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Training contract

  • #1
    Registered Users Posts: 99 ✭✭ meath12

    Hi, just looking for some advice. I am currently half way through my training contract but I am really not enjoying it. I am working in one of the big 4 and it’s not turned out like I thought it would. Since I’ve been with the firm many people from my department have left, it is a very toxic environment with trainees being given the bulk of the work which ok that’s to be expected but when we ask for help or guidance the managers above us usually are not very helpful and don’t know what to do themselves most of the time. I’ve spent many nights working till 2am and I just don’t think it’s worth it anymore. Currently about to sit my FAEs and really struggling with motivation as I just think accounting isn’t for me. The big problem is that I’ve heard if I was to leave, my firm would make me pay them back the money they have spent on my fees. They have paid for the FAEs and Tax exams which I have done. This would amount to nearly €6,000 and I would really hate to have to pay this to them. Has anyone been in this situation before where they left before their training contract was up and had to pay the firm money? Really starting to feel like I’m completely trapped as there’s no way out only to leave and have to pay a huge amount of money to the firm which I don’t have.


  • If you can summon up the motivation to study for the FAEs I would strongly urge you to do so. I seriously doubt there isn't some career in accounting you could do afterwards that would be to your liking. There's a lot more to accounting than tax in the Big 4 and people with Big 4 experience and FAEs completed are in huge demand everywhere. After finishing out your contract at the Big 4 you could very easily get a job for twice the money and half the hours in industry, or you could go to a smaller firm, a different Big 4 firm or even a different team within your firm. There's tonnes of options available to you from here and it would be a waste of your effort up to now to give up right before the end.

    As for your exam fees, if you pulled out at this late stage they might ask for reimbursement but generally won't if they understand that you acted in good faith and aren't just stiffing them to go to a competitor. I would talk to your partner or someone in the firm you trust before making any big moves first. Talk to them before talking to HR in any event.

  • Has the workload got worse since you started WFH? 2 a.m is a crazy time to be finishing up.

  • Yes it’s gotten a lot worse. It also doesn’t help that a lot of people have left and they haven’t hired any new seniors or assistant managers so I am left working directly to senior managers or Directors and expected to do the workload of a trainee and senior/ AM.

  • I know I do understand there will be a lot of opportunities for me if I get through the FAEs and finish my contract and it would be a shame to quit now but I just don’t know if I can stick another year and a half for my mental health. It’s a very bad environment with a lot of people leaving and they haven’t hired any new seniors or assistant managers which means my workload doubles. I plan to sit the FAEs but just don’t know if I will pass. I could always go to another firm to finish my contract but my problem is that if I quit I will have to pay them the fees and it’s a lot of money. Someone recently left and the firm is trying to make her pay back her fees so they definitely will do it.

  • Firstly, have a read of your contract to figure out exactly how much you'll be liable. You shouldn't be liable for any exams you haven't been signed up for yet, and often there's a time limit on how much they'll ask you to pay back (e.g. 50% 1 year after passing, 25% two years after passing, that kind of thing). I think FAEs cost about €4.5k so I don't think it's €6k you'd owe anyway.

    Secondly, you could escalate a complaint about your workload. Start locally, with management, and eventually if nothing is resolved, go to HR. Document your workload so that you can easily demonstrate what's standard 9-5 work, what's sustainable overtime, and what's unsustainable overtime. If you're going to ask for a line in the sand re workload, make sure you know what you want that to look like. 2am overtime will happen, but it should never be for more than a couple nights in a row, and should only happen when something has impacted on planning (e.g. staff on unexpected leave/unavoidable change of scope). Do you have access to your overtime hours? If you can back yourself up with some stats that would be great when escalating an issue.

    Lastly, does your firm have an internal transfer program? Mine did, where in your 2nd/3rd year certain depts. would post vacancies suitable for transfers from other teams. Maybe if you could transfer to another team for a while, you could get out of the situation you're in, distance yourself from the expectation you can do assistant manager work, and still get your exams paid for. At the moment, management know you can act above your grade, so you're probably being first-picked for the most stressful jobs. If you transfer, you'll be new in a team, most managers wont know you, so you'll probably end up with less pressure and responsibility.

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  • If you're doing the FAE's this year you should be on study leave now. (They were in September in my day). Probably not great advise but you're not in work now so don't even think of it. Focus on the exams and assess the situation when you're back in the office.

  • If I was you I would see it out. You're in a job that a lot of people would kill for (Big 4) and you've made it half way through.

    Do you have any friends there who are in a similar position to you?

  • Some great advice on this thread.

    I think your best course of action would be to focus on your exams right now. Once you have those exams complete you have a lot more leverage.

    The fact that you're doing Manager level work at this stage shows they see you as a top performer and would try their best to keep you even if it means reducing your workload. Put it out of your mind for now, then when your exams are over have a conversation with your partner/manager about your workload. You'll be surprised at how easily they'll find someone with extra capacity when they think they might lose you.

  • Well I did not leave before finishing my training contract with a big 4, but I did leave the minute it was up and I never practiced public accounting again. I had figured out early on that it was about as interesting as watching paint dry as far as I was concerned. Luckily for me my training partner (RIP), who was also the chairman of the firm, was a good mentor and did two things for me:

    • He pointed out that when you are in a big 4, an accounting qualification does not seem very important because everyone has one or is getting one, but out in the real world it has a lot of value, even if you are not practicing, because most companies know how difficult it is to obtain one. And explaining that you almost got one, is not the same as having got one.
    • He also told me to volunteer for every non accounting and odd ball assignment going in the firm and he introduced to to partners in the insolvency, company secretarial and consulting departments and let them know that I was their 'Go For' if anything came up. The result was I ended up working on the largest stock exchange floatation in Ireland at the time, I worked on the economic assessments for some of the Irish regional airports and ran the manufacturing operations at two companies that were insolvent and being reorganised as going concerns.

    As I said I never practiced accounting after my training contract, but over the past 30+ years, I have found that he was right - Being ex-Big 4 and a Chartered Accountant has got me interviews, access and consulting assignments that I would not have gotten otherwise. I have spent most of my time since in the application of technology to the financial world - designing modelling, trading systems and the application of AI to financial evaluations etc. So yes my training partner was right, it is a value qualification.

    My advice would be:

    • First of all be aware of what you are really giving up. The 6k you are concerned about now is nothing in comparison to the earning power you will have in a couple of years.
    • See if there is any chance to transfer to another department, even on a temp basis, with the reasoning of being interested in gaining some experience there.
    • Become the 'Go For', there are always less popular assignments at a big four and just because they are not popular does not mean they can't be interesting and allow you to build up a colourful profile - one that actually stands out from all the others.

    If at all possible, try and stick it out because I believe, you really are giving up an awful lot more than you think.

  • Meath12, I'm doing the FAEs this year and looking to move to a big4. Would really appreciate having a quick private chat with you after we've done the exams next week.

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