I’ll be honest, I applied to my Big Four firm in Singapore as an auditor because I knew it would be a stable job for a graduate (I have a BBA in accountancy from NUS). Unlike in banking, not many people get fired from the Big Four.
Having been here for more than two years, however, I now have a different attitude. One of the main reasons that grads should apply to the Big Four is because you get to work with so many other young people – and that’s fun. Being here is like working on an ongoing university group project, and getting paid for it. Big Four firms typically take on more grads than even the larger banks in Singapore, so your cohort is huge no matter what department you’re in.
My working and social relations with the people in my year are great because we’re a big enough group to support each other and be a force within the organisation. I’m not just the only recent grad among masses of other staff, often overlooked and given menial tasks, as perhaps I would be at a bank.
Moreover (and I didn’t realise this before I started), my whole team is pretty young. The so-called ‘seniors’ here, 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 department non-hierarchical and means I can wander up to anyone and ask them questions if I ever get stuck. That makes me more efficient in my job.
I’m shocked by how friendly a workplace this is. It may not all be down to peoples’ ages, but I’m not so sure I’d feel this comfortable in an older team. It’s peak audit season in Singapore right now and I’m typically leaving the office at 11pm. The funny thing is – I don’t mind. That’s partly because I enjoy the technical side of the work, but it’s also because I get on with everyone and I know someone will always support me with a client problem (without making a fuss and without any office politics).
Perhaps I should have suspected all this during the interview process, which was thorough without being overly 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 experience.
Polly Seah (not her real name) joined a Big Four accounting firm in Singapore as a graduate in 2016.
Image credit: wundervisuals, Getty