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Going Concern’s Adventures in Consulting Series: Part 1 – What Are My Alternatives?

Ed. note: there's another new kid in town and his name is Kai. We originally met him through a career issue of his own years ago and kept in touch all this time, so we thought he'd be a fun addition to our rag tag group of accounting dropouts and class clowns given his consulting experience. Over the next several months Going Concern will be issuing weekly posts offering perspectives into the often misunderstood and previously seldom covered world of consulting with Kai's help.  Kai Kershner is an experienced consultant/CPA whom, in spite of his best efforts, has been in financial consulting for over five years. If you have a question for him specifically related to the fun world of consulting careers, shoot us an email and we'll get it to him.

“Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable” – Woody Allen

Quoting Woody Allen, the above is perhaps no better epitomized within the walls of a large accounting firm1. When it comes to undergrad accounting/finance programs I’ve found there to be limited objective advice aimed at providing guidance to those students wary of beginning a career within the audit or tax practice of an accounting firm; and perhaps more importantly, advice which could provide valuable assistance prior to these students making what is ultimately an extremely important decision2. It then comes as no surprise that this lack of advice for the audit-and-tax-career wary corresponds to a near-identical deficiency and general misinformation regarding careers in consulting, which can serve as viable alternatives for accounting/finance students seeking to do something other with their lives than audits or taxes.

In sports, it is sometimes argued whether a team won or, rather, the opposing team lost that game; within the context of accounting/finance careers, I think of this argument when classifying people as either those who:

Aspire to a long, fulfilling career in a financial services capacity and are thrilled at the prospect of beginning such career3


Dread every aspect related to a career in financial services; yet, despite of their overwhelming angst, choose to enter the field anyway – be it for financial, professional or other personal reasons.

Assuming most of our accounting/finance friends can be categorized as either A or B, let’s assume this article is directed towards Category B (since Category A knows what they find fulfilling and doesn’t need the guidance).  Keeping this in mind, let’s examine a set of hypothetical scenarios to which both past and present accounting/finance students can potentially relate:

  • Rising Senior, Accounting Major: You recently completed a big 4 audit/tax internship; you were generally miserable; things got markedly worse over the course of the summer; you disliked your peers and superiors; the situation, however, is complicated by the fact that you received a job offer featuring, among other things, above average starting salary + signing bonus
  • Rising Senior, Finance Major: You recently completed an internship with a mid-tier investment bank.  You received a job offer with a very high starting salary/signing bonus relative to your peers but are less than thrilled at the prospect of working 70 hour weeks from the onset of your career all the while existing within a cut-throat environment not all that different to that of “Lord of the Flies”
  • 1st Year Auditor, Big 4: You fucking hate your job; your firm; and most of all, your day-to-day existence.  You live in what amounts to a NYC-high-rise-pseudo-frat-house and spend virtually all of your non-work/non-sleep time either waiting for elevators or underground in disgusting subway cars.  You are currently worried your $2100/month rent-check might bounce, which would force you to take temporary shelter in the office where you already spend 80 hours/week  
  • Rising Senior, Accounting/Finance/Other Major: You had an internship at a large, publicly traded consulting firm and were far from sold on it as a career.  You did not receive a single concrete answer over the span of a two month period and, despite your greatest efforts to abstain from, you now find yourself using cliché corporate idioms such as “don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees” and “reach out” as the exclusive phase used when inquiring into whether communication of some form has, or will, take place

Let’s allow each of the four scenarios marinate for a few days before we divulge some well-crafted, individualized advice geared at helping each of the above through their somewhat unique situations.  Spoiler alert: involves consulting.

1To, of course, be taken within an individualized context; people frequently ask me, “Do you like what you do?” – to which I frequently reply, “Well, I’m not a fucking rock-star…but all things considered…it’s okay”

2 Think: hitting accept on a job offer

3 Think: The girl who loved her big 4 audit internship, loved spending her summer with a big 4 firm and was truly excited to start work as an auditor. Or: The 20-year-old-guy who carried a WSJ to Fin400, asked difficult questions with large words he likely did not understand, boasted he “killed the market” with what was proven to be a fictitious investment portfolio and wanted nothing more in life than a position within the bulge bracket