn to go beyond your comfort zone, and embark on that solo mini-adventure. Watching the sunrise from a mountain beats watching it on YouTube, because the reward and sense of accomplishment would be much more gratifying.
Working as an auditor in the past decade has taught me many lessons, which I will remember for the rest of my life. The learning never stops and there will definitely be new experiences and insights to reflect on. But this time, I will not take ten years to pen my lessons.
Koh Yong Chuan is a Corporate Auditor at Chevron Singapore and a member of the IIA Singapore Advocacy Committee. He is also the past Vice-Chairperson of the IIA Singapore Young Professionals Working Group.