Pitfalls of a First-Year Audit Associate

A female with blonde hair, sitting at a desk and looking at her laptop, meant to represent a first-year audit associate at a CPA firm. Estimated read time:
2 minutes 30 seconds

First-year audit associates often fall into traps while navigating their new careers. It can be challenging, and mistakes will be made. However, you can learn from those who have walked the path before you, entering the field with tips to avoid several common pitfalls.

Completing tasks without understanding them

“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I think I did a pretty good job.” That is part of an actual conversation I overheard during my first month of being hired as an audit associate. A mistake that first-year audit associates often make is focusing on fulfilling a task quickly, while thorough comprehension of an assignment often comes second. What is the cost of such an approach? Professional development.

Just as you can’t build a strong building on a weak foundation, you cannot progress in your auditing career by simply completing tasks. It’s common for young staff to focus on signing off on the workpapers without fully understanding what they just did. This is a shortsighted strategy that hinders development. They might please their supervisor by completing a workpaper, but it will eventually backfire if they do not understand what they just did. In public accounting careers, people often come and go. Make sure that if you ever decide to move on (or are let go), you are equipped with valuable knowledge. Do more than sprint through tasks for the sake of completing them.

Being afraid to ask questions 

For many newly hired audit associates, it is often their first full-time job. From a college student to a young professional, social circles change, and some may feel the weight of the expectations on their shoulders. They hold back, afraid of sounding incompetent. But this first year brings a window of opportunity. Ask questions.

Formulating a question is a beneficial learning exercise because it requires you to identify the pieces within a problem you do not understand. Therefore, formulate a question before hopping on a call with your senior.

Next, be mindful of other people’s time and always take notes. Everybody is happy to answer your questions. Taking notes will help you avoid the pitfall of asking the same questions repeatedly. The team expects first-year associates to ask many questions. Take advantage of the opportunity and use it to your benefit.

Putting off the CPA exam

“I can’t take time off to study for the CPA exam. I have a routine testing for “XYZ Company” to be done.” The secret we all keep from first-year associates is that their job could be done by almost anyone within the firm in significantly less time and with fewer mistakes. In their enormous effort, first-year associates might fall under a false impression of irreplaceability – a feeling that they are the only ones chosen to complete the most routine workpapers. Surprise, surprise. What makes an associate hardly replaceable is not the number of simple workpapers they sign off on, but their commitment to studying for (and passing) the CPA exam. Take a step back and prioritize your development in the long term. It will pay off.

Thinking you are “just the staff”

You were hired for a reason. You might not be bringing great value to the firm immediately, but there is a potential within you that is to be released as you learn and progress. Do not say things about yourself that make you feel less worthy. We start to believe what we tell ourselves. Stick with the positive.

Knowing the pitfalls to avoid before you start your first audit job will give you a head start and set you up for success. Keep your long-term development and career goals in mind, ask questions, learn from your tasks and mistakes, keep a positive outlook, and you’ll find the first year of your accounting career more enjoyable.

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