Audit in India is a career generally dominated by Chartered Accountants and the big four firms – Deloitte, Ernst & Young (E&Y), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and KPMG.
Neha Sharma, an auditor who now has an international career with a leading big-4 audit firm, managed to break into the field with an engineering degree + MBA.
She writes about what it means to be an IT auditor, how she got into the field after engineering, the pros and cons of a career in audit and more.
Life and Career as a Female IT Auditor
by Neha Sharma
Husband: “I love you.”
Auditor Wife: “Do you have evidence to support your statement?“
That joke pretty much sums up the work-life of an auditor, but there is much more to the job.
My name is Neha Sharma and I am currently working as a Senior Consultant with one of the Big 4 based out of San Francisco, USA.
In this article, I hope to give you an insider’s perspective about the life of an auditor.
From BPO to an Audit job after Engineering + MBA
Let us rewind back a few years and go back to the time when I had just finished my Electronics Engineering, just like any other middle-class family girl in Central India.
While I was always good at electronics, I was seeing every other batch-mate going to become a “software engineer” (Damn! Whatever happened to the four-year study of circuit design?)
I decided that I wouldn’t follow the crowd and wait for the right job in the field of my interest and jump to being a manager!
I toiled hard during my MBA from Symbiosis in Operations Management only to graduate during the worst depression era of our lives.
But as they say God has His plans. Faced with the challenge to meet my student loan deadlines I accepted the offer and joined a top MNC Bank BPO (now owned by one of the top India IT services company).
As a fresh graduate, I quickly learnt the basics of IT operations working as Information Security & Compliance Manager in a financial firm & moved up on the corporate ladder.
The best thing about the job was that it fuelled my Curious George personality and appreciated that I constantly asked “Why”, “Where”, “What if”.
A day in the life of an Auditor
Let’s break down one typical day in the life of an auditor
7 AM: Wake up. Shove some breakfast and get ready for work! Make sure you are dressed up in formal business suits & do not forget all tools: Smartphone& laptop.
8 AM: Grab a Starbucks Black eye with two shots of espresso,arrive for work at your own or client’ office (depending on your current project). Scramble for aseat and set up your workplace. Being on the West Coast in USA, you start receiving work emails from East Coast (3 hours ahead in time zone).
9 AM: Meet the client and start discussing your plan for the day. Make the best use of your time by asking relevant questions, requesting and gathering documents. Be ready to receive push back from the client sometimes unless it’s your lucky day and the client is happy, prepared & ready.
12 PM: Take a break from excel sheets and systems for an hour long lunch. Walk around outside off to get some fresh air, soak up the California Sun, pick up your dry cleaning, get some groceries.
1 PM: More meetings with client and senior management for status updates and timelines of existing audit.
3 PM: Hit yourself with another shot of caffeine and get into solving issues and concerns of juniors working with you and mentor them for their work.
5 PM: Have another client meeting to wrap up and inform day’s progress. Prepare for end of day during non-busy season.During busy season(generally month-ends and financial year-ends), you may realize that this is only half of the day’s work and you might need to continue the work until late evening.
(The rest may apply more to the Indian work culture)
5PM: This is the time when you realize that you were busy taking too many chai-sutta-lunch-snackbreaks & have to complete a critical document by end of day.
Most of the times, the management may expect you to work late in the night and leaving office before sunset might be considered a bad practice with management making wrong opinions about your work ethic.
So, if you are in India expect to work till 9 PM. And if you are in the busy season, it is pretty much given that you would spend 12-14 hours per day in office.
6 PM: Evening time is for parties and social meet ups to unwind and relax. It may be a happy hour session with your office friends or a formal client dinner with engagement managers or trying to maintain some social life.
How to cope with a high stress job in Audit
- Fall in love with Coffee. It’s your best mate ever.
- Ignore your personal life.
- Realize that you would only be home during the times when your husband is asleep i.e. very early mornings and late nights.
- Say goodbye to your 6/6 vision and don those thick glasses which are a by-product of all excel sheets you would work on
- Learn the jargon which may make you look smart.
- Accept that hard work would only take you so far and your success mainly depends on your diplomatic tactics.
Pros and cons of a career in Audit
Here are some of the pleasures and pains of a job in audit.
- With so many lunch and dinner meetings/events sometimes you have to book your husband’s calendar to join him for dinner. You may not get time to do usual household chores like cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. and need a supportive life-partner to manage your professional life and protect your house from falling apart.
- You rake in tons of frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points, which you can use for your own vacations, but you feel like a tourist in your own home
- You get treated like royalty by some clients but sometimes the roles are reversed
- The office parties are amazing where conversations, food and drinks might be free flowing but you put in extra hours to cover up for the party time
- Working with colleagues from multiple countries makes you more open and gives you an amazing experience to learn about world cultures.
- The organizations are pretty friendly where you have easy access to directors, partners and managers.
- You work for a good brand and there is a little bit of pride attached to the name
If you have been brave enough to reach this point in the article and are still undeterred the next question is – what tools do you need to join the club?
Qualities needed to be a good Auditor
- Keen eye for details: Observe things, which most people might overlook and ignore.
- Think out of the box: At the risk of sounding clichéd the best solution is the easiest one.
- Excellent communication skills: Written and oral as most of your time will be spent in meetings, talking to clients, juniors and management
- Documentation! Documentation! Documentation!: Got to evidence your work by preparing documents. Hence it is a must have skill-set.
- Strong interpersonal skills: As you would always interact with people and be dependent on them for work thus you must be a team person.
- Think like a cyber-criminal: Focus on best practices of IT, but also ask the right questions to understand the loopholes
- Neutral and unbiased: As a professional, you can’t have personal prejudices and opinions come in the way
- Certifications: Arm yourself with latest pieces of paper and tags
- Go back to books: Be up to date with new Industry standards and keep reading about what’s going on in the world of audit.
- Be on top of news: As the IT universe keeps progressing in terms of innovations, you are expected to be aware of the latest stuff
- Adjust to your surroundings: As you would be moving from one project to another which can last anywhere between a few days to a few months
Being a female IT Auditor – What’s different:
In a male dominant industry, being a female auditor has its own pros and cons.
- Being a female you are born with good observational skills.
- Your OCD for being organized, planning and management comes in handy.
- Most of the times your colleagues and client make sure that your requests are quickly noted and taken actions upon.
- You get to work in an employee friendly and safe environment.
- The organization has special benefits like home drop offs for female employees.
- The standard female barriers about professional growth, promotion, power struggle remain in most organizations and you may feel that you need to prove yourself over and over again.
- As there are very few females in senior management positions you may not always find the best role models and mentors at your workplace.
- You face the risk of being tagged as too aggressive if you talk about your progress or too laid back if you do not talk enough.
However, with everything said and done if you have the self-confidence and ability to use your challenges as opportunities, it is not a bad work area for a woman as you get to work in sophisticated work environment at a global level.
If you align yourself with a supportive team, be aware of what is going on in the organization and help your fellow females you would soon rise up in the ranks and make some good friends for life in the process.
Disclaimer: The write-up is based on my personal experience and interaction with colleagues across multiple organizations and does not reflect the opinion of any individual employer.