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If You’re Looking For Career Options, Give Government Auditing a Look

US Capitol at night

Ed. note: This post brought to you by the Big Government Auditing™ lobby. Just kidding, it’s a guest post from Parker Skaats, CPA, an experienced government worker who’s here to pitch the joys of government work to the unwashed overworked masses. 

Okay, let’s be real for a second. When you hear “government auditing,” do you picture dull offices with fluorescent lighting, stacks of paper taller than you, and people who still think fax machines are the pinnacle of technology? If that’s the case, you might be in for a surprise.

Now, I started off like many of you: dreaming of the hustle and the supposed glamour of the Big 4. But I also heard the not-so-whispered tales of burnout, the tear-streaked faces after 80-hour weeks, and the tales of client-induced trauma. Yes, the prestige and opportunities in the Big 4 are there, but so are the long hours and the partner who demands you meticulously record your billable hours.

Enter the world of government auditing. No, I didn’t stumble into it after a wild night out. It was a choice, and quite a fantastic one at that. First up, you’ve got stability. The private sector can be a wild roller-coaster, especially in shaky economic times. But government gigs? As steady as they come.

The work-life balance is another winner. While my Big 4 buddies were burning the midnight oil, I was wrapping up at a decent hour, getting to know my couch, my hobbies, and heck, my family. That 9-to-5 consistency means you don’t have to schedule your life around your job.

Think government work is mundane? You would be right, most of it is. However, your skills are transferable to most entities at the federal, state, and local levels so it’s easy to move from one organization to another. The key is to work for an organization whose mission is important to you. The work you do isn’t to enrich the partner down the hall who made you return to the office so he can get another Porsche.

Ever thought about the unique hustle of government auditing? It’s not just about financial statements and ledgers. Oh no, it’s a whole other game. First off, there’s the art of working with political appointees and politicians. Yes, sometimes that means mastering the delicate skill of, well, straddling barbed wire. It’s a dance of diplomacy and patience, ensuring the work gets done while navigating the ebbs and flows of political agendas.

Then, there’s the rhythm of government itself. If you’ve ever felt the frustration of waiting for your computer to update, then imagine that on a larger scale. The pace can be glacial, but it teaches you resilience, patience, and the knack for finding ways to keep moving things forward, even when it feels like you’re wading through bureaucratic molasses.

And let’s not forget teamwork. Unlike the ultra-competitive arenas where everyone’s jostling for that next promotion, government auditing often thrives on collaboration. You’ll learn to lean on your colleagues, share expertise, and pool resources to ensure the greater good is served.

While starting salaries might appear modest compared to public accounting, the overall compensation package in government roles, when including benefits like health insurance, pension, and generous leave policies (that aren’t disguised as unlimited) are quite attractive. As long as your goal isn’t to eventually make partner, you can get a comparable salary with the federal government.

Now, let’s talk about credentials. The 150-hour requirement for the CPA, combined with the challenges of the CPA Evolution, might have some of you rethinking your life choices. But in the halls of government auditing, the CPA is not all that common. There’s the CIA (no, not that CIA, but the Certified Internal Auditor), the Certified Responsible Government Auditor (CRGA), and the Certified Government Financial Manager (CGFM) are also valued. Each of these certifications brings its own set of advantages and specializations, making them worthy considerations for those considering an alternative to the CPA route.

If you’re on the fence about your next move in the wild world of accounting, give government auditing a thought. You might not get all the free swag you would at the Big 4 (do you really need another firm-branded water bottle?) but dig a little deeper, and you might just find it’s the hidden gem you’ve been looking for.

So next time someone gives you the side-eye for even thinking about government auditing, remember: it’s not the path less traveled, it’s the path smartly traveled. And who knows? You might just end up being the smartest person in the room [Ed. note: not in the Enron way].

Parker Skaats, CPA is the founder of Parker CPE, where he specializes in government accounting and auditing courses. With a background working for a Federal Office of Inspector General (OIG), he’s dedicated to enhancing quality and efficiency in government audit offices. He holds a B.S. in Accounting from American University and is a licensed CPA in Maryland.