An Accrual world

An Accrual world

Accountants aren’t the best at communicating things. Most people prefer to hunch over their desk and communicate about work issues by our internal instant messaging function. One thing that was brought up in training, in the accelerated leadership programme I attended, and in industry reports was that accountants need to communicate better.

Someone who can make complex ideas easy to grasp for clients, who can explain difficult work for staff under them, who can synthesise technical knowledge with expert project management via the alchemy of gab for higher-ups: this is the individual who will go far and make money. But of course, these guys are not in audit.They are lawyers, salesmen  and managers working less hours and making more money.

I am not one of those people. I struggle with small talk. Girlfriend’s family say I’m like a passable imitation of a human being. At least money can compensate for my lack of social graces. But I’m slowly mobilising that, painful as it is. Getting  comfortable with an increased range of topics. Hanging out at the edge of my comfort zone with conversation about sports. Getting better every day. Loving life, loving myself.

17% percent of my accountacy apprenticeship intake have quit since we began 5 months ago. The latest drop out ground through horrendous job after job, coming in weekends, to do the work of someone three years her senior. She wasn’t being paid overtime, she wasn’t getting “great exposure” or “learning”, she was being fucked silly while she put on a cheery face and said those magic words: “I’m grand, it’s fine”. So no one will pry. The phrase “I’m grand” in Ireland covers a multitude: you could be on top of the world, or hanging on by your fingernails. Everything would be “grand”, regardless. It’s fine.

Then the partners called the first years for a meeting to find out why almost a quarter had dropped out and what was going wrong. No one had any complaints. They were doing fine. Everything was grand. All until the next person quits. But I am a miserable cunt, I said that first years has no control over their work and were used for firefighting the problems that sprang up because of management’s lack of project management skills. We had no control over our work. We were never told what was important for the audit, and as a result, critical audit tasks were given equal parity to formatting and busy work. I said we want to be more proactive and involved.

The bosses loved to hear me parrot what I had learned in the accelerated leadership programme. So they said it was a good idea, they want staff to have a life outside of work. I asked how could we make it actionable, and then gave suggestions. . I think things will change, but it will happen on a time scale of years, and not months. I am good at that kind of  big conversation. But I break out into a sweat when there is small talk involved.

It used to be that I would schedule conversations with people. I’d map the potential routes a conversation would take, and organise what I’m saying before I’d flip the mouth safety from silent, to monosyllabic, to full automatic autism. It’s like the 30 minutes I needed mobbing to hit normal positions. But I want to become a social supple leopard  – ready for a conversation about the weather any time. It’s not realistic to warm up for a conversation. You have to be ready to shoot the breeze at a moment’s notice, otherwise you’ll lose out.

That’s why I try to talk to people I’m working with, walk over to their desk, be present. I don’t think it has the effect of making me seem friendly, but at least I’m trying. And effort counts, right?

Most men in the office are overweight and conservatively dressed. Maybe when they hit 30 they will get it together, and jump onto Starting Strength or Crossfit until they injure themselves. At least I have the excuse of managing chronic pain to be in shape. Recruiters and hiring partners will talk a lot about ‘fit’ with the firm. What’s important I’ve found is to be the same, regardless of your background. – everyone makes a big effort to suppress their individuality. That’s why I underdress and wear baggy cardigans that make me look 10lb overweight – to fit in. And everyone is miserable too. And I can hide how awful I feel by pretending I was out on the booze last night.

I guess to be in professional services in the big 4, international experience is a big plus, because you will be working with people from all over the world. They are in the same boat as you.

But back on topic: anyone can tick boxes and match portfolios to broker statements. That doesn’t take any skills except pain tolerance and a keyboardl. Soft skills, like being able to hold a conversation, or organise a night out for the business line will always trump that time you tied 2000 positions in an afternoon when promotions come up. If you don’t have the easy touch with people, you need to be organised and proactive in your dealings with your colleagues, superiors and HR. You have to concentrate on what you can do well to impress.

I think stupider people who are desperately insecure but nuture their talent will go further than someone who is brilliant but complacent. I know loads of smarter, more talented and better looking people than I am. They aren’t doing as well because they have so many ideas and plans, they never grind through the sticking point of failure. They just try the next thing. At the same time, concentrating on your strengths puts you up against people who are better than you at everything you are competing on. Then it’s luck of the draw.

There will be times when you are going up against people with worse grades and less talent, but they can hold a normal conversation and they will beat you. Or maybe, because they spent their teenage years happy and engaged in society, they have a connection with a network you don’t – a sports club at the heart of a community, an influential immigrant group, or a personal connection with someone in charge. So to have a chance, I had to grind social skills like a Korean free to play MMO.

You can do it too – there’s no reason a youtube history of weightlifting videos and gay porn remixed into anime theme tunes should hold you back. Do you have a career you can complain about? If not, mobilise and boost to the front lines of professional services!

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11 thoughts on “An Accrual world

  1. No thanks. I’m gonna be a Starting Strength alpha male who paints houses or works on cars and drinks beer. Fuck that office shit. Been there, done that, wanna go back to hard physical labor instead.

  2. Small talk time! First find a common ground. Did you know that 17% of male privates and 24% of female privates do not last 1 year in the US Army? Wait, that’s not working, UG is staring blankly at me. He’s from Ireland you idiot. That would be better for a conversation with boatdozer or dirtydave.

    okay, here’s a better one. You should have been an electrical engineer. An engineering grad (of any race) who speaks English well, can make passable small talk (and in engineering the standards are far, far lower “Hello, how are you?” “Good. Rainy out, huh?” “Yeah.” – guarantee you’re suitable), and has even a single comprehensible interest outside engineering (watching tv is ok, weightlifting ok, anime ok, anime music mixed with gay porn = no, laplace transforms=no) is worth at least a full letter grade over his foreign, bizarre, nerdy counterpart. You would be a social butterfly among engineers.

  3. So wait, you have a law degree but work in financial audit? I used to work in financial audit (and still do, kinda, but not for the Big 4). I empathize.

    “17% percent of my accountacy apprenticeship intake have quit since we began 5 months ago. The latest drop out ground through horrendous job after job, coming in weekends, to do the work of someone three years her senior.”

    Pretty much sums up the world of Big 4 audit, if you’re on the accounting side. Work sucks 1,000% and you usually aren’t even that well paid until you hit Manager level and have 20-30 underlings slaving away for you. The pace is frenetic and priorities unclear, mostly due to higher-ups who don’t really know how to plan and who became higher-ups through fluke or mistake. As a result, shit that should take a week takes a month, and ends up being badly done. People laugh uncontrollably, cry, don’t sleep and generally have breakdowns.

    Try switching over to Legal, or even Tax if you can. Consulting advisory is also reputed to be good. Audit is like the ninth circle of hell, full of screaming, hysterical souls.

      1. What’s your degree in, and what do you do for work? (Or is that one of your personal details you aren’t comfortable talking about?)
        Going into Mechanical Engineering is one of the things I’m thinking about doing after I’m no longer competitive at weightlifting.

      2. work = no comment, but degree was in Electrical Engineering. For the first year or two we took the same classes as the MEs. Then they actually needed more/different math. And more physics problems like bridges with different forces twisting on them and in circular motions and ugh. You look more like a mechanical engineer. They tend to be taller and in better shape. EEs (i would have been a computer engineer if my school had offered at the time & specialized in digital electronics) tend to look like people from betapedia. If I had been an electrician, a technician, a computer programmer – or simply moved to the west coast where there are more interesting jobs I might still work in that field. Just. Lost. Interest.

      3. My thought process is that I enjoy math and physics, and, in my current job, I get to see and fix plenty of the equipment engineers’ screw-ups, so why not take my field experience fixing things and start designing the equipment, instead?
        That’s probably a hopelessly naive way of looking at it. And, heck, I’d probably take a pay cut from what I’m making now, at least for a few years, but at least I’d be able to do it into my old age, without it destroying my body…

      4. not naive. You actually see what an ME does and how they live. Naive is me liking fooling with computers and taking apart electronics and wanting to be an EE.
        fucking unbelievable the number of people who choose a career without talking to someone who does it, i mean even online. The military is FULL of this. Not that recruiters help matters. But ugh, people are so dumb. Digression: My old platoon sergeant was a recruiter and he got a guy to sign on as a “chaplain’s assistant” (to fill a quota) by telling the kid that the chaplain’s assistant was basically a high-speed elite bodyguard for the chaplain. (instead of like printing up sermons and such)

    1. Business and law. Did audit and compliance work in China. Liked it, and the only jobs that are really going in my city are financial services, so I figure I could have done worse.

      I’ve been trying to get into tax for a year now, but they say they’ve filled their slots. Interviewed with two sets of partners for two different jobs. Won values awards. Chosen as the best intern in the country. Still no tax jobs, and still stuck on the same job as last year. They actually call it the “Widowmaker” – I don’t find it too bad because I have a lot of excuses to get out of 60 hour weeks. I haven’t worked more than 50 yet this year. I’m going to keep pushing. Plan at the moment is to stick around for another few months and look for other funds jobs if they won’t give me tax. Until then, just live and breath GAAP and IFRS so I can survive.

      Amen to everything you’re saying on audit Fatman. Which big 4 were you in?

      1. “Business and law. ”

        Yeah, I actually studied economics. Then got an audit job right out of college (Deloitte, 2 yrs.) and never left the accounting / compliance industry,

        “Plan at the moment is to stick around for another few months and look for other funds jobs if they won’t give me tax. Until then, just live and breath GAAP and IFRS so I can survive.”

        A former coworker of mine from Audit did pretty much this. They turned him down a bunch of times and people were actively undermining his efforts to transfer, but he kept the faith and finally made it to Tax. So, keep the faith.

  4. Man those lack of small talk feels. I thought I was improving at this up until recently, but really I’ve just become more aware of what’s required, similar to yourself. I semi-psyche myself up and prep conversational topics in my head before I start speaking. If I go in cold its a mess, I definitely need a full warm up before speaking. Today I made multiple errors in form. I approached a man waiting for the lift who chaired the recent conference panel I was on. I forgot his name. Unable to think of conversational topics we stood side by side awkwardly. When we got in I said hiya, as you do, hoping in vain that something would come to either of us, that he would remember me perhaps, whatever. He came back with some nonsense about how sometimes you feel like you’re waiting ages for this particular lift. I laughed but no sound came out. He got off at the next floor. We both died inwardly, or at least I hope he did too.

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