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How to Prepare an Exit From Public Accounting Into a Government Position

This is sponsored content brought to you by American University.

Let’s face it, sometimes your chosen career path just isn’t what you imagined: The challenge of the job fades, the income doesn’t quite equal the time expended, the sexiness of working for a big firm didn’t last. And sometimes you just hate your job and it’s time to make a change

For many in public accounting, a government job is the next move — but how do you get there and what does it involve?

Research, research, research

Before plunking down any money for more education or applying for jobs, talk to people already working in government positions, set up informational interviews and if possible, look into job shadowing.

Government jobs in accounting and auditing run the gamut of positions with agencies at all levels of government to roles with companies whose clients are those government agencies or public companies, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

For Patricia Park, an auditing inspections leader with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board in New York, the jump from public accounting to audit regulation resulted from a conversation with a friend already working at the PCAOB.

“One of my friends joined the PCAOB’s broker and dealer program and she reached out to me about her experience, so that sparked my interest,” said Park. “I ultimately joined in 2012 and prior to that, I spent 12 years working at Big Eight and Big Four first. I wanted to try something different, but stay in accounting, so the PCAOB was a good fit — I could learn something new.”

Park’s exit from public accounting didn’t require additional certifications or formal education, but it meant her sole focus would be auditing — and auditing other auditors, which isn’t easy.

“I think one of the challenges of working at the PCAOB is that there’s a negative perception of what we do with the public accounting firms,” she said. “We do hope the work (they’re doing) is done without any deficiencies. As an auditor, you’re working for the client, but as an inspector your mission is to serve the public and investor protection.”

In addition, Park’s experience in audit regulation has translated to work she says is “very important and meaningful,” different career advancement opportunities and a greater work-life balance that she didn’t have during her nine-year tenure with Deloitte and Touche and two years with Arthur Andersen.

While Park’s path into government work is just one avenue, she stressed the importance of engaging your network and making sure that a government job would be a good fit.

Identify where you want to go

Depending on the level of government and area of government you’re interested in, you’ll find different requirements — some include advanced education, government security clearance levels, previous government experience, military experience and more. Perusing the websites of local and state government, as well as, will help you identify some agencies where you might want to pursue a job, as well as what they’re looking for and what their requirements are.

Get more education if you need it

While government jobs don’t necessarily require an advanced degree, many do and a masters degree in economics or public administration can help you better understand public policy, how public agencies are funded and more.

According to American University in Washington, D.C., which boasts an online master of arts in economics, earning a masters degree focused on economics could give you knowledge that’s “crucial in leading successful economic decision making, such as interpreting, explaining and acting on the results of economic models, and utilizing econometric research as a problem-solving tool.” Furthermore, you’ll get an inside look on current issues facing many local, state and national economies.

But if getting another degree isn’t appealing — or an option — at least invest in some additional certifications.

On a fundamental level, get certified as a government accountant — either at a local, state or federal level. A CGA certification will at least open the door to some other opportunities and is a low-cost alternative to a backpack and more student loans. Other attractive certifications worth looking into include certified government financial planner, chartered global management accountant and certified government auditing professional. Many government jobs require specific certifications, so double-check that you’re getting certified in expertise that matches the jobs you’re interested in.

Other things to keep in mind

  • You may have greater competition for government jobs from those currently serving in the military and veterans. Many government jobs specifically reference military experience as a requirement or a preference.
  • The interviewing process takes longer. Getting a government job often includes initial screening questions, multiple panel interviews, in-depth background checks and drug testing — all of which can take longer than a non-government job due to different regulations.
  • Government salaries aren’t always as cushy as ones in public accounting. While the work is often more meaningful and affords benefits like better work-life balance, many public agencies operate on small budgets with limited ability to increase those resources.

Transitioning out of public accounting into government takes time, so plan ahead before making the jump.

Image: iStock/AbeSnap23