As a college student making big decisions with my future, I said “thanks, but no thanks” when I came across the Accounting department in my search for a major. My understanding of what Accountants did was based on getting my taxes done by the VITA volunteers and the lady at the back desk of the store I worked at. Big thanks to Megan for helping us to understand a bit better what she does with her Accounting degrees. Yep–multiples.
What is your job title? Senior Auditor at Union Pacific Railroad
What is your general job description? Internal audit is “an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity designed to add value and improve an organization’s operations.“ In other words, we evaluate processes and policies in other departments at Union Pacific and identify any issues that need to be fixed so Union Pacific can operate as efficiently as possible. As a senior auditor, I lead audit teams in these endeavors.
What did you study in college? I have Bachelor of Science in Accounting as well as a Master of Accountancy from Brigham Young University
Why did you decide to pursue that degree? I was interested in studying business because I felt like it would offer opportunities to seek flexibility in my future career. I recognized accounting as a particularly marketable business degree.
Was there anything about your education that surprised you? The amount of problem solving required! A lot of people think accounting is boring and rules-based. There is definitely a rules-based component, but a deeper understanding of the complexity of business is crucial to being successful!
How does your education relate to what you do at work? If it doesn’t, how did you end up in this position? We perform a variety of audits – some are financial based, which is where my degree is really helpful. However, most of our audits are “operational” rather than financial. This is where the problem solving and analytic skills I developed during my education come into play.
What specific aspects of your education prepared you for your career? Analytical skills as well as technical skills. Understanding how to think through complex processes is paramount in my career, as well as knowing know to use technical skills to crunch the numbers and develop a conclusion.
Was your degree the only path to get this job? What other degrees do your coworkers have that lead to this position? My coworkers have a variety of degrees – construction management, economics, finance, general business, and accounting are the main ones that come to mind.
What are your plans for continuing in your profession/goals for advancement/where do you ultimately want to see yourself? I recently became a Certified Public Accountant which was a huge professional goal for me. Going forward, I plan on keeping that certification active and volunteering with another professional organization, the Institute of Internal Auditors. I have served on the board as the treasurer and will continue serving on the board as the President-Elect in the upcoming year.
What are some of the challenges of your job? Every time we start a new audit, we are starting from ground zero with very minimal knowledge of the area we are auditing. This requires a lot of effort from us upfront to quickly become experts in the subject matter and can be really frustrating initially!
What is rewarding about your job? What excites you about your career? The same thing I find as a challenge is what makes my job rewarding. I love learning about new departments and processes! I also do a lot of ad hoc problem solving – no day is the same. When we decide what I want to audit, I have the free reign to decide the best way to look at it, which is really fun for me.
Are there any stereotypes in your field that you have to deal with? How do you deal those? Everyone thinks of auditors and accountants as boring nerds… which I guess is true in some cases! I think the main stereotype that is difficult to overcome is that auditors only care about nitpicky issues that don’t actually add any value to the overall business. We have to be very careful to make sure we are only auditing high risk areas and only provide meaningful audit findings.
How do you balance work with your other life obligations/goals? For example, family, hobbies, friendships, etc. Work life balance is really important to me and I make it a priority. There have been a handful of times when I have had to put in extra time at work, but I work hard to keep that to a minimum. I make sure I am working efficiently and using my time wisely so that I can accomplish everything during normal working hours. I also recognize when I am at my limit and need to step away from any additional projects.
What benefits does your work offer in regards to maternity leave/family needs? (If you know) Union Pacific offers the standard maternity leave – six weeks of paid leave through short-term disability and an additional six weeks of unpaid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act. Union Pacific also offers part-time and flex time arrangements for certain positions.
What advice do you have for other women who are pursuing this field? Dig in! Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way. Seek out a variety of internships to help you decide what path you want to take. There are countless careers options with an accounting degree so you want to make sure you find the one that is right for you! I had one professor who taught what he called the “option theory”. It sounds complicated, but is actually a simple concept. As you go throughout life and come upon decision points, make the decision that will give you the most options going forward. I love that advice and it has compelled me to really put myself out there and take opportunities I otherwise might not have.
This is Katie here, and I just want to re-emphasize that last piece of advice because I think it is wonderful and a great way to look at the opportunities we come upon:
“As you go throughout life and come upon decision points, make the decision that will give you the most options going forward.”