First year experience - Life in the Big Four, by Anita Chan

Anita Chan joined KPMG last year upon graduating from a five-year master's program (in four years) at the University of Southern California. Anita is now an audit associate in KPMG's Los Angeles office.

When I graduated from the University of Southern California about a year and a half ago, there were many things that I couldn't have predicted about my current position as a second-year associate in KPMG's audit practice. On the other hand, much of my experience has been just as advertised.

There is the frequent misconception that accounting is just about crunching numbers. During my junior year I interned with KPMG and gained exposure to the reality of the profession, so I already knew that auditing actually involves a lot of writing, as everything in today's audit world must be documented.

Working in the audit world has been an eye-opening experience. When you work on an audit, it's like collecting the pieces of a puzzle, since you only work on a few components of a much larger effort at one time. Initially, it's difficult to see the complete picture, but with time, you will begin to collect more pieces and eventually be able to see the whole. An interesting piece that I got to work on this year was performing inventory test work at a client's Chicago and New Jersey factories.

The workload during my first year at KPMG was exactly what I expected. During the recruiting process, everyone I met from KPMG clearly explained their expectations and discussed the seasonal ups and downs that drive the accounting profession. So when the busy season (January through March) hit, I wasn't surprised at all. But in the summer, things really slow down, and on Fridays my day ended early - 3 p.m. - thanks to KPMG's "Jump Start Fridays."

One thing that did surprise me, though, was the work environment here. During the recruiting process, everyone corresponded in such a formal manner that I expected a rigid atmosphere. But it was nice to discover that the environment at KPMG is actually pretty casual. Everyone on my team works hard, but at the same time we are able to have a good time and joke around. The people here are great. In fact, one of the main reasons why I chose to work at KPMG versus the other Big Four firms is because of the corporate culture. I also saw that the firm has great opportunities for women. As a female, it is encouraging to know that there is a large representation of female partners and managers at the firm.

Furthermore, I was very impressed by KPMG's resources for career advancement. One thing I never expected when joining the firm was that as a first-year associate I would be able to do a rotation right away. When I learned that KPMG offered four first-year associates the chance to complete a one-year rotation with the Department of Professional Practice (DPP) in New York, I knew this would be a great learning experience and jumped at the chance.

Though DPP work was difficult, I'm glad that I took advantage of the opportunity. I believe the rotation was a great transition for me from a college student to a first-year associate at a Big Four firm. DPP exposed me to various technical accounting issues. And the research skills I learned in school were applicable to my rotation with DPP, since many of the projects I completed involved a lot of research. For example, I did a project that required me to research, summarize, and generate an analysis of the Securities and Exchange Commission comment letters.

While overall my first year has been a phenomenal experience, I will admit that my initial weeks on the job were an adjustment. One of the things that helped smooth my transition was asking a lot of questions and having an open mind. In this profession, you work primarily in teams, so developing a rapport and sharing knowledge with each other is very beneficial.

I think that mentoring has been equally important in helping me get acclimated to the profession. KPMG encourages mentoring relationships, and I feel this is especially helpful for new associates. In school, there is an emphasis placed on meeting with your professors if you want to do well, and the same concept is true here. Instead of meeting with professors, I meet with my performance manager and mentors. The mentoring relationships I formed have helped me to figure out in what direction I would like to take my career, as well as the opportunities available to me to do so. One of these opportunities that I would like to take advantage of is an international rotation. I'm already looking into the various international opportunities and hope to go on an international assignment in the next two to three years.

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