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Dear Going Concern,
I have been in Big 4 FS Tax for the past two years and recently was promoted to Senior. Headhunters have been calling me with great opportunities in the tax departments of Hedge Fund/PE firms. The pay increase is significant and the hours will undoubtedly be better. However, I’m worried about leaving Public Accounting too early in my career. My eventual career goal is to become a Controller or CFO at a Hedge Fund. The headhunters I’ve spoken with insist that HF/PE firms prefer candidates with a mix of Public and Private experience for those positions. I’m wondering if I should stick around until making manager at Big 4 or if, as the headhunters recommend, leaving now as a Senior is the right move for me.
First world problem
Dear First World Problem,
Alright, listen up. The most important thing to do when you want to start looking for a role is to find a headhunter or two that you trust (and hopefully can trust you to not tattle on them for $5 worth of Starbucks). Yes, we all loathe headhunters. They call, they email; some pester more than others. Sure, most are in the same pool with real estate brokers (an evil means to an end), but there are some that see you as more than a pay-day and will serve as excellent resources throughout your career. A good recruiter will send you a select handful of opportunities that fit exactly what you’re looking for, not a blast email with 17 write-ups all containing the same five bullet points.
That said, with two years into your career you’re just starting to see the wave of job opportunities. Two to four years is the window that many most staff roles fall into at hedge/PE firms, both on the fund accounting and tax side. This is because most asset management firms consider the Big 4 (and regional firms that have an alternatives focus) to be training grounds for their back office hires. Why hire an accountant off of a college campus to do fund accounting work when you can have the Big 4 train ‘em up and toughen ‘em, up for you?
However, the difference is that the number of tax staff positions in-house at a hedge/PE firm are limited. Example: a hedge fund running $5bil in assets under management through six separate funds needs a tax director (typically 7+ years of public/private) and a staff member to assist with work. The same firm would have Sr. Controller/CFO, 1-3 fund controllers and a small staff of accountants running the day-to-day. Because of this prime example in supply and demand, I’d encourage you to interview for any and all roles that interest you, but more important than when you leave is what you leave for. In your case, being a CFO is your ultimate goal – you should be looking at opportunities that are a blend of tax and fund accounting. These roles typically exist at less institutionalized funds, so do your due diligence on opportunities at the likes of Och-Ziff, Blackstone, Fortress, etc. Talk to your recruiter about your long term goals and the need to better position yourself by diversifying your professional experiences. Right now you know K1’s, wash sales and partner allocations; a good recruiter knows what it takes to get you on the Controller/CFO track. It might be the first firm you interview with, or the tenth. When you find it, you’ll know.