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January 31, 2023

Survey: CFOs Don’t Think You Should Start Your Career at a Big 4 Firm

Accountemps released the results of a survey today that shows many Chief Financial Officers think that the best place for accounting graduates to start their careers is in a “small to midsize company.” The surprising thing about this particular survey is that the numbers aren’t even close.

When CFOs were asked, “In which one of the following employment environments would you recommend today’s accounting graduates begin their careers?” Their responses were:

Small to midsize company 56%
Small to midsize public accounting firm 16%
Large corporation 14%
Large public accounting firm 8%
Other/don’t know 6%


“Small to midsize public accounting firm” dropped 14% from 2005.

Oh right. And “large public accounting firm” came in dead last. So, for the CFOs surveyed, they’re not really hot on public accounting like they were five years ago and they’re really not crazy about the Big 4 and next tier firms.

Accountemps Chairman Max Messmer says, “At smaller companies, employees often must wear many hats because workloads are spread between fewer workers. Having a wider range of duties enables new hires to quickly build skills, gain exposure to diverse areas of the business and assume strategic roles earlier in their careers.”

From a personal standpoint, we’ve seen both the small and the freakishly large so we’ll try to provide some perspective here.

Maximilian’s thoughts are accurate as it relates to smaller companies. They do have more of a sink or you’re out on your ass approach that will help you grow up quick in that company. Additionally, small businesses have the tendency to be a little more flexible when it comes to your work/life balance. There aren’t any fancy initiatives or bombardments of emails; it’s more of the behavior of those around you. In small companies, you see people taking vacation for days and weeks at at time. That should encourage you to do the same.

At large companies, you hear about people that are losing their accrued vacation, mostly because they are lunatics, but also because it’s likely a widespread occurrence at the company. People in large firms have the asinine notion that somehow the wheels would fall off if they were to disappear for two days, forget about a week. This sounds ridiculous but it’s true.

However, large firms and companies do have resources and opportunities that smaller shops simply cannot provide. Want to move to San Francisco? Your large firm has an office there. Think you might want to spend two years in Australia? Your large company can make that happen. Small shops? Not so much.

What the press release doesn’t say is why the CFOs think you should start at a small/midsize company. Max’s opinion is fine but did he conduct all 1,400 of those phone interviews himself? Of course not. The survey was “a random sample of [CFOs at] U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.” Chances are, most of those CFOs have never worked at a big company so their perspective is likely skewed.

The other thing is – trying not to overstate this – you’ve got to make up your own damn mind about what you want to do with yourself. Do you want Big 4 experience? Then go for it. Do you want a flexible schedule that doesn’t involve a multi-level bureaucracy? Then a small company is probably more your speed.

No survey can answer those questions for you.

THINK SMALL: CFOs Recommend Accounting Grads Start Their Careers at Smaller Companies [Accountemps PR]

Accountemps released the results of a survey today that shows many Chief Financial Officers think that the best place for accounting graduates to start their careers is in a “small to midsize company.” The surprising thing about this particular survey is that the numbers aren’t even close.

When CFOs were asked, “In which one of the following employment environments would you recommend today’s accounting graduates begin their careers?” Their responses were:

Small to midsize company 56%
Small to midsize public accounting firm 16%
Large corporation 14%
Large public accounting firm 8%
Other/don’t know 6%


“Small to midsize public accounting firm” dropped 14% from 2005.

Oh right. And “large public accounting firm” came in dead last. So, for the CFOs surveyed, they’re not really hot on public accounting like they were five years ago and they’re really not crazy about the Big 4 and next tier firms.

Accountemps Chairman Max Messmer says, “At smaller companies, employees often must wear many hats because workloads are spread between fewer workers. Having a wider range of duties enables new hires to quickly build skills, gain exposure to diverse areas of the business and assume strategic roles earlier in their careers.”

From a personal standpoint, we’ve seen both the small and the freakishly large so we’ll try to provide some perspective here.

Maximilian’s thoughts are accurate as it relates to smaller companies. They do have more of a sink or you’re out on your ass approach that will help you grow up quick in that company. Additionally, small businesses have the tendency to be a little more flexible when it comes to your work/life balance. There aren’t any fancy initiatives or bombardments of emails; it’s more of the behavior of those around you. In small companies, you see people taking vacation for days and weeks at at time. That should encourage you to do the same.

At large companies, you hear about people that are losing their accrued vacation, mostly because they are lunatics, but also because it’s likely a widespread occurrence at the company. People in large firms have the asinine notion that somehow the wheels would fall off if they were to disappear for two days, forget about a week. This sounds ridiculous but it’s true.

However, large firms and companies do have resources and opportunities that smaller shops simply cannot provide. Want to move to San Francisco? Your large firm has an office there. Think you might want to spend two years in Australia? Your large company can make that happen. Small shops? Not so much.

What the press release doesn’t say is why the CFOs think you should start at a small/midsize company. Max’s opinion is fine but did he conduct all 1,400 of those phone interviews himself? Of course not. The survey was “a random sample of [CFOs at] U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.” Chances are, most of those CFOs have never worked at a big company so their perspective is likely skewed.

The other thing is – trying not to overstate this – you’ve got to make up your own damn mind about what you want to do with yourself. Do you want Big 4 experience? Then go for it. Do you want a flexible schedule that doesn’t involve a multi-level bureaucracy? Then a small company is probably more your speed.

No survey can answer those questions for you.

THINK SMALL: CFOs Recommend Accounting Grads Start Their Careers at Smaller Companies [Accountemps PR]

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