Your Risk Career Questions Answered

Audit Agony Aunt 240x160Carol McLachlan, theaccountantscoach, is a qualified accountant, NLP Practitioner and professionally qualified coach. Her 18 year career at Ernst and Young as a chartered accountant and a Director of Resources has equipped her with a real understanding of the professional and personal issues that accountants face. Here Carol answers your career questions as our very own Risk Careers Advisor.

If you have any careers, skills development or promotion questions, please send them to Carol, who will endeavour to answer them.

There may be the odd occasion that Carol cannot answer due high demand for her time, but you can post your question on the CareersinAudit Group Facebook Page or in our LinkedIn Group where you can discuss current issues with other Risk professionals and Risk jobseekers from across the world.

Your Risk Career Questions Answered:

"I am currently at a crossroads and I am unsure as to the path I want to take!  I am currently due to qualify this September from a top 6 audit firm (doing FS audit), and I have been offered a place in the banking division (FS) of a top 4 firm, at the assistant manager level, however I also have an equities product control role offer from a top bank.

 My interests actually lie in Treasury and risk management, however I have found my audit time very useful, and it has not been possible to get into the this area as of yet.

 My dilemma is that both careers offer in my opinion relatively equal pros and cons stability higher in audit and I am having trouble deciding.

 Pros of Audit:

  • Will be able to manage others
  • Diverse client base and experiences
  • Career progression more certain and stable


  • Once I have spent >2 years PQ, I am concerned I will be stuck in audit and will not be able to move into industry
  • Can be dull work at times and longer hours
  • Lack of recognition for hard work (no overtime/minimal bonus)

 Pros of PC:

  • Higher salary and opportunity for bonus
  • More interesting work on a day to day basis


  • Less stable and investment banking is not very profitable anymore
  • Career progression is uncertain
  • May not be able to return to audit/elsewhere if I do not
  • Will be at the bottom of the ladder again (no management opps)

 I was wondering if you could provide some commentary on whether my pros and cons of audit are reasonable, and any advice you would give.

 Thanks so much for your help, it is greatly appreciated."

It's great to see such a methodical and analytical approach to decision making.  You've pipped me to the post here, as this is typically the process I would recommend as a starting point!

You've nailed the pros and cons pretty well but I will throw in a few challenges as well as some further considerations. 

First up, remember that no career route is for life nowadays. In the twenty first century we would typically expect more of a zigzag pathway (as opposed to a linear progression) with moves sideways as well as upwards. So if you did choose to stay in audit beyond two years post qualification you wouldn't be stuck there for life and, similarly, dipping into investment banking doesn't preclude you from returning to audit in due course.

What stands out for me the most is how the investment banking fits with your overall career strategy if, even at the outset, you are not seeing it as a potential longer career pathway.  I'm not sensing any passion for it.  While it's not disastrous as a first post-qualified move, (even a short term one,) I think you would have to highly value the pros (new type of work and extra money) to really compensate for the cons.  One way you can do this is to further appraise the options by applying a 'weighting' to each of the pros and cons and see how the two choices fare against one another. 

The third option is, of course, to stay where you are and maybe wait it out for a suitable Treasury and Risk Management opportunity. You may like to evaluate the pros and cons of this too, similarly applying weightings. 

As a final point, I think your Big 4 offer of financial services audit potentially offers you the middle ground here.  It will provide another great brand for your CV, with some new specific sector experience, as well as the experience of a change of culture and a new network. It is also less of a sharp initial zigzag than the investment banking move and gives you a more circumspect taste of life after qualification. 

Overall though, the decision has to be yours. I totally commend you on your approach and recommend that you continue to think strategically rather than being seduced by some of the shorter term benefits (like the money!) which may be on offer.



"I have been in HR recruitment for about 18 years, recently I had some exposure to recruiting Accounting Professionals. There is one aspect of Accounting that has caught my interest, Risk & Assurance. I would like to get your advice about which is the best route to pursue a career in Risk & Assurance. I am considering going to graduate school to get my Masters of Accounting because it opens up the possibility of getting on with a Big 4. I also know recruiters who work for a couple of the Big 4 organizations, I was wondering if I could approach the recruiters about possibly having a discussion with one of their managers about the possibility of bringing someone in with little to no accounting experience. I have been told this has happened before.

Which route would you consider the best route. I realize I will have to take a substantial pay cut either way. I am okay with this, but wanted to make sure I am putting myself in a situation that I can be successful."

Thanks for getting in touch and for raising this interesting question about transitioning to a career in Risk & Assurance.

As an in house big four recruiter, I did, on a fairly regular basis, encounter mature candidates seeking training contracts for the more traditional graduate entry positions. And I did indeed recruit them, and while I would say their search for a position was no easier than conventional entry into the big four, I would not say it was necessarily any harder either.

As with graduate entry, the big four will be looking for a very strong academic record (particularly at A level, 280 UCAS points being typical). While they may be prepared to relax slightly, the number of points for a mature candidate, you'd still be expected to demonstrate robust educational attainment.

Beyond academics, you will need to vigorously justify your career move, demonstrating that you've done your due diligence and really understand the demands of a role in Risk & Assurance. Be prepared to map across transferable skills and experience from your recruitment career to your proposed career in accountancy. Competencies such as communication, relationship building skills, team work and working under pressure are all highly convertible but you'll need to find a way of demonstrating, through practical anecdote, what you will bring to the new job. In fact, I would say that the latter is probably more important that taking a post graduate programme. Indeed, a master's in accountancy would indicate a strong commitment to the career change but it is a pretty costly investment with no guarantee that you'd meet the big four entry criteria.

And of course, the big four are not the only purveyors of a career in assurance. You'd be wise to consider mid tier firms as well as internal, as opposed to external, audit careers and qualifications in the public sector and/or industry. So, as I'm ever wont to say, you need to get your story straight and be able to articulate robustly why you have chosen to change careers, what you expect to get from your new career and what you are bringing to a new potential employer.

I think you are on the right lines by using your current network to do some due diligence and also build some relationships in assurance. While not openly acknowledged, targeted in house relationship building can sometimes be a method of short circuiting the traditional recruitment process, and if not, it will at least add to your invaluable sources of background knowledge.



Have your career questions answered by emailing Carol here.

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