Blog Archive

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How to make the most of busy season

Zahra Lalani
Consulting Senior Associate
Chicago, IL

Tell me a bit about your background with RSM.
My career with RSM began while I was in college when I interned with the financial services audit team during my junior year of college. After graduation, I started working with the audit team full time as an associate. This summer, after 3 years with the audit team, I transitioned to RSM’s consulting practice in M&A transaction advisory. Although I’ve technically moved to a consulting role, I continue to help out the audit team this busy season.

What do you think makes an auditor most successful during busy season?

There are quite a few habits and qualities that contribute to being successful on individual engagements and the overall busy season. While it’s true that a great amount of learning and work is condensed in a short, four month period, the skills to success (and mindset to succeed) is an ongoing process throughout the year.

As a new associate, it can be overwhelming to decipher what it is that you are actually responsible for doing. You’re just figuring your way out, learning what different acronyms stand for and mentally cataloging the specific terminology used in your industry. It’s almost like learning a whole new language, and on top of that you also need to produce quality work product!

This can leave you stressed out, not knowing where to begin.

There were several times during my first year where I felt the same way. Looking back through my four busy seasons, I’ve identified five actionable focus-areas for incoming associates to utilize as we begin this busy season:

1. Ask questions
Everyone says this, right? RSM’s culture focuses on personal growth and development as much as it prioritizes quality client service. This meant that I was able to ask anyone above me a question, knowing they would take out time to answer it or point me in the right direction if they couldn’t.

Let’s take this one step further: Once you’ve been given instructions, evaluate which parts you do understand and which parts you don’t. For the parts that are unclear, do some research, dig around on the intranet and read through the relevant documentation. Then approach your in-charge or manager with your question indicating what you’ve considered through your own research. You could be totally off base with the solution you come up with, but developing the “evaluate-research-ask” habit really helped me process new information and absorb new concepts quickly. Pro-tip: Keep a Q&A document on your desktop so you can reference this in the future, so you won’t have to ask again!

2. Understand expectations
At the beginning of an engagement, write down what you want to have learned by the time the engagement is over. If you haven’t worked on any engagements yet, it is reasonable for you to ask your in-charge what their expectations are of you. (E.g. How long should assigned tasks take? What would doing a good job on this project look like?) Write this down! Doing this will allow you to see exactly what you need to work on; it’s much easier for you to self-evaluate your progress when you have clear expectations. Every so often during my first busy season, my peers and I would discuss the types of tasks we’ve completed (read: “Am I being given the same or similar responsibilities as those around me?”); doing this helped me identify if I was on track towards becoming an efficient in-charge. Writing down what you already know how to do will help you identify new areas to focus on in your next engagement.

3. Understand “why?”
Your in-charge asked you to pick a sample five revenue items for testing. Do you know why? Is it because this is standard firm practice? Perhaps this type of selection is only applicable for this particular client? Well, a good way to build your knowledge base is to understand what you’re doing and how it applies to the overall audit objectives. As an associate you’ll most likely be responsible for carrying out detailed testing that was already designed by your in-charge. A great way to demonstrate enthusiasm is to figure out the purpose behind the tasks you’re assigned. Once you understand why you’re doing the testing you’ve been assigned, you’ll be able to add value to your engagement. You’ll also be able to add appropriate conclusions to your workpapers.

4. Focus by listening

The beauty of working at RSM is that you’re exposed to every part of an audit engagement from the very beginning of your career. This means being looped in on emails to clients as well as being present during walkthroughs, conference calls and face-to-face meetings with top level officers. While you may not be asked to lead meetings, you can still actively participate by listening to what’s being said and taking notes on anything you don’t understand. The content of these meetings usually provide a good context for how the company has performed in the past year, the major operations or revenue streams of their business, and any changes that may have occurred. For example, once I understood how a broker-dealer was recognizing revenue, I was better able to complete the revenue testing assigned to me. Observing these interactions as an associate prepared me to be an efficient and effective in-charge when I was responsible for leading meetings and walkthroughs.

5. Get involved
RSM invests in the communities in which its people work and live. This means there are plenty of service opportunities (i.e. walks, runs, industry outreach). Participate, raise your hand, and say “yes” to internal networking opportunities. Informal social settings often lead to the most interesting conversations. The more people that know you, the more likely new opportunities are to come your way.

How did you find time to recharge? What are some of your best practices to recharge during busy season?
Balance is key. We’re not machines, and even if we were – we’d eventually need a reboot. For me balance, meant engaging the parts of myself that were disengaged during the week.

Here are some things I did during busy season to recharge:

Physical activity
I played volleyball on the weekends to counter the hours of sitting and I spent at least one hour every day at the gym running, even if it was only at 4.5 mph; some days were better than other days. If I had been working at my desk for 3 or 4 hours without moving, I would get up. 

Finish easy tasks before the weekend
It’s hard to enjoy time off when you have lingering tasks, for example signing off without coding your time. I used Saturday mornings to wrap up lingering administrative tasks, so that I could enjoy Sunday with my family without the worry of missing a deadline.

Disconnect to reconnect
I planned dinner with friends for Saturday night and/or brunch with other friends on Sunday mornings. This meant I would be away from my computer, active and maintaining my relationships outside of work.

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