January 21, 2019

Future Big 4 Auditor Concerned That Body’s Need for Sleep Will Doom Career

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I was fortunate enough to received an offer for a full-time audit position with one of the Big 4 following the conclusion of my graduate program. I received the offer at the end of an internship, so I did get a taste of what’s to come next year.
 
And I’m worried.
 
To absolutely no one’s surprise here on Going Concern, I had no idea what to expect from public accounting when I went through the recruitment process. Now that I’ve been exposed to the actual work environment and to individuals who can actually provide me with useful insight, I’m starting to question whether I can truly handle this job.
 
I am not allergic to work. I have worked my asset off through school. However, in all those years of hard schooling, I learned that I am an academic Tortoise, and I will never ever be the Hare. You know those people who slack off the entire semester, pull an all-nighter, and miraculously pass the final exam? That’s not me. I have to keep pace the whole time because if I try the Hare strategy, I fail.
 
The reason is that I can’t pull an all-nighter. My body is very aggressive about its sleep needs. I need a minimum of 7 hours a night, and when I don’t get that, I crash very quickly. I can try to negotiate this reality all I want, but my body always wins.
 
At first, I thought that busy season was the only time during the year in which an auditor can expect to go through the Hare kind of lifestyle, and I resolved that I would find a way to tough it out. Now I’m starting to see evidence that such a work schedule can happen at any time, and I’m wondering if perhaps survival isn’t just about getting through busy season.
 
So my questions are as follows:
–           Can a person like me survive in public accounting? If so, how?
 
–          What are the ways to mitigate the physical drain of the job without hurting your career prospects? (The idea of asking to leave earlier than the team strikes me as a terrible option.)
 
–          What is the breakdown of hours worked and hours slept? I know there’s a wide range of experience, but is there a general kind of lifestyle I can expect?
 
–          If it is NOT possible to survive in public accounting, then where to within the accounting/auditing world?
 
Thanks so much for your insight.
Dear Tortoise,
 
Your body requires seven hours of sleep? Jesus, why don't you just hibernate during the entire period from November to March? 
 
What I don't understand is how you've concluded that life at a Big 4 firm is always in "Hare" mode. Yes, there are certainly periods where you won't see daylight and you might get a little behind on your beauty rest, but that shouldn't continue in perpetuity. Occasionally, you'll hear about someone going for long stretches of working long hours, seven days a week with no end in sight, but these people allow themselves to get in these situations. As for "all-nighters" these are not the norm. In my time, I did quite a few 11/midnights and a handful of 1 AMs but I NEVER slept at the office. Why? Because that is STUPID. People who sleep at the office are STUPID. It's completely unnecessary. I cannot imagine a scenario where you have so much to do that it requires that you work late into the night, through the morning prior to everyone else arriving. Sure, there's work to be done, but at one point of another, it's time to GO HOME. The work will be there tomorrow. Maybe these people who dive into a sleeping bag under their desk for 45 minutes have a monster for a spouse or don't want to think about emptying the dishwasher when they get home and that's fine, but don't think you have to acclimate to their incredibly bad life choices.
 
Now, your questions:
 
Can a person like me survive in public accounting? If so, how? – Yes. I recommend surviving public accounting like you survive life. Eat well. Exercise. Allow yourself play time. Yes, playtime is important:

 
GET THE SLEEP YOU NEED. When someone is an asshole to you, say, "I'm sorry that you're a horrible person but there's no reason to treat me this way." Find people you can trust. Avoid people you can't. Respect other people's time and efforts. I could go on. 
 
What are the ways to mitigate the physical drain of the job without hurting your career prospects? – The way I see it, you have to apply the same slow and steady methods you used in school to your job. You're not a "hare" as you put it. Fine. Nothing wrong with that. So what would the tortoise do? The tortoise would get to work a little bit earlier, bring their lunch, keep smoke or coffee breaks very brief, minimize chit-chat. In other words, BE EFFICIENT. Those good-for-nothing hares take two hour lunches, go for coffee twice a day and gab all day long even when happen to be within arm's length of their computer (which isn't often). When 7 pm rolls around and those idiots are finally starting to get serious, you'll already be done. Let your senior/manager/whomever know what you got accomplished for the day, what you'e going to accomplish tomorrow and GTFO. And talking to them is key. You can't just dash on your own time without telling people; you have to – gasp – communicate with them.
 
What is the breakdown of hours worked and hours slept? I know there’s a wide range of experience, but is there a general kind of lifestyle I can expect? – Simple: If you consistently work more hours than you sleep, you will DIE. Science says so. 
 
If it is NOT possible to survive in public accounting, then where to within the accounting/auditing world? – It's possible to survive. There are plenty who have done it. Sure, some of them are the walking dead, but don't forget – it's still auditing.

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