“Two years here [a Big 4 firm] to get that on my resume, then on to private industry.”
That, in a nutshell, is how lots of Big 4 associates talk about their career. For some of them, it’s a fine plan. In a way, it’s an extension of what many accounting students believe: get into a Big 4 firm and use that as a springboard to a career in private industry.
But there are pros and cons to everything, and this is no exception. The illusion of a well-paid job with set hours is not often the reality. In truth, the initial salary bump is usually followed by small annual increases; every accounting department has a busy season (or seasons), and the position that looks so promising can turn into a routine job.
Before you make the leap to industry, it’s worth thinking about extending your career in public at a mid-market accounting firm. Here are some considerations:
- If you like serving clients and helping them make their businesses better, a mid-market firm may be a better choice for you. When you’re working at a company, you only have one client.
- If you like learning and doing new things, consider whether an industry job will pigeon-hole you. Will you be satisfied if you’re only responsible for doing only a few tasks? Will you become bored doing the same thing over and over?
- If you crave work/life balance, start a firm and make your own hours. You can automate the practice and work from anywhere.
- If you want to make a difference, a mid-market accounting firm may be the place for you. As an advisor to clients, you can impact how they perceive a wide variety of personal and business decisions.
- Helping others can be exciting. And not only do you serve as an advisor to your clients, but you can also impact the culture of your firm as well.
- As firms move away from hourly billing to value or project-based pricing, the culture of the profession is shifting. At a firm, you can help lead the change.
- If your goal is to earn a high salary, consider how much you’ll be making after 5 or 10 years in an industry job. Sure, you may have a higher salary than your public accounting cohorts at first, but according to Payscale an accountant’s pay increases somewhat for the first 5 to 10 years, but additional experience doesn’t have a big effect on pay. If you become a partner or owner, you can earn 2-3 times what senior finance people are making in-house.
- Speaking of becoming a partner or owner, how many CFOs are there at a company? It’s not a trick question: There is only one. At firms, there are many partners/owners, which gives you a greater opportunity to advance in your career.
A mid-market accounting firm is a great option for people who are entrepreneurial, like learning and want to help others. But you are the only one who knows what the best decision is for you.