Where should I do my 3 years of articles?

Where will you complete your 3 years of traineeship? This is an important decision that only you can make.  Here are some of the factors I would consider:

  1. You are a scarce resource. Not all students pass PGDA/CTA every year so there is high demand for people who do pull it off. Bear this is mind. Don’t be put under pressure to sign straight away especially if you haven’t had a chance to get a feel for the firm. I am not saying sit back and wait for someone to beg you to sign with them but at the same time exercise your right to choose between the different firms. ALWAYS ask about bursaries – if you are doing well, firms should be prepared to help you pay for your studies. If not, at least you tried!
  2. There is sometimes a big difference between working in different cities. Investigate the situation in the city you plan on working in before signing. The Joburg lifestyle for instance is different to Cape Town.
  3. Decide between an audit or outside audit environment. Training outside of audit typically involves more financial management at a firm not involved in auditing (eg. SABmiller, Investec, Shoprite etc). The SAICA website has a discussion on the issue. I suspect that if you know that you want to work at SABmiller one day it is probably a good thing to do this with them. If you are unsure, the audit environment is probably a better option. Investigate them though – the pay structures for one thing are quite different.
  4. Do vacation work at as many firms as possible. It is a fun way to get to bond with other students, get to know the different firms and some even pay you for the effort! Contact the firms (most have application forms on the web) and apply sooner rather than later.
  5. Talk to people you respect. The grapevine is not always 100% reliable but it can dig up good info. Talking to the firms directly is useful but find out from people outside of the HR department. Find out where your tutors have signed, ask them why, do some undercover investigations!
  6. If there is a particular industry that interests you, try and do articles with a firm that has good clients in that industry. So if banking really interests you, find out who audits the most banks and in what city they do the audits (in this case Joburg). Also consider doing articles with a bank instead of an audit firm. If you want to start a small business, find out who audits those. That should give you some direction when you are choosing a firm.
  7. Don’t judge a firm based on its HR department, more important are the other article clerks, audit managers and partners. This tip isn’t a dig at HR departments – they are generally wonderful people. It is important however because you don’t see much of the HR department when you actually start working. It is your fellow audit staff that you will see more of. Practically I would ask about how many people generally stay on after articles (the more stay on, the more are having a good time I suspect). Also ask about the clerk to manager ratio – Firm A has 10 clerks for every manager compared to Firm B with 5 clerks for every manager. Clearly there is going to be more supervision at Firm B – that can be a good or bad thing depending on your personality! Generally though great knowledge is gained by getting good feedback from experienced people – I would ceteris paribus go for Firm B (ceteris paribus – yes I know, I wanted to make my economics lecturer proud).
  8. If you want to do Academic Articles, find out if your firm allows it. Academic articles involves being on staff at a University for the first year of your articles. Some firms don’t allow this and most firms limit the numbers that they allow to pursue the option. I did Academic Articles and loved it, I would have been bleak if my firm hadn’t given me the choice.
  9. See who your friends have signed with. This is dangerous because “the herd” can be wrong! Nevertheless you will get a feel for the people you have enjoyed doing university projects with and if the thought of working with them appeals, find out where they have signed. A good HR department will sign good people and you want to be part of that kind of a setup. Don’t just blindly follow what your buddies are doing but definitely consider them – as a general rule – if you like the people the firm is signing, you’ll have a better chance of enjoying your articles.

The list could go on – from the super practical (will the firm support any further studies?) to the high level (do the values of the firm resonate with yours?) – but at least this is a start.  What are your thoughts?

Paul Maughan

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