The Reader Mailbag

During the last year or so, the number of comments on the blog have increased tremendously.  Thank you for that.  It’s especially gratifying, and interesting, to still be getting comments on older posts, in particular related to “layoffs”.  

As you know, I monitor comments personally, without that tedious “captcha” stuff.  I will print any comment as long as it does not mention any names other than firm leadership and as long as it is not vulgar.  I do not edit comments ever, but I don’t print anything denigrates or disparages me personally.  However, I do not hesitate to post anything critical or that corrects my statements with additional facts.

But even more than comments, I like to get email and calls.  There are some of you, (and you know who you are!) who have been in touch with me consistently since the beginning, providing encouragement, information, insights and sometimes questions and comments.  Some of you I have even met in person.  It’s really fun when I check messages on my blackberry in the morning, (it’s on the table next to my bed,) and find a message that was sent during the night from someone on the other side of the world where the day had already begun.  As you know, I answer right away, I answer personally, and I appreciate these messages very much.
Occasionally, I find one that asks a question that I think might be of interest to others and I ask permission to share the question and answer on the blog.  Anonymously in most cases.  I am planning on making this a regular feature when my new blog format is launched in early November, in conjunction with additional support for those of you who, by design or default, want to take advantage of my network to look for new opportunities.  I hope this will make the site even more interesting for all of us.
This email, received last week, was one I thought you all might find interesting:
Hi Francine!

I am a new reader of your blog. It’s interesting to learn about all the other big 4 and other companies as well from your blog. I am actually a fresh graduate, 21 years old and I got my first job with Deloitte in [southeast Asia.]

Right now I am currently working as a junior auditor.

However, my interest is not really within the accounting field as I am really interested to eventually get into an investment based company. However, I am taking advantage of this valuable experience.

I was happy to get into one of the big 4 firms here. But sometimes I am worried whether I am making the wrong choice. The environment here are okay but I certainly do not want to end up working like nobody’s business with the rewards going to all the partners only. I realized that by the end of the day it’s all about making the partners richer.

Am I thinking too much? Do you have any suggestions about how to make myself happy by working with the big 4 firms? Especially based on your experience? Any advice for a fresh graduate like myself?

Thank you and may you have a wonderful day.

“Doubting Zaki”

Dear “Doubting Zaki,”

Yes, you are thinking too much.  But that’s a sign of intelligence. As long as it does not manifest itself into insecurity, anxiety and inaction thinking “too much” is a good thing.  At age 21, there are very few career “mistakes,” choices you can not change or that you can not learn from.  Joining a Big 4 firm is hardly ever a “wrong” choice.  Joining the wrong Big 4 for you may be.  Staying too long may be.  Ignoring signs that your are unfulfilled, under appreciated, underpaid, or downright disrespected is a wrong choice.

The purpose of my blog is to add more information to your decision process at each step of the way.  To help you have “healthy skepticism,” a necessity for an auditor and for a professional in this day and age.  To help you to know about what others are doing and saying and to avoid feeling you are alone in your dilemma, issue, problem, or challenge.

One thing I do notice with those in the first couple of years of their career these days is a lack of stick-to-it-tive-ness. Young professionals, both men and women, all over the world, seem more fidgety, more apt to second-guess their choices, more comfortable reversing decisions based on peer pressure, whim, fear of losing status, competitiveness, or because someone on a blog said something negative.  I have made many decision in my life, some taking more to analyze than others.  But once I go in a particular direction, make a decision, I follow-through, honor my word and give it 150%.  Until I know for sure I need to change course.

With a first job (or a next job,) if you have done your homework up front, thought sincerely about the pros and cons, then make the decision and give it 150%. This effort is not for your employer, it’s for you.  So you learn, so you can be proud of yourself, so others can see your integrity.  Your personal portfolio of contacts, experiences, skills is yours and yours alone.  No one owns that and no one can take that away from you.  Except in rare instances, no one else can screw it up for you.  Unless an employer uses bait and switch, lies about something, goes back on their promises, changes the rules in mid game, you should honor your decisions.  First jobs should not be left without giving them their full due, either for an outside or inside opportunity, unless absolutely necessary. 

How long is long enough?  Well, in the audit firms, given the training and performance review process, it’s impossible to know how you’re really doing until the first year to eighteen months is over.  Unless someone tells you you’re a loser in the first thirty days…  

I knew within the first 30 days that I was not right for PwC,  (no one told me I was a loser, they told me I was too smart,) but I stayed almost a year and a half.  Not that I should have left earlier.  I just should have never taken the job.  I knew better.  Big warning signs.  I ignored them because of pride. However, the experience and what I saw there is what pushed me to start the blog.  I have never been happier and more fulfilled.

Go figure..

Good luck.


10 replies
  1. Krupo
    Krupo says:

    Plus – if I’m reading your mind correctly, a general skill I’ll never cease working on – the PwC gig you’re referring to wasn’t your *first* job, right?

    I figured I’d append this note to make your logic clearer. Knowing whether you’re speaking of a more recent “experienced hire” position or your first job puts a slightly different emphasis on your final point, eh?

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Too smart for the Big 4 – it’s interesting to see that come up here. I have also been told by people at the senior and manager level I’m “too smart” to stay in public accounting. I think that says volumes about the profession.

    As far as effort, I don’t give anywhere near 150%. I do, however, honor my word, and do so by fulfilling what I feel I’ve signed up for by accepting the job. That includes long hours and personal sacrifice, but it does not prevent me from pushing back forcefully and often whenever I feel something is unreasonable.

    I think it’s important to remember for everyone working in the Big 4 – if you never say no, they will keep on taking until there is nothing left. Draw the line, stick to it, and if they don’t appreciate the quality effort within your personal limits, so be it. Life is too short to care.

  3. Sam
    Sam says:

    Francine, would you care to give a brief timeline of your career track ? I’m interested to know how you got to where you are today.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Anon@1250am…SMACKED IT ON THE HEAD! Right you are. Especially your last paragraph. The Big 4 is not some Wall St. i-bank (do they even exist anymore) or a hedge fund where 15 hour days may pay you millions and can be exiting to be living on the leveraged edge of finance but your last paragraph was spot on – as well as your advice to push back. I used to not when i started in Big 4…nowadays I do.

    And I quietly laugh at people who pride themselves in working 12-15 hour days all the time…I’ve done those hours and its nothing to brag about and is not analagous to a big payday.

    — J. Drama

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Your blog claims:

    “Always objective, always independent…”

    Do you feel you are truly independent and objective in your often one-sided critiques of the big 4 professional services firm, considering you are a partner in a professional services firm that competes, in many cases, directly with the big 4?

    Wouldn’t a lower public opinion of the Big 4 benefit your own financial interests? Can you clarify how you feel you are independent and objective in light of this?

  6. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:


    I do not compete with the Big 4. My firm is very small. It consists of myself and any consultants I hire as subcontractors, as needed. My clients are other professional services firms. When and if I provide services directly to industry, it is at their request, in order to provide quality assurance for internal projects or consultation regarding their relationships with other professional services firms, not to substitute for the Big 4 or any other audit firm.

    My blog is intended to present my point of view about the Big 4. I do not believe the audit firms and the audit /accounting indutry receives adequate, knowledgeable coverage from the mainstream media and academia as a business and a unique business model and an industry. There is plenty of coverage from the firms’ perspective, provided by their public relations professionals to the media. There is very little about the firms as a business and as an industry.

    My blog curently takes no advertising revenue, no sponsorships and receives no other compensation for its content. If and when I do change this model, all relationships will be disclosed and designed to not compromise the view of the Big 4, which is my primary my focus.

    I make no apologies for my bias and have no responsibility to provide fair or even handed reporting. My philosophy been made clear many, many times on the blog.

    Read the blog if you are interested in the information I provide and in my point of view. If not, don’t. Caveat emptor.

  7. James
    James says:

    I have been called “too smart,” but the suggested alternate career path – government – doesn’t seem that interesting right now.

    I think the biggest issue for the writer might be status. It reminds me of that New Yorker cartoon, “being an accountant gives him that extra aura of danger.” If you can tell a girl in a bar that you are an accountant without being embarrassed then you are probably ok. If not, it might be time to look elsewhere.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Why is it that you pick and choose which reader comments to post, and often exclude comments that contain no personal attacks, profanity, etc?

  9. Francine McKenna
    Francine McKenna says:

    @7:42:00 I exclude very few comments. But I do exclude those that only disparage or criticize me personally without adding to the conversation. If a comment corrects my facts with other facts or provides an alternate theory to my theory, that’s fine. But, if someone wants to criticize me personally, they can do it non-anonymously, to my face, anywhere else or send me an email or a voice mail. There are many ways to confront me directly if that’s one’s motive without it getting lost in the comment stream.

    I give my opinion and stand by it, with my name on it. I have no obligation or great desire to give anyone a forum to criticize or disparage me on a personal level especially if they do it anonymously.

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