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Junior Auditor Column
By Kelsey Thompson

It’s often hard for me to be new at something. It’s much more comfortable to be an expert. In my first job right out of college, we were asked during an icebreaker to say what age we’d like to be forever. My coworkers, all of them at least a decade older than me, said ages somewhere in the late teens or early twenties. I said 85. When I’m 85, it’ll be great, I thought, because I’ll have it all figured out. 
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But that’s still a long way off. I graduated from my master’s program and started auditing at the City of Austin’s audit shop a little over a year ago. In that time, I feel like I’ve done a lot. I listened to the (often frustrating) experiences of residents who participated in the City’s home repair programs. I saw how inspectors made sure sidewalks were built well. I helped conduct a focus group with people experiencing homelessness to understand how they felt about the City’s services. I’ve learned more about electricity, real estate, police and fire labor contracts, electric vehicles, and cemeteries than I ever imagined.

Yet, when I talk to someone who has been in our office for many years, my list doesn’t seem like very much at all. I’m jealous of the wealth of interesting topics other people have looked at and the exciting fieldwork tests they’ve done. I’m even more jealous of the ability that experienced auditors have to make connections, recognize patterns, identify risks and controls, and know what the next steps are with what seems like lightning speed. Once again, I find myself wanting to skip forward to when I have all of that under my belt too.

I am sure there are amazing things about being 85 and I’m looking forward to getting there someday. But I have to fight the temptation to wish my entire life away in wanting to have it all figured out. Similarly, I can’t wish my career away either. There really are good things about being a new auditor that are important for me to remember:

  • Hardly anything is boring. I helped with an audit of the use of on-call pay and went through the open job postings to see which listed the possibility of on-call pay. It was fascinating to see how many interesting positions our City has – chemists, fingerprint technicians, museum coordinators, nutritionists, and welders (though none of those positions listed on-call pay!).
  • Small tasks feel like big accomplishments. I still feel very awkward leading interviews with auditees, especially someone at a senior level in their department. Each handshake with an auditee at the beginning of an interview that isn’t a total embarrassing mess is something I still get to celebrate.
  • I bring a different perspective to things. It’s difficult to see something in a new light when you’ve been doing it over and over again. As a new auditor, I feel more able to ask the questions that come from having a fresh perspective. Questions that give more experienced auditors an opportunity to affirm why a certain process works well or create the freedom to try something new.

Some of these advantages will fade with time as things become more familiar. It’ll get harder to find excitement looking at the same job posts. Auditee interviews will become old hat and it’ll take more to feel like I’ve accomplished something. I may get attached to certain ways of doing things and be less flexible when someone has a new idea.

Despite all of those benefits, it’s still uncomfortable to be new. When I start to feel that discomfort, I am trying to stay present in the moment and remember the good things about being new instead of wishing it away. It’s often easier said than done, but some small things help me refocus in the moment:

  • Taking a deep breath. When I feel stuck, can’t figure out what to do next, and start to panic a little, a breath helps me break that cycle. It gives me space to appreciate the present moment despite the discomfort. It’s a small thing, but it’s one of the most helpful ways for me to stop trying to fast forward my life.
  • Laughing at myself. There have already been many awkward handshakes with auditees and I have a hunch there will be more in the future. The only strategy I know to cope with that is to forgive my awkwardness and laugh about it as much as I can.
  • Being open with others. It’s difficult for me to pretend like I know everything. I find it so much more productive to be open about how I’m not sure what to do next and that I need some advice. People are usually excited to share what they know and flattered to be considered a resource.

Moments of discomfort are a sign of learning. They are valuable moments and ultimately, they are what knit together to create the meaningful wealth of experience that I envy. Someday, I will have that wealth of experience and I will be someone that new auditors can ask for advice. Someday, I will celebrate my 85th birthday and that day will be awesome.

Until then, I get to experience the joy of learning something new about how cities work with everything I do. The wonder of learning something for the first time is irreplaceable. It is so fascinating and satisfying to look at the world around me and have a little better idea of how sidewalks are built, how energy is delivered to our homes and ultimately, how all of this comes together to allow this city to exist.

And as much as I believe that is true, I suspect I’ll always be nervous about awkward handshakes with auditees.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelsey Thompson is an auditor with the Office of the City Auditor in Austin, Texas. She’s new to auditing, but she has a lot of experience in backpacking, cycling, and eating pizza.