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Choosing The Right Accounting Firm
Mok Wai Ling, Partner at Crowe Horwath shares her professional advice on how a fresh graduate go about in selecting the firm of their dreams.
What are the available accounting firms?
Accounting firms that are available to fresh graduates include the Big Four, second tier firms, smaller firms as well as boutique firms. However, if students are looking for accounting firms where they can learn and develop their capabilities, then boutique firms may be too specialised for them as these firms may focus specifically on tax or corporate advisory. Fresh graduates without the relevant experience may end up conducting research or performing low level work in such boutique firms. Hence, for those who are looking to develop themselves and broaden their experiences in the accounting industry, they should consider working for three to five years within an audit firm.
Big or small firm?
For smaller firms, the number and variety of clients that the graduates are able to manage may not be as extensive compared to those in bigger firms, and thus, their experience may not be as wide. Due to the size of the smaller firms, graduates may end up servicing a lot of small mom-and-pop shops, trading, investing holding companies, etc, and may not have the opportunity to audit large organisations or public listed companies.
This is not to say that working with smaller firms should be discouraged but rather graduates should be careful and choose with caution. If graduates are seeking for a breadth of experience, then perhaps smaller firms may not be appropriate for them at this stage of their career. As a fresh graduate, you would want both the breadth and depth of experience, and this is something that larger firms can provide.
With that said, one of the common reasons that drive graduates to leave larger firms is because larger firms have silos. For example, if one works in audit, they will only be expected to focus on audit. Graduates will then find themselves specialising too much and not being able to learn or do anything else.
Qualities of a good firm
When you ask students or job applicants ‘what do you look for in an accounting firm?’, most of them will state that the culture of the firm is extremely important to them. The audit industry can very stressful as there is a lot of pressure in your day-to-day work. Hence, it is important for a firm to have a culture of appreciating its people. For example, Crowe Horwath is a performance-based company but they are also people-focused because, at the end of the day, they consider their people as their assets and not their expenses.
A firm that has good culture will also have good values. Such values include also placing emphasis on the importance of staff bonding, encouraging their staff to get to know each other when they are out of the office as well as developing friendships. After all, when you work with friends, it makes life so much easier.
A firm who is concerned about their employee’s future will also be interested in developing and investing in them. Some firms encourage their fresh graduates to take up professional qualifications or provide sponsorship programmes to pay for their employee’s courses and exam fees. All these embody the culture of the organisation, and the caring culture is very important.
Then, there is training. Some organisations have a strong training division to train their staff and whenever they lack the expertise, they will bring in trainers and specialists from beyond the company. Aside from technical training, there should also be extra training for those who scale the corporate ladder as they will need leadership skills, management skills, presentations skills and soft skills.
Learning more about accounting firms!
Students can discover and engage accounting firms directly at career fairs.These career fairs may be organised by universities or third-party organisations. At the career fair, students will be able to direct their questions to the HR personnel or representatives from the accounting firms, who can then help them gauge the industry better and understand what is it like to work with the firm.
More and more companies are conducting industrial visits for students, allowing them to visit and experience the company first hand. University students are invited to visit the company on site and gain some insights about their work environment, while the companies will use this opportunity to meet fresh candidates as well as share their experience with the students.
Internships usually last three to six months, and allows the students to work within a company or industry of preference. Students may use the internship to determine if they are genuinely interested with working with the firm as well as gain networks within the organisation. Graduates who perform well may even be hired upon graduation or at the end of their internship.