Key Corporate Skills I Learnt During Audit Articles

If you’ve ever been acquainted with a CA who did their articles in audit, you’ve probably also been introduced to the horror stories. 

Whether it’s insane deadlines or the evanescent dream of work-life balance, chances are you’ve heard – or even experienced, if you work in corporate too – some of the chaos chronicles that come with being part of a commercial enterprise. 

You know things are a bit off-kilter in the company culture, however, when an employee has a heart attack and his first thought is “I needed to meet with my manager tomorrow, this isn’t convenient.”

“I’m so sorry, but you’ve got 24 hours to live.”
“Hmm better not take a lunch break in that case.”

Despite the drama that comes with finding material misstatements on the frontlines, I’ve also written previously about why audit articles can actually be some of the most insightful years of your early career – and to add to the audit adulation, here are 3 corporate skills I learnt during my own articles:  

1. Give People Choices

You may find it interesting that despite our many cultural and genealogical differences, some human gestures can be considered universal – a smile on any face shows joy, weeping displays despair and an audible groan followed by a heavy sigh indicates that an audit trainee has just entered your office.

Any financial manager after being asked “Can I just have five minutes of your time?”

Being an audit trainee is like living out the 12 Tasks of Hercules – imagine trying to explain why original bank statements can’t be provided in an Excel format to a financial accountant in her 70s whilst also substantively testing an extra 20 operating expense samples because the Engagement Partner felt frisky that morning. Add in trying to hustle leave from a manager you don’t know for board exam preparation during busy season and you can see why any Autobiography of an Audit Trainee probably reads like it was written by Kafka himself. 

The point is: there’s a lot you need to get from others in order to get (1) what you want now and (2) where you want to be – which is actually a bittersweet microcosm for overall corporate structures and life in general.

One of the ways you can do this is by giving people choices.


By framing your requests in the form of an implicit or explicit choice, you give the receiver something we all crave on a fundamental psychological level – autonomy. As this article summarizes so succinctly: “Every day each of us seeks to demonstrate this autonomy through our own agency – when this agency is threatened, we lack the motivation to act. So, when seeking to influence others, we need to provide autonomy and the choice to choose.“

You can apply this in your own life by providing potential options in your requests. If you request a lot of information at once, the receiver may get overwhelmed and information may slip through the cracks. Perhaps you could phrase your request with a suggestion of how to split up the information over a time frame, or to create and share a quick Excel checklist to make tracking easier, or to be open to any alternative suggestions the receiver may have themselves.


This helps with compliance and getting what you want, because not only do you provide a degree of autonomy to the receiver, but you are actively trying to provide solutions instead of adding problems they now have to solve, which can lead to goodwill and a positive client relationship.

You can use this when in a management position too – for example, asking trainees which sections they would like to be allocated for testing – research directly shows that simply giving people options enhances their sense of control, even with tasks they dislike, which motivates them to act. 

“Is not choosing anything an option?”
“No, but not continuing to work here is.”

2. Presentation is Everything

There are some fun English idioms about taking things at face value and all that glitters not being gold but whoever came up with not judging a book by its cover clearly never went book-shopping.

What is this, a book on ants?

And we don’t only do it with books. In fact, we are so susceptible to first impressions that we develop them when meeting each other before either party says a word. First impressions are so powerful that there’s evidence to suggest they’re the defining feature of successful interviews, and not the candidate’s actual credentials or experience. And during the course of audit articles you get to make a lot of first impressions in many different ways.

How I like to introduce myself to a new team

Whilst looking sharp, being groomed and smelling scintillating all go a long way towards tilting the likability scale in your favour, it’s my experience that you can even make a good first impression entirely virtually – which is obviously more applicable as remote-working inevitably subsumes our current way of work.  

Reviewing a piece of your work – such as a working paper – can very well be your Manager or Partner’s first introduction to the concept of your existence. Taking 15 minutes more to perform a spell check, neaten any messy formatting and double-checking admin points like sign-offs shows whoever is reviewing your work that you at least made an effort over the minimum amount required – which demonstrates, at the very least, some level of pride in your work and investment in the organization’s business. 

The same applies when you first reach out to clients – polite introductions with clear grammar-checked requests can go a long way towards receiving professional responses too. Try your best to avoid misspelling the recipient’s name if possible – people get particularly sensitive over those – because you never know just where you who’re speaking to may end up, or how you could help each other in the future. 
Remember when you spelt my name as Muhammed with an “o”?
Yeah, you can get out now.

3. Know Thy Policies and Procedures 

Corporations are fascinating things. People can carve out truly incredible achievements when working together in collaboration or against each other in competition. One of the most intriguing articles I read on corporations is just how similarly narcotic cartels are organized and operated when compared to multinational corporations such as McDonalds and Wal-Mart. 

From supply chain management to branding concerns, the parallels are patently apparent – with one stark difference being how to prevent competitors from infringing on your rights. In the corporate sphere, it’s generally a battle of lawyers and money – the cartels can’t go to the courts, however, so they turn to their carbines instead. 

Take this man outside and sue him.

For those of us on the less… intense side of the law, you can see how it may be advantageous to be a bit clued up on your firm’s policies and procedures. 

There will inevitably come a time when a minor dispute will arise within your time, or you and management may want different things in a situation with no apparent win-win outcome. Your firm, however, is almost guaranteed to have a policy or procedure relevant to that (or any, really) situation. These policies and procedures will also naturally need to be made available to all staff – or you can ask your relevant HR if you’re struggling. 

It may be a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the more common policies – knowledge is part of power, and knowing what the company’s guidance and recommended actions are on a situation can help you influence outcomes in your favour, or prevent an unnecessary escalation. Policies that may be a good idea to have a closer look at include:

  • The paid leave and sick leave policies (What are the restrictions on booking leave? When do you need a sick note?)

  • Overtime and weekend overtime policies (When is overtime approved? How does it accumulate? Does it get paid out and when?)

  • Company property (which items of property have you been given by your company for work? What are your responsibilities over these items?

  • Appointment and other admin time (What is the policy on doctor appointments, car services and other admin issues?)

  • Travel allowances (double-check which basis you are using in case you need to also pay tax on your allowance received)

  • Study leave for Board exams (this is a big one as you don’t want to be scrambling to book leave as your Board exams approach)   
There used to be a facial hair policy, but we took that outside too.

So there you have it, a triad of tips gleaned from my own three years of articles – if you have any insights or advice of your own from your own corporate experience, pop them in the comments below!

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