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Five Turning Points of My Career

with Karen Goggin

Karen Goggin is a mother of three boys and Partner in Audit & Assurance, who works primarily with large corporate, multinational, public interest entities and PCAOB clients. She has a wide range of experience in external audit across a variety of industries, providing assistance to clients in relation to audit, internal control, and assurance assignments. But that’s not where she thought her life would go before joining Deloitte, read her story here.

"Take time to find your lane"

‘I never thought I would become an auditor, I never even thought I would become an accountant actually as I didn’t even study it for my Leaving Cert!’

I was a very diligent student but unlike a lot of people who ‘find’ themselves in University, I felt a bit lost at first when I made it to college. I’m very sociable and came from a background where I had a load of connections and a great social life. I was part of many school activities such as music and sport but when I got to UCC to study Commerce, and I had all this time to fill, it felt really anonymous, and that sense of connection seemed a little lost initially.

Luckily, I made some great friends and got involved in more activities and projects. I started realising that I liked being busy and when I was busy, I was the best version of myself. I got involved in the UCC Commerce Conference around the time I was thinking of what career path I was going to take.

This involved attracting different influential and successful Irish businesspeople as speakers from the world of business along with organising sponsorship and scouting venues etc. It was when I was researching successful and prominent business leaders that I realised that they had all the common ground of kickstarting their career by completing their accountancy qualification and it was then I started to look at graduate programmes in that field and that set me on the road to Deloitte.

“Keep an open mind” 

Looking back, I’ve been at Deloitte for almost 16 years, and my experience has gotten more varied and enjoyable every year. If I was judging my career choice on the tasks, I was doing back in my first year, I don’t think I’d be here today - it was all so manual! Things have changed so much for the better and have become so much more interesting, but we still need to ensure our people at the more junior levels get the interaction to see the overall experience and breadth and depth of the firm.

As I moved through the years, I felt I became better at doing the job and it became more varied and interesting to the part of me that had initially thought I was ‘too interesting to work in accountancy’.  I really enjoyed the variety of dealing with recruitment, coaching people, and being involved in strategic priorities and projects. I felt ‘This is what I enjoy doing, this is what I’m good at’.

Life is full of surprises and can be all about timing. Various things come up that you didn’t expect to enjoy but you end up getting a lot from. The support I received – both formal and informal from my leadership team has been with me every step of my career and has been instrumental. I remember when I was contemplating staying on in a management role initially, and the advice I received from a partner was ‘Becoming a member of the management, allows you to get into a position where you’re sitting across the table from an experienced CFO giving your input on a topic. Whereas, if you were to join that same organisation as a new graduate, you may not get half that exposure’. I felt I really benefited from the level of contact I got with many experienced people both internally and externally at such an early stage of my career as a manager.

“Be deliberate with your time” 

I found the toughest challenge for me was when I couldn’t do the job in the way I would like to do the job. Those who know me I’m a devil for detail and I like rolling up my sleeves as much as I can. At certain stages, time started evaporating on me and I had too much on my plate. I felt like I wasn’t doing things to my standard.

I was probably my own worst enemy at different times, volunteering for everything. Luckily, people spotted when I was struggling and helped me to refine where I was spending my time, but it was a key lesson to learn in terms of prioritising the important things and being realistic when it comes to what you can do.

“Don't count yourself out” 

I’ll always say that I don’t think I lacked any opportunities because I was female, but I do think there is a common trait amongst certain females that we may subconsciously limit or ‘cap’ our ambition. Particularly when it comes to starting a family. 

Life moves all around us and brings all factors that we need to consider in terms of biological clocks and relationships and all that goes with it. I think we can be cautious with career progression sometimes. We think ‘I’m doing fine as I am; I don’t want to mess it all up now by going up another level. ‘What if I can’t keep all the balls in the air?’  No different to many, when I look back now, I suffered from a bit of imposter syndrome as well.

It's not just about gender but can be relatable to lots of different scenarios. I never really advocated for myself to move on to the next stage, I found that ‘selling myself’ felt clumsy and awkward and I often felt like I wasn’t fully ready or maybe someone else would be better at a role than me. That’s where sponsorship is so important and I’m thankful that I had someone to highlight opportunities and give me that ‘shove’ in the right direction every once in a while. 

“Be the change you want to see” 

While I really want to encourage my teams not to ‘cap’ their ambition with a pre-existing notion of what may or may not work for them, I remember my initial reaction when I realised, I was expecting a couple of weeks after I had been put forward for partnership. While I was thrilled about our news, I’m a fairly transparent person and I remember saying to my husband ‘I feel like I should tell work’, but he kindly reminded me that hadn’t even had a scan yet! When I did tell my leadership team, they were brilliant at pointing out the bigger picture of my overall career and were delighted for me – or at least told me they were! I would like to give that support to my teams going forward.

One of the proudest moments of my career was the announcement that I had become a partner, but it wasn’t just becoming a partner. It was seeing the picture I had chosen alongside the promotion news which was a picture of the day we brought our son Danny home from the hospital, and he met his two big brothers. I felt really proud and thought it might be encouraging to someone else to show that they don’t have to sacrifice personal priorities if they wish to continue to progress in their career! I was promoted on maternity leave to partner, and I was really grateful to be part of such a powerful message.

I think we need to support both men and women who are juggling a family with their careers. When I leave the office to pick up my kids after work, part of me is going ‘I feel bad I’m leaving people behind working. I’ll have to create an hour later to catch up on something’ and the other part of me is going ‘I need to show people that this can be manageable and lead by example’. There is ‘give and take’ at various points and I’d be unrealistic if I said it was easy (especially when the germs hit hard and heavy), but I have made the choice that I want to make it work and I’m only one of many people trying to do the same thing.

I was very lucky to have mentors in my life giving me that support and encouragement. While having a family can be the most rewarding thing in the world, re-joining the workforce after maternity leave can bring a certain vulnerability and sense of worry about how it is going to work.  I distinctly remember my coach saying ‘Karen, you’re going to be a different version of yourself when you come back from maternity leave, but that’s ok.’ Those words were lost on me before I left but I realised the impact that had on reassuring me when I was coming back after my time off.

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