Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Skills You Need When Working for the Big 4 (Part II)

Technical skills – Of course, you must have this. I mean you can’t get into the Big 4 if you do not know what you are doing. In fact, they (especially the clients) will think you know everything (or at least, know where you can find the right answer). You are NOT allowed to make any mistakes or say a wrong thing. You are EXPECTED to be able to answer all your client’s / boss’ queries at the drop of the hat. If you do not, they will ask you “What the….? Why the hell did you graduate and got accepted here? You should know this!”

Communication Skills – both spoken and written. Let’s go to the spoken word first. You have to know how to talk to people. Even when you are dead tired or you do not want to talk to somebody, you manage to get yourself up, meet your client and talk your way through the meeting. The finest measure of your communication skills (at least one of them) is that you are able to convince the client that the accounting treatment is correct (even though they may end up recognizing huge paper losses because of it, thereby making them see red when they think about it). Another fine measure is when you are able to take a purely technical standard (like IFRS or the current GAAP) and translate it into layman’s terms to get your client (who is a non-accountant) to understand it and thereby, saving your head from his wrath.

Okay, so that’s the spoken part. What about the writing skills? Ever heard of the phrase – “your working papers should stand up for themselves”? Meaning, even when you are long gone from the firm, the one who will read your memo or your working papers should still be able to understand them without the need to hunt you down to explain what you wrote. So, you must know how to write. And I don’t even mean “grammer and speling” here. I mean, you must know how to write down as clearly and as concisely as you can the story behind your audit, without going through lots and lots of explanations and lots and lots of papers to get your point across. Now this is a writing skill.

Lastly, your time management skills a.k.a. multi-tasking. I know, I know, multi-tasking may not result to quality work but heck, at least, you’re getting some work done here. So, if you have this skill, you know how to juggle the following: talking on the phone with another client, while answering or clearing the review points of your partner / manager, while reviewing your junior’s work, while researching a particularly difficult accounting issue and while scheduling a meeting with your partner, with your team and with other concerned partners for your planning session. Need I say more?

As usual, I managed to write up a storm (oooppps, I guess I flunked the written communication skills). So tell me, which skills did you possess when you went in the Big 4? And which did you develop when you resigned from the Big 4?


  1. "Verbal" means "communicated in the form of words." Written reports and emails are still verbal.

    Non-verbal is "wordless" and refers to things like body language, facial expression, clothing, tone of voice, etc.

  2. Thanks. I was actually referring to the written skills so I changed the blog around a bit.

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