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Public Accounting Audit Busy Seasons: the good, the bad and the ugly

Updated on October 23, 2013
Busy Season
Busy Season

Public Accounting Busy Season

“Busy Season”: that scary word that every accounting student hears about when they talk to professors, colleagues and recruiters about public accounting. Just how “busy” is audit busy season in public accounting? How should you brace yourself for your first busy season as an intern or full-time hire? The answer depends on many variables such as firm size, client location and staffing needs. In the context of this article, I will discuss what you can expect out of a typical busy season with a big four accounting firm (PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG).

Public Accounting
Public Accounting

The Good

Believe it or not, there is some good news aside from those crazy hours and stress that is so often associated with busy season. The good news is that most busy seasons fall in winter months (January through March) since most clients have calendar year-ends. The audit work will commence as soon as the client closes their books at year-end and typically lasts anywhere between one to three months. Unless you happen to live in a year-round warm climate or really enjoy activities in the snow and ice, working 12-15 hours a day in the winter doesn't mean you are missing out on being outdoors. Certainly there are some clients that end their fiscal years in other seasons but most clients will close their books at the end of the calendar year which means that you don’t need to work those crazy hours outside of the winter months.

For those that enjoy traveling, busy season is a common time for firms to send their auditors all over the country to assist with other engagements. It is typical to work on 3 or more different year-end engagements and work with those outside of your home office as engagement teams look for all of the staffing help they can get.

If you become an accountant you start to appreciate concepts such as controlling expenses and increasing income. This should stay true to your own finances too and busy season is a great time to reduce your expenses and increase your savings. Most audit assignments involve working well into the evening hours and dinners typically qualify as a business expense. If you receive 5-6 free dinners each week without tapping into your own money, it adds up to fast savings! Also, if you are working 15 hours a day, when is there ever time to go out and spend money on things you don’t need? When you do have time away from work during busy season, you will most likely treasure it by sleeping or spending it relaxing your mind with friends and family. You will quickly notice that busy season is a great time to pad your bank account.

The Bad/Ugly

There is no getting around the fact that busy season is true to its name: “busy.” You must mentally prepare yourself to work 12-15+ hours each day to finish all of the audit activities on time. However, as harsh as a 15 hour day sounds, they can go by very fast. The combination of mentally accepting that you will be working from early morning to late at night along with having so much to get done makes the days fly by.

Busy season can be hard on those that get accustomed to spending a lot of time with their spouse, family or friends. The fact is that when you work from early morning until late evening, there is not much time to spend with anyone. When your day is over you are thinking about one thing – sleep. In many circumstances the audit will require you to stay overnight in a hotel throughout the week which means that you won’t see anyone outside of your audit team until the weekends.

Busy season can be a roadblock for those that place a high priority on eating healthy and working out daily. It can certainly still be done but finding time and strength to go to the gym is a challenge when you are committing such a large percentage of your day to work. Also, doesn't it always seem that unhealthy food becomes irresistible when you are stressed out? Fighting the temptation to order bad food from a restaurant menu is tough to do but can be done with the right discipline and mindset. A good way to do this is to figure out which restaurant your team will be ordering from in advance and write down your order before you get hungry. The combination of hunger and stress usually leads to bad food choices.

There you have it, these are some of the positive things to look forward to and also some of the things to brace yourself for as you get ready for your first busy season. If you know what to expect and are mentally prepared for it, you can make your first busy season a success.


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      Christie 3 years ago

      While there is good experience in busy season, after three years I had enough. For anyone looking to leave, I recommend I just used them to get a great new job at a major company and couldn't be happier. Also avoided the recruiter nightmare.

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      Todd J 2 years ago

      As a former big four employee I've had my fair share of busy seasons but I can't help but think that interns and new hires have no idea what they're getting themselves into. Some people get near the verge of suicide because of it!

      You can see from this story is from a guy from Toronto who worked at PwC and hated every minute of it where he says "If you’re mature enough you’ll see it. I’m not a damn politician and I don’t want to play mind games with people. I just want to be good at what I do."

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