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Accounting Career Path Advice

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Hi,

Please bear with me for a somewhat long post, but I really would appreciate advice.

I am an accounting student in a cooperative education program. Currently, I am undergoing my first coop term at a small CA designated firm (Canadian, eh?). It may be a bit silly to think about a long term career path, but I'm the kind of guy who likes a plan. In fact. I had a plan and things did not work out as intended, though not necessarily for the worst.

Originally, I had envisioned working for a Big 4 financial institution probably as a Staff Accountant in the Audit division. I thought that I would complete all of my coop terms there, graduate, work at the firm a bit more, get my CA designation, and then either (1) stick with the firm, or (2) go into industry. That would be a decision to be made when I was mature enough and experienced enough.

However, my bids at a large firm during the interview process were unsuccessful. While originally I was disappointed with not landing a job at one of the Big 4, my job at a small CA has really started to grow on me. Several reasons for this:

1. The pay is very good. I get paid a base salary that is greater than my cooperative education counterparts at a larger firm, and in addition I get overtime pay (which is a HUGE plus). Many of my friends are pulling 10-16 hour days at these large firms on salary, which equates to slave labor in my opinion (coop only gives us jobs during busy seasons).

2. I am getting both tax and audit hours at the firm, as well as a good understanding of small businesses.

While I really do enjoy where I work, I am wondering whether or not working at one of the larger firms will open more doors in the long run. I feel that there is only so much I can achieve at the firm I am currently with. For instance, I am confident that I am a harder worker, dress and act more professionally, and frankly (not to boost my ego) have a greater understanding of accounting than many students my age. Also, there are only a dozen of us at the office, and while I do enjoy the people I work with, I could meet so many more people at a larger firm. Of course, I have no basis for these assumptions. I lack the experience that some of you hopefully posses to analyze my situation!

Basically, I am unsure of whether or not working at my firm will limit my potential, or whether it does not matter where I work at the moment, and that if I keep networking and keep strong ties to my friends at the larger firms, I can enjoy the pay and knowledge I am currently obtaining, with the options of going into industry once I obtain my CA. I love the pay I get, but is it worth it now to take a pay cut to, eventually, be making far more than I would if I stick with what I have now?

Again, I apologize for the long post and I really do appreciate any advice that anyone has to offer.
post #2 of 16
Fellow accounting intern here at a regional firm...I wouldn't say I really enjoy it though, it's a solid job with good people though. I'm curious what the others will say. Most of the people I work with have big 4 experience, and now they're back at a regional firm. I would guess it can't hurt to go Big4 for awhile, but if you like your job and the people you work with, do you want to take the chance of not being able to get that job again?
post #3 of 16
My Mother is a senior accountant/manager/partner at a mid sized regional accounting firm. She genuinely enjoys the nature of her work and is well compensated. She works something like 70-80 hours a week around the various tax deadlines, but takes Friday off all Summer.

One struggle she faces is the choice of staying at a firm or going into a CFO type position in industry. She greatly enjoys the variety of the work she does at her firm, and would lose that in industry (according to her). However, the potential salary increase in industry is very large.

If you have some quick questions I'd forward them to her. I'm sure she'd have something to say, but you'd have to wait until after tax season.
post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thank you to both of you for timely responses!

Quote:
Originally Posted by longskate88 View Post
Fellow accounting intern here at a regional firm...I wouldn't say I really enjoy it though, it's a solid job with good people though. I'm curious what the others will say. Most of the people I work with have big 4 experience, and now they're back at a regional firm. I would guess it can't hurt to go Big4 for awhile, but if you like your job and the people you work with, do you want to take the chance of not being able to get that job again?

That's the decision I face. On one hand, there is the potential for so much at a big firm (or is there?). At the same time, I am very well off as it is, I would hate myself for declining to return to my current firm in a future work term, only to be worse off in the future.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joenobody0 View Post
My Mother is a senior accountant/manager/partner at a mid sized regional accounting firm. She genuinely enjoys the nature of her work and is well compensated. She works something like 70-80 hours a week around the various tax deadlines, but takes Friday off all Summer.

One struggle she faces is the choice of staying at a firm or going into a CFO type position in industry. She greatly enjoys the variety of the work she does at her firm, and would lose that in industry (according to her). However, the potential salary increase in industry is very large.

If you have some quick questions I'd forward them to her. I'm sure she'd have something to say, but you'd have to wait until after tax season.

Yeah tax season is just beginning...fun stuff! 8-) I am more wondering what my options would be going into industry if I continue to work at my current firm. I'm not too sure how people get into industry in the first place, do they apply themselves or does a headhunter find them? If so, how could one possibly find me at such a small firm? Would the possibility for going into industry be reduced if I continue to work at a small firm for years to come?
post #5 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by ajmanouk View Post
Yeah tax season is just beginning...fun stuff! 8-) I am more wondering what my options would be going into industry if I continue to work at my current firm. I'm not too sure how people get into industry in the first place, do they apply themselves or does a headhunter find them? If so, how could one possibly find me at such a small firm? Would the possibility for going into industry be reduced if I continue to work at a small firm for years to come?

I can only speak to my Mother's experience. She manages a lot of client relationships, and is a board member in a few places. She's had a number of "unofficial" offers from current clients to come in-house to their companies at the Comptroller or CFO level. Additionally, she's been approached through her board memberships by friends/colleagues who are actively looking to fill positions for themselves or their clients.

I'd say networking seems to be how it's done.
post #6 of 16
I am also going to be pursuing my CA designation at a Big 4 starting in the Fall. I decided I wanted to go Big 4 and didn't apply to any Midsize firms. That being said I don't think there is anything wrong with Midsize firms. I think being at a Midsize may make it more difficult when jumping to industry depending on what type of position you want. My firm has close to a thousand people so there is a lot of people I can talk to and network with. Joenobody is right with how most people move into industry, it seems fairly common to get hired by former clients. As good as it is to keep contacts with your friends at Large firms, at the end of the day they have that firm on their resume, still leaving you somewhat at a disadvantage. I would take a small pay cut for the chance to make more later.
post #7 of 16
I don't really have anything to add in regards to advice...but I'm an accounting major looking to get into Big 4/Mid size firm as well. The other day I saw my friend who is currently an intern at a Big 4 firm. He works literally 70-80 week since January. In fact, he told me he did not get one day off in January. I knew about the long hours, but god damn. Kinda iffy on being a slave now. When you're an intern its great, but being on salary I'd have to think it would suck.
post #8 of 16
Here's my perspective, as someone who took basically the opposite approach as OP is thinking about. I started as an intern at Arthur Andersen 9 months before Enron caused the firm to collapse. At the time, AA was the best gig a new grad in my city could ask for. They were the biggest and best firm around (the other big firms had a presence in my city, but were much smaller). Then Enron happened and my job offer was revoked 30 days before I was supposed to start full time. Needless to say, that was a lesson in the workings of corporate America.

I was lucky enough to follow some of the ex-AA people to another big firm, and stayed there for a little over 2 years -- long enough to earn my CPA and get a few tax seasons under my belt. I learned a ton, but hated the business model (particularly as it related to career development and compensation). So I moved to another city and took a corporate job in a different field (non-accounting). After doing that for a couple years I got bored and decided to go out on my own.

For the last 4 years I've had my own CPA practice doing mainly tax work and small business accounting. It's a totally different world than big-4 type work, but I much prefer working one on one with my clients than being a cog in a giant machine. I'm not a "corporate" person, so dealing with big firms and big firm clients was never really appealing to me.

With that long introduction, here are my thoughts for OP.

Working in the big 4 (or any larger firm) is a pretty miserable experience especially early in your career. But having the name on your resume is instant credibility. So if your long term goal is to get to an executive level corporate finance/accounting position, grinding out a few years in the big 4 will only open doors for you. If you didn't make the cut right out of college, do a few years with another firm, get your CPA/CA, and apply as an experienced hire. The turnover rates in the big 4 are huge, they always have a hard time finding seniors (3-4 yrs experience) because so many new grads burn out after a year or two. Just make sure the experience you are getting in the mean time qualifies you for big-4 work. Also, knowing someone who works there and who can open the door for you would be a huge plus.

Regarding midsize/smaller firms. Your career development will depend on two factors: who the clients are, and how strong the partners are. Is the firm growing or shrinking. Are the clients businesses strong and growing, or are they barely hanging on. Depending on your specific field and interests, there can be better opportunities at smaller/boutique firms than in the big 4. Or you could get stuck somewhere doing the same tax return (or audit) over and over for 20 years, or working under a partner who doesn't recognize the importance of training and career development.

For me, I am content with forging my own path in the industry. I'm not cut out for corporate life, but the experience I gained in the big 4 was invaluable. If anything, I should have stayed longer. But I should also say that equally important for my career development was the time I spent in the business world after I left the big 4. As an example, if your long term goal is to become a CFO, spending a few years in commercial lending would be invaluable experience.

Regardless of which route you go, definitely keep up the networking and try to align yourself with the people who are doing things rather than sitting still. By that I mean, the people who are buying/starting companies and the firms/partners who service those accounts.

Good luck!
post #9 of 16
I'm working at a Big 4 currently. I think it depends on your goals. Getting experience at small businesses is a good way to familiarize yourself with all the different processes/areas of a company while interacting with clients at all levels whereas working at a large corporate client usually gives you deeper experience in a more narrow area.

That being said, what is your long-term goal? Do you want to work as a controller, financial reporting, internal audit, type role? Large, corporate atmosphere? Smaller business? It doesn't hurt to have Big 4 experience. But as the above poster mentioned, it can also be a miserable experience.

You want to probably get a good idea of what your current market value is by interviewing around or speaking to a recruiter to gauge what type of salary you'd be able to pull if you left your current place. Then figure out how much more value (if any) will a Big 4 get you. At the end of the day, if you're a high performer with good client experience and you can show that on your resume, then having Big 4 pedigree won't necessarily make a huge difference.
post #10 of 16
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by pistolero View Post
Here's my perspective, as someone who took basically the opposite approach as OP is thinking about. I started as an intern at Arthur Andersen 9 months before Enron caused the firm to collapse. At the time, AA was the best gig a new grad in my city could ask for. They were the biggest and best firm around (the other big firms had a presence in my city, but were much smaller). Then Enron happened and my job offer was revoked 30 days before I was supposed to start full time. Needless to say, that was a lesson in the workings of corporate America.

I was lucky enough to follow some of the ex-AA people to another big firm, and stayed there for a little over 2 years -- long enough to earn my CPA and get a few tax seasons under my belt. I learned a ton, but hated the business model (particularly as it related to career development and compensation). So I moved to another city and took a corporate job in a different field (non-accounting). After doing that for a couple years I got bored and decided to go out on my own.

For the last 4 years I've had my own CPA practice doing mainly tax work and small business accounting. It's a totally different world than big-4 type work, but I much prefer working one on one with my clients than being a cog in a giant machine. I'm not a "corporate" person, so dealing with big firms and big firm clients was never really appealing to me.

With that long introduction, here are my thoughts for OP.

Working in the big 4 (or any larger firm) is a pretty miserable experience especially early in your career. But having the name on your resume is instant credibility. So if your long term goal is to get to an executive level corporate finance/accounting position, grinding out a few years in the big 4 will only open doors for you. If you didn't make the cut right out of college, do a few years with another firm, get your CPA/CA, and apply as an experienced hire. The turnover rates in the big 4 are huge, they always have a hard time finding seniors (3-4 yrs experience) because so many new grads burn out after a year or two. Just make sure the experience you are getting in the mean time qualifies you for big-4 work. Also, knowing someone who works there and who can open the door for you would be a huge plus.

Regarding midsize/smaller firms. Your career development will depend on two factors: who the clients are, and how strong the partners are. Is the firm growing or shrinking. Are the clients businesses strong and growing, or are they barely hanging on. Depending on your specific field and interests, there can be better opportunities at smaller/boutique firms than in the big 4. Or you could get stuck somewhere doing the same tax return (or audit) over and over for 20 years, or working under a partner who doesn't recognize the importance of training and career development.

For me, I am content with forging my own path in the industry. I'm not cut out for corporate life, but the experience I gained in the big 4 was invaluable. If anything, I should have stayed longer. But I should also say that equally important for my career development was the time I spent in the business world after I left the big 4. As an example, if your long term goal is to become a CFO, spending a few years in commercial lending would be invaluable experience.

Regardless of which route you go, definitely keep up the networking and try to align yourself with the people who are doing things rather than sitting still. By that I mean, the people who are buying/starting companies and the firms/partners who service those accounts.

Good luck!

tyvm for this excellent piece of advice
post #11 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by ajmanouk View Post
tyvm for this excellent piece of advice
Not really. The difference between Big4 and mid-sized is immaterial; we paint accountants with the same brush. The designation sets a minimum skill standard and your experiences differentiate you: don't expect to be hired at any tax firm if you've only got audit experience at PWC. Outside of industry, your ability to articulate experiences does more to improve your job prospects than your firm name. Accounting attracts individuals weak at articulating effectively and the Big4 brand helps them but will never compensate for charm. Rely on your own abilities and experiences to get a job. Accountants frequently move between local firms and Big4 firms; strong accountants and weak accountants exist in both. Mature accountants choose firms that fit with their personality and goals - based on the culture of the firm. Choose the firm which will provide you with the best experience - work, comradery, fulfillment When you move on you'll have a solid war-chest to draw on and that will make you stand out compared to other candidates. Relying on brand names in this day and age is a mistake.
post #12 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Viktri View Post
Not really.

The difference between Big4 and mid-sized is immaterial; we paint accountants with the same brush. The designation sets a minimum skill standard and your experiences differentiate you: don't expect to be hired at any tax firm if you've only got audit experience at PWC.

Outside of industry, your ability to articulate experiences does more to improve your job prospects than your firm name. Accounting attracts individuals weak at articulating effectively and the Big4 brand helps them but will never compensate for charm. Rely on your own abilities and experiences to get a job.

Accountants frequently move between local firms and Big4 firms; strong accountants and weak accountants exist in both. Mature accountants choose firms that fit with their personality and goals - based on the culture of the firm.

Choose the firm which will provide you with the best experience - work, comradery, fulfillment

When you move on you'll have a solid war-chest to draw on and that will make you stand out compared to other candidates. Relying on brand names in this day and age is a mistake.

Agree with most of what you said. I do think, however, Big 4 experience would open more doors than a smaller firm (not sure of how material the difference is). I've always worked for large firms during my career and I've heard many good things about smaller firms from my colleagues. You can get lost in the shuffle at a larger firm. I wouldn't worry too much at this point working at a smaller firm. Learn as much as you can and make contacts and if you still have the itch to go to a Big 4, you will definitely be able to do so. When I worked in Big 4 (Big 5 at the time until my company went kaput), I saw tons of people who came from regional firms. So don't sweat it.
post #13 of 16
I currently work at a Big 4 and it is a great experience. The opportunity and speed to learn new things is incomparable to industry.

Then again, it's a double edged sword cause you better learn it quick. Workload might be intense for some people but the benefit is that you're working with intelligent people (mostly) in the same age group. In industry...you work with some....interesting characters to say the least.

I'm actually on the consulting aka Advisory side and the landscape is much better here than the Audit/Tax side. That side pulls long hours and we pull pretty normal hours but that comes with more uncertainty and travel.

Overall, I'd recommend working at a Big 4 because your exit opportunities are virtually limitless within your desired field.
post #14 of 16
Thread Starter 
I always thought working consulting would be extremely interesting. The one major thing I do not like about Tax/Audit is how they basically work you as a slave on salary. One of my good friend's girlfriend has been working 10-16 hour days for the past month, all on salary. The poor girl.
post #15 of 16
Since there is already accounting threadhere, I will ask a question as well. I'm right now finishing my second year in Accounting major program. Instead of leaving accounting course to 4th year, I already jumped on them, and taking Intermediate levels. In the long run I am planning to pursue CA designation (Canada, eh?. My problem is I want to get into the Accounting industry, to get my experience rolling. However, I can't find anywhere any openings, or positions even available for part-time... is there such thing as a part-time entry level accounting job? Any suggestions on that? And if i can not get any job in accounting industry at the momemnt, what kind of other experience would be useful? Sick and tired of Retail sales and customer service. Any suggestions? Thank you
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