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INFLUENCE: THE ALMOST CA(SA)

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Starting articles is a big change, especially when it is your first real job and you don’t have anything to compare it to. Gareth Olivier gives you a few things to think about …

It’s a tricky phase once you finish studying and you start articles. You’ve dedicated a good chunk of time to becoming a walking fountain of IFRS, you’ve passed most of your exams, and you’ve been promised the world ‘when you become a CA(SA)’. It’s tricky because you feel close to being a chartered accountant, but your day-to-day work and bank balance seem to disagree.

I remember going from the end of university, where we were challenged with in-depth discussions about valuing tech companies in the US with no revenue using Monte Carlo simulation, to ‘the real world’ where I sat in the store room of a scrap metal yard auditing bank reconciliations and making coffee for the debtors clerk so that she would stop sighing and threatening to resign each time she saw me. I’m not a complainer, so I did what I needed to do, but six months into the job I couldn’t help but wonder if this was what I signed up for.

In retrospect, though, and even as a person who openly did not enjoy auditing, I can say that articles were great; maybe not in the moment but in review, undoubtedly.

These are some of the things that helped me along the way:

  • Six months into any new job is generally too little time to have a reasonable perspective on it. Big changes are stressful; give yourself a chance to adapt. Realistically, 18–24 months in is closer to when you get an unbiased sense of your new normal. Focus on getting through this time with as open a mind as possible.
  • Make friends and build connections. The work may not be the best, but the people make it worth it.
  • Ask lots of questions and find a way to become genuinely interested in what you’re doing. There is always something or some aspect of what you are doing that is interesting: find it. (If you can’t, you’re thinking too small.)
  • Do more than is asked of you, ask for more responsibility, and tell your seniors what you like. When people see that you’re keen, competent and able to solve their problems, they like you and give you more of what you prefer.
  • Set your own direction. I had an interest in a department of my firm outside auditing, so I made friends with people in that department. A year into my contract I was seconded to that department and was able to spend more time on what I enjoyed and where I saw my career headed. The rules apply to everyone, but people are less strict when they know you and like you.
  • Get involved, stay positive and hang in. Tough situations usually seem worse at the moment than they are. Often when you look back, you realise how much you learnt and, maybe even, enjoyed yourself.

As an ‘almost CA(SA)’, it’s normal to feel in between and, at times, somewhat disjointed. When I look back at my time in articles, I saw two groups of people: those who enjoyed themselves and those who didn’t. Ultimately it didn’t seem that the job had anything to do with it.

Author: Gareth Olivier CA(SA) is a director at CA Connect

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