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Keys to being a Top-Rated 1st Year accountant


This is a summary of things that I wish I had known going into my first year, or maybe I was told and should have payed more attention. For many of these you have heard them before but I wanted to actually add some value so I gave you actual ways you can put them into practice. If you have any additional suggestions feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below. If you’re still in the process of trying to get an job as a first year,  check out the Big 4 Blueprint where I explain the top Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, and EY interview questions and answers to ensure you have the best chance of getting an offer.

1) Do not be afraid to ask questions

Public accounting is a pull, not a push learning environment. You are not expected to know what you are doing and lots and lots of questions are expected. There is nothing more frustrating than to give an “easy” task to a first year and then come back and they are still trying to figure it out. Suck up your pride. It doesn’t mean you’re dumb – you probably don’t have all the information or don’t know where to look to get the required information.

It’s ok if you need help or clarification. Sitting and staring at the workpaper because you don’t know how to approach it or got stuck at some point isn’t good for anyone.

One caveat to this is with excel formulas. If you are having trouble figuring out a vlookup or if/then ect, use google. There will ALWAYS be a clearly defined example of how to properly use an excel formula online. If you haven’t downloaded the free ebook, it has detailed examples. There is also a ton of excel shortcuts which make you look smart and save time. I actually forgot a few of the formula syntax’s I had put in there and have been using it as reference. One note on vlookups – the problem is usually formatting.

 2) Develop a systematic organization method – or use my technique

On my desktop, along with a ton of other random stuff (although I prefer to keep things orderly)

  • “Current Client” – A folder for whatever client I’m on. I usually put it separate from other folders/files. I also drag it to the quicklaunch menu in windows for quick acces or if I have other screens open and don’t want to go to desktop.
  • Clients – Here I keep a folder containing folders I used on past clients. When I roll off the engagement I move the files here. Never delete anything.
  • Temp – I keep a “temp” folder for items that I don’t really need to organize, but I just don’t want them to clutter my desktop. This is usually if I need to email someone something and have to save it somewhere first.
  • Reference – I keep files from training or company guidance that may be relevant. Also controls the testing matrix and those types of things
  • Pending items – This will be a big help and I wish I had this sooner. What I usually do is take whatever sections I’m assigned on my current client, take the prior year file and somehow get it into a project management mode in excel. (Depending on your firm’s software, it may be easy to do). For each test and file that was in the workpapers last year, I put it in a row in excel (Obviously things may change, but you won’t be expected to know when a change in audit strategy is needed for a little while). I do is keep a running check on what is finished and what I will need to complete it. I will also list questions I need to ask to complete as well as whatever is pending the client . I like to put something like “sent request for XYZ detail 8/21/13.” You can get creative with color coding green/yellow/red ect. This sounds basic/overkill but you will soon realize how important organization is.

Within the client folders, I have a folder for controls testing, substantive testing. These two will hold the bulk of the documents for a client. I also in this main client folder I keep:

  • Trial balance, Prior Year trial balance
  • Financial Statements
  • Assignment Schedule – a schedule of when my sections are to be complete. Usually given to you by a senior when you start the engagement.

Within the controls or substantive folder I have a sub-folder for each process, such as fixed assets, expenses, revenue – whatever I’ll be working on. Within those folders, depending on how many tests we do for each section, I will have a subfolder within them. So for example substantive procedures over fixed assets I might include:

  • Fixed Asset Rollforward
  • Construction in Progress
  • Depreciation
  • Valuation/Impairment

Within the email client – there are also some useful tools.

You may see that some seniors/managers keep emails in subfolders similar to how I have it on my desktop above. I do not recommend you implement this practice until after your first year. The only problem with this is that when you try to search something, you won’t be able to find it unless you click “search entire inbox” or whatever it is. It’s not that you may waste a few seconds, but that you don’t think someone sent you something and they actually did.

On the other hand, you should keep a folder dedicated solely to outstanding client requests. When I send an email requesting a response or document from a client contact, I drag that email from the sent folder to “client requests.” When they respond, I move it back to the sent folder (don’t delete it – never delete anything). This makes it easy to track when you sent requests and who you need to follow up with.

Within outlook, you should also utilize the “task” feature. When you get an email, there will be a little box or check to the right of the email. If you click it, it will move it to a  task pane on the bottom right hand side. This is especially helpful when you are in the middle of something and don’t have time to respond or deal with it immediately. Instead of relying on your ability to remember such things, it will be there sitting in your task bar. When you get a moment, go through and try to and clear the running list of things.

3) Take notes

You will get this beat into you non-stop during training so I’ll just give you tips on how to do it effectively instead of just saying to do it.

  • You will need to manage watching the senior/second year show you what to do and at the same time jotting down notes. It may be a struggle because some people are “do-ers” meaning they learn easier by doing, rather than just watching.
  • If your firm uses Outlook, it has tools for quick note taking. Using the task bar mentioned earlier, you can double click the subject line and start typing. Another way to easily keep track of stuff. This is great when a senior starts randomly giving you a task.
  • If you take notes on paper and have bad handwriting, get them onto the computer so you will be able to read it. Or maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this…
  • Ask for clarifiation if you don’t know. If you don’t know now, you likely won’t know later when you’re trying to figure it out.

Never underestimate the amount of documentation needed from ‘walkthroughs’. I’m giving these their own section because they’re that big of a deal.  You will go on the walkthrough and think you know everything about the process, only to realize you didn’t cover half of what you needed to. While on walkthroughs, keep in mind that you need to be focusing on:

  • When/where things hit the accounting information system  – Ex: When a sale is recorded, when an account payable is recorded ect.
  • What information systems the reports/files are being pulled, and where the document comes from – Is it an excel file that they create or is a report generated from their SAP system?
  • If the control is XYZ reviews the XYZ find what they are actually reviewing and what would make them not say “Ok this looks good.” Try to get a dollar value.
  • Keep in mind that the prior year documentation may not have everything you need. There has been recent guidance from the PCAOB and the walkthrough procedures are being overhauled.

4) Diligent self review

Again you will get this beat into you, but here are some things you absolutely have to do before signing off on a workpaper. The extra time taken to review your work will save tons of time for you and the reviewer.

  • Make sure tickmarks are referenced out (see below)
  • Work on something else for a few minutes, and then come back and check for spelling/errors. You will hardly ever find mistakes like this if you do it right after you finish.
  • Within the audit software you will see that “assertions” from audit class are back. CEAVOP didn’t go away and they are relevant to your work. If the audit program the senior set up says we’re testing CEA of fixed assets, but the testwork shows C&A – you need to ask, or fix it. These are great “coaching moments” for you to understand how certain methods of testwork cover these assertions. Assertions can change from year to year and the testwork template may not have changed, so this is something you will likely be exposed to.
  • Did you perform the tests the audit program says? The software will usually say “XZY obtained the ZXY schedule and performed the following procedures:.” This is similar to the assertions where things may change.
  • Make sure the dates are changed. Almost all workpapers are “rolled forward” meaning they take the prior year document, change the substance, and re-use it. These documents are usually filled with dates like the client’s year end.

5) How Tickmarks Work

Tickmarks are a way of saying that the number on this workpaper also appears on another workpaper. A tickmark (TM) is usually a reference to the number  assigned to a workpaper within your firm’s audit software (an example could be

When a number is going to another workpaper, it goes on the right side of that number. If it is coming from a workpaper, it goes on the left side. If you’re on w/p 1.4.2 have put a TM to workpaper 1.4.3, there should be a TM on 1.4.3 with that same number going to 1.4.2.

Tickmarks Example

Auditing is all about levels of detail – at the top have the Financial Statements and then you have the trial balance (TB), which is more detailed and breaks out individual accounts and subgroups. Within each trial balance” account you have a detailed list of transactions/entries that have a total equaling that trial balance account.

So say you’re working on SG&A expenes, and the financial statements show SG&A is$50M. There will be a “trial balance”, with amounts for each SG&A account and subtotals within each group (payroll, maintenance, ect). The grand total under SG&A on the trial balance will be $50M. Lets say admin expenses are $10M and there is only 1 account. You will get a detailed list of transactions totaling $10M. Since the detailed transaction is the supporting documentation, the numbers are going UP to the financial statements.

Lets say the workpaper that has the detailed transaction is workpaper 2.5, the trial balance is TB, and the Financial Statements are FS. It would look like this:

On the total on the detail at 2.5:             $20,000,000 TB

On the trial balance:                           2.5 $20,000,000 FS

On the Financial Statements             TB   $20,000,000

It’s easy right? Now don’t forget to check your references. Your reviewer will always check your TM references so this will be just one less thing to fix.

Other Tips

Don’t whine – nobody likes a complainer.

Have fun at first year training and network with people. If a group is talking about going out to bars later see if you can link up. Try to at least remember a few faces because as people leave the firm, classes get smaller and more you start to see the some of the same people.

You are not there to find fraud, and you will most likely never see any. There is also usually a reason for any “mistake” you find.


Deloitte, KPMG, EY, PwC Interview questions

3 Responses to “Keys to being a Top-Rated 1st Year accountant”

  1. Greyaccountant says:

    Quite interesting blog!! It is really helpful to get an approach on this topics from someone who has lived it “live” in the trenches 🙂

    Hope you keep this blog updated, your advises are really useful and I am going to start applying them from tomorrow.

    Thank you very much for your posts, I have always had an interest in Public Accounting and specially in the BIG4 world, and I think I am going to discover many things here.

  2. […] This article comes from WSO by way of Big4Bound.  Big4Bound also runs a awesome blog over at big4bound.com. Check it out for more great content including Keys to being a Top-Rated 1st Year […]

  3. JeffC says:

    Awesome write up. I start in January and was looking for something like this.

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