Life in the Big Four, Part II: Training

I was hired in the first year of Sarbanes-Oxley. Normally, recruits start in August, but that year they sent an e-mail out in February asking for volunteers to start in May.

Because I was looking for every excuse in the world to avoid spending the summer studying for the CPA exam, I jumped at the opportunity. So in May of 2004, I started my life in a Big Four firm.

For your first week or two of Big Four life, they ship you off to a vacation which is mislabeled "training." To me, the most important things that I learned in training were:

  1. How to wake up early (in college, I never scheduled a class before 2pm), and
  2. How much alcohol I could consume the night before and still manage to wake up early the next day.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

New hire training can be local, regional, or national. Because the small group of May starts was entering at the same time as the summer interns, we had a national training. Every U.S. summer hire by the firm was dumped in a giant conference center that was reasonably close to a major airport. But it had to be far enough away from the major city (where temptations may prove overwhelming to a bunch of 20-22 year old kids).

Even later, when I was an instructor at these trainings, I have always had a suspicion that the whole "training" thing is a conspiracy designed to test one's problem-solving abilities. For example, the firms know that the most important thing to a bored 21 year old is access to alcohol.

Thus, the most important "test" one faces at new hire training is to determine whether it is more cost effective to:

  1. Drink every night at the overpriced hotel bar, or
  2. Take a taxi 30 miles into town to drink every night at the college bars.

We opted for:

  1. Take a taxi to the nearest liquor store the first night, load up on obscene amounts of alcohol, and horde it for the two-week time-span…hoping that jaw-dropping hot females would be overwhelmingly impressed with our cleverness.

I think we passed our test with flying colors.

In general, the atmosphere is pretty similar to college. Everyone is holed up in the same hotel, and there are copious amounts of drunk, attractive 21-year-old females stumbling around every night. The lectures in training tend to be more boring, but there are no tests…and you're drawing a salary.

That brings me to my next point - if you're lucky enough to score a two-week training, you have your first paycheck waiting on you when you get back home. When I received this paycheck, I felt like I had just pulled one of the best scams in history: I had received an obscene amount of money for doing virtually no work. Looking back now, I realize that this was probably the most realistic aspect of training.

The training itself is pretty monotonous. You spend the mornings trying not to throw up from prior evening activities, and the afternoons staring blankly at some pointless information on your computer screen.

Now that I think about it, maybe training accurately reflects the actual job after all.

* This is the second in a series of reminiscences about life in the Big Four accounting firms. The author has asked to remain anonymous.

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