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What makes a good audit junior?

The role of audit junior is both challenging and rewarding and has always involved a steep learning curve. The increase in remote working over the past few years has, for some, meant less time physically spent with more senior team members and the client, and this has brought some key aspects of the role more sharply into focus.

In this blog we’ll consider some areas audit juniors can focus on to support their development in the early part of their career.

Building the big picture

Yes, it’s important to develop an understanding of the technical aspects and the role. You need the basics of accounting and double entry, and you need to understand the audit assertions and the principles of directional testing. You also need to get your head around lots of potentially new terminology and acronyms (because accountants love them!). However, what can often be overlooked is the importance of understanding the bigger picture – both in context of the audit and the client’s business.

In the case of audit, this means understanding how the individual section or test you are working on contributes to the overall audit. What does a successful outcome of the test really mean? What are the implications if problems are identified and how might they affect other areas of the audit. This perspective, of course, becomes easier with experience, but striving to develop it from an early stage can really make a difference to the quality your work, and also how interesting and enjoyable it is.

For the client’s business, understanding the big picture means understanding what really makes it tick. You can understand and test the sales and purchases systems but what is it that keeps the owner-manager awake at night? Is there increased competition? Are they overly reliant on a supplier or customer? Are they looking to sell the business? Awareness of these commercial aspects can provide an insight into the incentives and pressures driving management decisions and reveals the story behind the numbers you’re auditing.   

Both these aspects are also fundamental to developing professional scepticism. This elusive ‘mind-set’ has rightly been the focus of the profession in recent years. However, the key attributes of curiosity and inquisitiveness can only come into play with an appreciation of the bigger picture.

Communication skills

“So, you’re good at maths then?” Is often the question accountants get asked but the reality is rather different. The hard maths does exist, in fairly niche areas, but arguably the most important skills needed for success in audit are communication skills. From the outset you need to communicate with colleagues of all levels, from seniors up to partners, plus an equally diverse range of personnel at the client. Communications may be in-person meetings, phone or video calls or written in the form of email or, importantly, documentation on the audit file.

People naturally favour certain modes of communication with certain groups of people, but no one is brilliant at all this from the outset. Most people will have areas they can work on; the key is to acknowledge this and identify the types of communication you’re least comfortable with and focus on these areas. Talking to someone in your office or network who excels in the areas you’ve identified can be invaluable, even (or especially) if they are quite senior! Whilst it may take a bit of courage, this proactiveness will come across well.

Managing your development

As potentially the least senior member the audit team, it would be easy to assume an audit junior doesn’t require much in the way of management skills. This is also a misconception. From the beginning you are managing your time, often against a budget or a deadline, your workload, and requests from potentially multiple managers. And before you know it someone more junior joins who you’re asked to manage.

The aspect that often gets overlooked in all this is managing your own development. Seniors and managers have busy roles and, even with the best of intentions, your development may not reach the top of their list every day. It may be you want feedback on a particular piece of work, or to reflect on a recent interaction with a client. It could also be a technical question or a particular client or area of work you’d like to get involved with. Don’t wait for them to initiate it! Be proactive, and very often, if approached in the right way, any manager worth their salt will make time for you. Some considerations may include:

  • Be considerate of their time – say you would like their input and ask when would be a good time for them.
  • Be clear what you want from them and the conversation.
  • Do some research – show you’ve used the resources available to you such as auditing standards etc.
  • Put some thought in first – if you want feedback, what do you think went well or could be improved.
  • Take some notes with you to demonstrate you’ve prepared in advance of them giving their time.

In summary…

Audit juniors play a hugely important role in delivering efficient, good quality audits, and investing in their development is crucial for developing the next generation of managers and partners. Most firms we talk to recognise this. Few roles provide the opportunity to get under the skin of so many businesses and to develop a transferable skillset that will be valued whatever your future career path. Being proactive and taking control of your development is a good way to ensure those opportunities are grasped.

Richard Hemmings is hosting our popular “What Makes an Effective Audit Junior” session on 2nd May discussing the above issues and much more.

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