Accountant or Auditor

The stereotypical accountant is oftentimes pictured as an IRS tax auditor.  The bad guy that comes around and makes you dig out tons of old pages of financial information and then makes you pay more taxes.  This was what I was afraid of when I first decided to become an accountant.  I thought for sure that everyone would hate me.  A few classes later I was a bit wiser.  I found out that actually very few accountants become IRS tax auditors.

There are however, lots of business auditors that may have the same “bad guy” image.  Many recent college graduates will take a job with one of the big accounting firms.  These firms have become more of an on the job training type locations more than a long term career.  Generally the first year employee will chose to specialize in auditing, tax, or other.  The other field includes analysis and business services provided to help companies save money or improve returns.

The Auditing Path

If you decide to become an auditor then you can expect to be out of the office most of the time.  First year auditors will be doing most of the grunt work of the audit (which is really what the customers actually see.) So the audit group generally works with the partner as the main boss and then several senior auditors and managers.  These guys will be supervising and reviewing the audit.  They have the most to lose because their names will be on the audit.  Well at least the partner’s name will be on the audit, the other managers will probably not have their names on the audit.

So you will be given a set of tasks to complete that will likely involve talking to several employees at the customer company.  It is important to remember that there is a bit of a mixed relationship with the customer.  The board of directors at the company is the group that stands in need of actually having an audit done. Generally they are not close to the day to day actions and they get an audit to verify that things are going well.  So you would say that the board of directors is your “customer” but the people that you are actually auditing will generally not receive you well.  If you think about it, usually the auditor will be a young recent college grad with high expectations.  And the person being audited may have been on the job for several years or decades.  If the young auditor comes in and asks questions about the job it may be a natural reaction for the employee to say “what do you know about this? I’ve been doing this for much longer than you.”

Anyway, you can see the relationship may be sensitive.  But it is a great way for the auditor to learn how to interact with other employees and communicate.

The Other Paths

So in general if you want to know what an accountant does it could be auditing or it could be something very different.  My first job was actually working for a small manufacturing company.  There I would download data from an old computer system and format it neatly and send it to my supervisor who would make charts and present the data to the plant manager.  I was essentially a data extractor.

So Auditors may be bad guys in some people’s eyes but that is not to be confused with all accountants.  Accountants may just be the people who give you the information you need to make good decisions and that’s not all that bad.