I've been in public accounting for almost 20 years. I was lucky to find a firm that is a great fit for me. I've been able to create a career that keeps me challenged, is flexible with my personal goals and allows me to work with a great team of people. Not everyone is so lucky.
Over the years, I've seen many fantastic people leave public accounting just a few years into their career. Many have worked for big firms that require significant travel and work hours. Others didn't like the culture of the firm they chose. Some didn't see how they could balance work and life goals. It's sad to see a talented CPA leave public accounting for these reasons.
There are over 50,000 CPA firms in the United States. These range from very small, one person firms to international Big 4 firms, and everything in between. Some are very focused on charge hours, others don't measure hours at all. Some focus on employee satisfaction, others focus on production. Some have a general practice, others are niche focused. None of these options are right or wrong. Successful firms come in all sizes, shapes and cultures. What is important is that you find the right fit for you.
How do you do that?
If you are unhappy in your first job, take some time to evaluate what you want in a career. Talk to your mentor or supervisor about your future goals and your current frustrations. Give your current employer the opportunity to address your needs.
Still not working?
Then, do some research. You need to determine if it's public accounting that isn't a fit or the firm you're working for. Call the recruiters you met during campus recruiting. Ask them specific questions about what matters to you. Talk to friends at other firms. What do they like about their firm? What don't they like? Is there a firm out there that is a better fit for you?
Public accounting has some excellent career benefits. Here are a few I value:
- Continuous learning and professional growth - I've been able to stay challenged, explore industries and build skills in my interest areas. You can control your advancement.
- Flexibility - Public accounting has some clear business cycles which means we work a lot during part of the year and have a very flexible schedule the other times of the year. I've also been able to work a variety of FlexLife schedules over the last 20 years that help me manage by work and life responsibilities.
- Variety - CPAs work with a variety of clients, doing a variety of services. Every day is a little different depending on the firm and client needs. I've worked with owner-operated business and large family owned corporations. I've prepared taxes, financial statements, business health checkups, fraud risk assessments, facilitated strategic planning sessions and more. I've worked with non-profit organizations, physicians, plumbers, manufacturers, restaurateurs, auto repair shops, transportation companies and more.
- Great people - I get to work with inspirational business owners and fantastic co-workers. I learn from all of them and enjoy working together.
- Individualized Career Path - There is a clear structure to advancement, but the industry has a lot of flexibility in your career path. I'm a good example. In my 19+ years, I've been a traditional staff accountant, a municipal auditor, a business advisor, career coach and now director of human resources.
- Long term career security and competitive compensation - Public accounting has a strong future. CPAs can influence their compensation through advancement, responsibility and practice development.
The link to the article below has some other tips about changing jobs.