Back with another edition of “Help! My career is in shambles,” an MSA student has a background in “project management” and wants to know what their options are upon graduation. Will the professional experience make a difference?
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As for our seasoned soon-to-be MS grad:
I’m currently in a one year MSA program. I am in my late 20s, so not exactly a professional spring chicken. I went to a liberal arts college for undergrad, and I got really good grades there. Prior to enrolling in the MSA program, I worked for 5 years doing Project Management. I (finally) realized that line of work wasn’t for me and didn’t see where I could go with it that would make it for me, and so decided to go back to school in something more practical than my undergrad. Right now, I’m beginning to explore my options for after I get out of the MSA program. Ideally, I want to try to get to a place where my previous experience is appreciated and valued right away, but am wondering if that is possible if I go Big 4. On the other hand, I keep seeing on job boards that previous Big 4 experience is a crucial requirement for many experienced accounting openings.
My questions are: will the Big 4 look favorably or unfavorably on my previous experience? Are they more likely to fill their entry level positions with younger graduates as opposed to those that have many years of professional experience behind them? If I’m a more attractive candidate, can I leverage that into better starting salary/benefits? Finally, is it worth it to do Big 4 for a couple years knowing that in the long run it will probably help with job prospects, even though in the short term I might be giving up potentially more lucrative possibilities because of my past experience? How can I use my past professional experiences to my advantage as a “non-experienced” hire – Big 4 or otherwise?
Interesting dilemma. We’ll do our best here and invite our readers to share their thoughts on this particular situation. We’ll address the questions one at a time.
Is your experience viewed as favorable or unfavorable? – In the opinion of this blogger your experience is valuable, no matter what it is. Dealing with stupid people, managing various resources and being familiar with a professional routine puts you light years ahead of any grasshopper that just did half a dozen keg stands over the weekend. That being said, a Big 4 firm (via a recruiting professional) might not share our perspective. Depending on what your “project management” experience entails, it could be viewed favorably or unfavorably. Have you managed groups of people? Do you have any client-facing experience? Any leadership roles? These are all good (and partly addresses your last question) and can be perceived as key strengths. If the answer is no, no, and HELL NO, then your experience is less meaningful.
Are they more likely to fill their entry level positions with younger graduates? – Yes. YES. YES. It isn’t unheard of for the Big 4 to hire someone with your background (i.e. older) at the entry-level and in fact, we’ve seen instances where non-traditional types skip ahead of others in their class but as a general rule, you’re at a big disadvantage here.
Can I leverage previous experience into better starting salary/benefits? – The Big 4 firms have plenty of options for benefits packages. The “super-secret project management experience benefits package” does not exist. As far as salary is concerned, you can leverage your experience by applying for jobs that require previous experience. If you go after an entry-level position you will end up with an entry-level salary.
Is it worth it to do Big 4 for a couple years even though in the short term I might be giving up potentially more lucrative possibilities because of my past experience? – Look friend, we hate to be the one to break this to you but in the short-term, your life at a Big 4 firm could quite very well be hell. The Big 4 provides professional services; is that the kind of job are you looking for? Do you really want to be an auditor? God, I hope not. Tax? Again, you’re looking at quite a bit of pain here and your experience could be marginalized. A position in the advisory practice would be ideal for you but without more details on your experience, it’s hard for us to gauge if that’s a realistic possibility.
How can I use my past professional experiences to my advantage as a “non-experienced” hire – Big 4 or otherwise? – Like we mentioned above, push any leadership, management and client-facing experience. These are crucial for an aspiring Big 4 rock star.
Bottom-line here is, what is it that you’re trying to achieve with this MSA? Is a Big 4 firm the ideal place for you to land out of school? Maybe. Maybe not. Finding the right fit of your past professional experience combined with your brand-spanking new advanced accounting knowledge will take some work on your part. While a Big 4 firm on your résumé will open a few doors down the road, a job in-house may make more sense with your PM experience. Choose wisely.