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Accounting Career Conundrums: Should I Quit My Big 4 Job After Only a Year?

leaving your Big 4 job too early

In this week’s episode of Accounting Career Conundrums, a reader ponders leaving her job at a large firm with less than a year of experience. This inquiry boils down to a simple question: How soon is too soon?  Alas, Google does not have the answer to this question, so I will take it on.

As a side note, if you search “how soon is too soon” Google promptly provides answers to the burning questions related to your personal lives, such as how soon is to soon to: have sex, say I love you, move in, and take a pregnancy test. Perhaps those are relevant to you, too but for today, we’re going to answer the question how soon is too soon to leave your Big 4 job. As always, send us your burning career inquiries to [email protected]. Please don’t ask us how soon is too soon to have sex.

On to this reader’s question:

I graduated last year and I did what I was supposed to do – I got a job at a large firm. I didn’t expect to like it, but I didn’t think it would be this terrible. I have realized I have absolutely no desire to be promoted to do even more work I dislike. I’m sure most people will tell me to suck it up and get through 2 years, but I don’t even want the type of career that comes from working at a large firm – I’d much rather have a regular old small company accounting job that lets me leave right at 5 or even better – just work part time. I plan on staying at home when I have kids anyways. Money is not really an issue – I’m fortunate to have a husband who makes considerably more than me and he actually likes what he does. And he would prefer I take a pay cut if it means I could be at home more and not hating my job.

Its difficult to get up everyday when I don’t care about the type of career this job could get me, so basically I’m wondering, is it really dumb to leave my first job after less than a year? What kind of job could a CPA with less than a year’s work experience even get?

I hate to break it you but this is not the first time I have heard this story. It’s a tale as old as time. We’ll probably be getting emails asking this question 15 years from now if we’re still around. Why, oh why, do the most brilliant accounting majors knowingly enter into positions they know will suck? Haven’t y’all heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you predict something will suck, the moment you walk through that door your brain will collect evidence to prove you are right: The training sucked. The client and my supervisors are dicks. The computer software is slooooooooow.  Blah, blah, blah. Wah, wah, wah.

Rather than looking to what type of job a CPA can get with one year of experience, I invite you to look inside and figure out how you are getting in your own way of job (and, for that matter, overall life) satisfaction. How soon before you start listening to that inner voice that predicted you would not like this job?  How soon before you enjoy waking up in the morning?  How soon until you start living the life you want instead of the one you think others have in mind for you?

And, believe me, I get where you are coming from. People thought I was cray, cray when I turned down an offer for a fulltime job at a Big 4 firm.  But after a summer internship in audit, I knew that job would suck the life out of me and I said no thank you very much (but the trip to Disneyworld was fun!).  That was the right move for me, and to do it I had to put aside my fears about what others would think about me.

In other words, I would NOT recommend that you stick it out. If you choose to stay and be miserable, then I would think you are dumb.

Now I ain’t saying you a golddigger, but you ain’t messing with no broke husband.  If you don’t need the terrible job for the money, what stands in the way of you going out to get the job you already see for yourself — “a regular old small company accounting job that lets me leave right at 5 or even better — just work [on a] part time [basis]?” I suspect the answer is you and the shoulds.

Addressing the shoulds, which are likely those fears of what people will say about a CPA who does not work at a large firm for at least two years, can be a scary prospect but what sounds scarier is leading a miserable life.  As the sage philosopher Drake once said, “YOLO.”  How soon until you start living the life you want?