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Can a Small Firm Accountant Make It in the Big Leagues?

Welcome to the sometimes-we-blow-off-Monday’s-column edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a small firm accountant is cutting his teeth and is curious about prospects for the future. What’s in store for a young 10-key jockey? I guess we’ll try to find out.

Caught in a career conundrum? Think you’re about to lose it on one of your co-workers and need an outlet? Curious as to where lamé falls on the dress code? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll tell you what not to wear.

Meanwhile back at the Mom & Pop shop:


I just started as a staff accountant and I’m gradually getting the hang of what I’m doing. I work for a small firm and I am pretty much doing the audits start to finish from preparing the financial statements to sending letters to management as well as going through all the programs. So far it’s been 2.5 months and I’m going to take the classes needed to sit for the CPA. I’m definitely thankful to be here but knowing future options are nice as well. Here are my questions:

What is an estimated learning curve?

What are my possibilities as far as moving to a larger firms or going to the private sector?

Should I stay until I am qualified to sit for the CPA or does one or two years of experience hold any weight with the private sector or other firms?

I have gained a general idea from your other articles but wanted some specific feed back for me.



Dear Newbie,

As is typical of the emails we receive, you’re thinking about the future. That’s all fine and dandy but at 2.5 months of work you can barely open a three-ring binder without injuring yourself or endangering those around you. That said, I’ll answer your questions because I’m solid like that.

First the learning curve. – This varies as some new accountants are genuine whiz kids while others have trouble turning on their laptops. In general, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re doing after 12 months or so. Your second year as an associate will be a breeze compared to your first and if you work at a firm where three years are required for promotion, you’ll really become a junior spreadsheet rockstar. When you reach senior associate level, your life will change significantly and you’ll starting learning all over again. It will occur again as you ascend to manager and partner. That’s your life in public accounting in a beanshell.

Secondly, your prospects for moving to a larger firm or to an in-house position are good, as long as you’ve demonstrated that you’re a performer and a team player. At 2.5 months on the job you haven’t really had the chance to put your abilities on display so you have to be patient. Get a year or two of experience under your belt and take a look back on your accomplishments so you can best explain to prospective employers why you’ll be a worthy addition to their team.

Thirdly, it’s my personal opinion that you should finish your CPA before moving to another firm or company. Having a CPA will demonstrate your commitment to finishing something valuable for your career and will do wonders for your salary prospects when you’re ready to make a move. The choice between a CPA and a non-CPA is an easy one for HR managers.