The Trick To Being The BEST Senior Associate Is Doing Very Little Work


Sorry, sorry, sorry. I have got this question A LOT and I’m just getting around to it.

For those of you that aren’t aware, a senior associate:

The first promotion you’ll have after starting at a public accounting firm. Typically this occurs after two years, however some firms (like PwC) wait an extra year. You’re now expected to “know your stuff” and in many cases will be response for the entire audit from planning to completion and financial statements. You’re not responsible to coach new staff and report to managers and partners. Many consider this to be the most difficult years of their public accounting experience.

Being a senior is hard, but if you’re good, not only will you get a pat on the back, your life can actually be EASIER.

Want my summary of contributions I used to get promoted a year early? Click here.

The best seniors aren’t the best technical accounting experts. They are the best people and project managers. In my experience, the best seniors don’t do that much work at all. The staff do the routine (or monkey work) and the managers handle the complex accounting.

You are responsible for managing the staff, managers, partners, and client.

If you can do that, sit back, relax, and motivate everyone!

APPLY: Passing the CPA Exam Before Your Start Is KEY to Having an Edge Against Others in Your Class.

Many people may disagree with me and say, “I don’t know what this guy is talking about, as a Senior I had to do all the work and manage people”.

I’m sure that’s true. But as I mentioned above, the “best seniors”.

How do you become the best senior? Here are some things to think about:

Daily Client Request Lists

I updated a request list of everything we needed from the client, including confirmations received every day. Yep, every single day of fieldwork.

Download Andrew’s Request List Template

Excessive? Perhaps. But this is key. When you get near the deadline, all you have to say is: “Well the client hasn’t given us these final documents and they haven’t followed up on the confirmations. I mean, we’ve been sending this to them every day”.

Blame aside, it actually helps. I use a percentage complete tracker so the client feels like they are making progress. It’s almost like a game. They would say, “My percentage is at 75%!!!”


Weekly Summaries To Managers and Partners

Everyone loves have a relaxing weekend, right? How better to send the managers and partners away on a Friday morning than with a complete status of where their job stand? No worries, no concerns. You know and they know exactly where things are.

Here’s an example for you of what I used to send to the managers/partners and copying the staff. I never copied the client on this. (as I said above, I email the client the request list daily):

Subject: Weekly summary

Hello All –

Please find the request list attached below for your reference.

[Staff 1]:

Currently performing following tasks:

  • FS tie outs
  • AP Search
  • Bank reconciliations

[Staff 2]:

Currently performing the following tasks:

  • Fixed asset additions
  • Fixed asset additions
  • Accrual
  • Payroll

Request List Update

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 5.14.54 PM

Andrew note: Depending on the type of database you have, consider including a detailed update of the audit work in graph form.

Next week game plan:

– Continue to review confirmations received.

– Revenue testing, continue testing selections received from the client (100+)

– Fixed Assets – complete depreciation analytic

– Perform interest expense analytics

– Financial statement drafts to be completed by Friday

Best regards,

Andrew Argue

DO NOT lead lengthy review notes

Power trips. Some people become senior associates and they have literally never managed someone in their entire life!

If you work under one of these people, it’s like trying to follow around Mr. Magoo. They have no idea where they’re going but seem so confident creating wreckage every step of the way! Honestly, this is most first year seniors.


I once knew a senior who left his staff 51 review notes. On ONE WORKPAPER!

She cried.

While I liked this guy for other reasons, he never reached his goals at the firm and quit soon after. The way he operated was not effective, and he refused to change.

When you review peoples work, if it’s completely effed up, talk to them. Walk them through the process and get on their team. Don’t humiliate them with more review notes that years they’ve spent on earth.

Meeting with the associates AT LEAST the first day, one day in the middle, the end

If you want someone to be your loyal soldier, follow you into battle, you have to get them to love working for you! One of the best ways to do this is to give them an amazing review!

But you can only give them a good review if they deserve it, right?


But there are some very simple steps you can take to make sure they dominate this engagement. I always sit down with people that came onto my engagements and asked:

  • How long have you been at the firm
  • How many clients have you worked on
  • What industries?
  • What audit areas did you work on?
  • What would you like to work on this time around?
  • What are your goals in the firm? Are you looking to get promoted soon?
  • Are you looking to be a superstar and get the top rating?

This gives me a great picture of who they are, what they’ve done, and what they want. Now I tailor all my coaching and assignments to them as part of reaching their larger goals, WHATEVER THEY MAY BE.

I’ve had mothers work for me, I let them leave early.

I’d rather have a happy loyal staff working 4 hours a day than a miserable staff who resents me working 12. Truth.

The second meeting, I check in to see how I’m doing in their eyes. And I give them the real feedback on what I want to see from them in the second half. Could be:

  • More work getting done
  • More time spent talking directly with managers to get credit/exposure
  • Could be focusing on only one audit area
  • etc.

Take everything from the higher ups that you can

If a manager mention something that needs to get done, offer to take care of it. If they say no, persist. You don’t have to do it yourself, but take everything off their plate you can so when you need them to do something (complex accounting area), it seems like a drop in the bucket.

Get email on your phone and respond as soon as possible

Yes it can get annoying. But the truth is: shit happens. It always does. My philosophy is that I want to know what “shit” is happening as soon as possible so I can address it. I showed up every day at 7:30am. If a partner emailed me at 11pm. His problem was addressed and remediated by the time he showed up at 9am. They’d have a completed problem solved email waiting in their inbox!

It doesn’t happen often, but quick turnarounds can mean a world of difference for people who are constantly stressed out managing 5-15 clients.

Be in charge of everything – budget, staffing, client request list, weekly update to partners

As I’ve said, the best seniors don’t actually do a lot of audit work. They manage the entire engagement. That’s a job in and of itself. Many times managers won’t allow you to take over all these areas from day 1. They think it’s “too much” for you. But slowly they’ll become stressed out, and either they ask you, or you offer. When you’re in charge of everything, you can request more staff, manage how information is handled, and make sure you are always in the know.

Make sure things are moving forward constantly

Every day, I checked how many workpapers had been prepared/reviewed. If we weren’t getting done with 5-15 (especially early on), I made sure to confront everyone on the team and walk through their areas with them.

If I have to some up what it means to be a great senior, I’d say:

Be the most dependable person you can imagine to your staff, partners/managers, and clients.

  • dreamfield

    Hi there,

    The link to Andrew’s request list template is broken, can you please fix it or let me know where I can download it? Thank you!!