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Should a Content Big 4 Associate Jump Ship for a Controller Role?

Welcome to the Rapture fire sale edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a perfectly happy Big 4 associate has the opportunity to land a controller position with a small company. Should he leave the friendly confines of Big 4 and take a pay cut for the growth potential?

Looking for semi-sound career advice? Need to deflect some blame? Dealing with crazies in your office? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll make sure you’re ready for whatever might (but 100% sure won’t) happen.

Meanwhile, back to opportunity knocking:

I’m in a great spot with a Big 4 firm on a large client in a growing market. I’ve “exceeded expectations” on all my performance reviews the last two years and am up for promotion in July to Sr. Associate. Pay is good, I’m not actively searching to leave, but I don’t feel I’m on the partner track (I’d like to see my family and raise children while staying involved in their lives). At some point I’d love to have my own business – CPA firm or other small business partner.

That said, I’ve also been offered a job with a former small business employer which I interned and worked at for 2 years. They’d like me to come back in a Controller role, with ongoing career development in the position. The position also comes with a potential grooming track to CFO.

What are the pluses and minuses of leaving now for the opportunity? There is a salary sacrifice and I have job security where I’m at with my firm. There’s great growth potential at the small firm and it allows for a great (proverbial) work/life balance.


Tough Spot

Dear Tough Spot,

You wanna tough spot? Try finding a couch on the Upper East Side when you’re accused of rape. You’ve simply got simply have to make a choice about where you want your career to go. And in your case, the decision is easy: take the controller gig.

Here’s the thing – opportunities like this don’t come around every day. You have the good fortune to already be familiar with the company that is making you the offer. If you had little or no idea what this company was about, I’d say this would be a riskier move, especially since you’re being offered a controller position. But because you know the ins, the outs, the whathaveyous, that makes this an easier decision, in my opinion.

I will warn you, however – you will not have a “work-life balance.” You will work. A lot. If the “controller role” is a true controller role, you’re going to quickly find out what that means. You’re going to be in charge of the accounting department; you’re going to have people working for you; you’re going to be answering the C-level execs of the company. That’s not typically conducive to work-life balance. I’ve known people that have taken controller roles at your experience level and there is, without fail, a big learning curve that involves putting in tons of hours. Even people that have triple the experience that you have, realize that running the show involves way more work than they anticipated when they left Big 4. And you’re going to a company with “great growth potential.” Since when does “growth potential” equate “really don’t work that much”?

But from the sounds of it, you’re up for, and capable of, handling this type of challenge. Go for it like there’s no tomorrow.