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Noob Worries About Getting Boxed In By Super Specialized Business Line

Ed. note: If you have a question for the career advice brain trust, please don’t be put off by any snarky comments made in response to questions from others. There is no such thing as stupid questions, only stupid people. We love you.

Dear GC,

Recently I signed an offer to start with a large, multi-national firm in the Summer of ’12 as soon as I finish my MSA.  The pay is top of the market for my location (I know, thanks to your website).  The business line is very specialized tax–expatriate and foreign national work.  I did an internship with the firm, and enjoy the work immensely; however I am concerned that I am “boxing myself in” at such an early place in my career.  Opportunities for advancement are available within the firm, but I am worried that there may not be a life for me outside of public accounting with such a specialized skill set.  Question:  go with the flow or keep looking?  I like the work, but am I being short-sighted?



So sorry to see you don’t have the same problem as Jimmy Dean, but it sounds like your one offer is with a business line that you very much enjoy. So I ask – what the hell is wrong with that?

I understand that you feel concerned about “boxing” yourself in, but you made the biggest point yourself – this is early in your career. What is the worst that can happen to you? You fumble around in a Big4 tax group for a few years, get struck with the two year itch, and suddenly want out. So you do just that. You try out another Big4, or you do two seconds of research on Al Gore’s greatest invention and find a job elsewhere.

Do not second-guess your interest in the work you’ve been exposed to thus far. Those of you in the peanut gallery – what kind of options have you seen in recent years for someone in the same sitch as MMN? Share in the comments below.

Have You Had Prometric Issues? Tell Us!

Instead of giving the same piece of advice I’ve given a hundred times over, today’s post is a plea for information. I know MANY of you (too many, if you ask me) have had Prometric issues over the years, and by issues I mean:

• Prometric Gestapo harassing or hassling you over items not specifically listed in the CPA exam candidate bulletin
• Prometric equipment failures, blank screens, entire exams disappearing, etc
• Generally distressing exam environment issues including excessive noise, uncomfortable temperatures, etc

If you have experienced any kind of issue at Prometric (even the little ones), please leave a comment below or email me with your story. You will remain anonymous unless you tell me otherwise.

I’m hoarding your answers for a follow-up post I will put up later and submit to The Powers That Be (as in the AICPA) so please be as elaborate as you need to be. General dates help (like if you took the exam in 2006, please say that, it’s possible that Prometric has had a chance to address your issue by now). Feel free to include feelings, I won’t hate if Prometric made you cry like a baby on the way home from the exam.

Thanks in advance, guys!

How Do Big 4 Exiles Get Their CPE?

File this one under first world problems.


I’m starting to think about post-Big 4 opportunities and I am wondering how people maintain their CPE credits after leaving the Big 4. Since we need to take 80 hours of CPE credits every 2 years to maintain a CPA, do most employers offer trainings that give CPE credits? If not, will they give you time off and pay for the classes? I’d be very interested in hearing from you, and from the Going Concern community.

Well considering so many of the country’s employable CPAs somehow manage to meet their board of accountancy’s CPE requirements year after year, there’s got to be a trick to stay current that doesn’t involve firms forking out the cash for “experts” to school their staff on all things billable to the CPE time code. Are you telling me you have somehow escaped the wrath of NASBA and don’t get emailed weekly with new CPE offers? Congratulations.

I spoke to one of my favorite HR people at a reasonably-sized but definitely not Big 4 firm to find out what their CPE policy is and found out that most firms above 50 people pay for CPE in one way or another. According to a national survey conducted by the AICPA and the Texas Society of CPAs, 42 percent of the smallest firms paid for CPE in 2010. So unless you end up working out of some ancient CPA’s basement, you will probably not be expected to pay your own way.

Obviously, smaller firms will not be able to provide in-house CPE but you can likely get your online CPE comped, or get reimbursed for any travel associated with in-person CPE you attend. But seriously?! In-person CPE? Get with the times, man.

If you do end up needing to pay your own way (again, totally unlikely as long as you stay gainfully employed by a real accounting firm, even a tiny one), your state society of CPAs can probably provide information on their CPE offerings, or there is always NASBA (as anyone on their email list will tell you) or the AICPA.

Remember too that if you are attending conferences like AICPA Council, you get CPE for doing so, so maybe those dumb meetings aren’t so pointless after all.

Would-Be Audit Noob Struggles With Picking a City (After Already Picking a City)

I’m pretty sure this isn’t a troll and this guy actually wants to know if this is OK. I have some location-based advice having lived in that area for over a decade, hoping you guys can fill in the rest. What would be the etiquette on this?

I am starting with a Big 4 firm in a little over a month in their San Jose office. However the more that I think about where I want to be and the housing options available I am more interested in San Francisco. Would I be risking my offer by asking to transfer so late in the game?

If it matters at all, I have heard from a friend in the SF office they are still looking to fill a few entry level audit positions.

Are you kidding me? You’re trying to kick off your career as “that guy” (don’t think recruiters aren’t tweeting amongst themselves all the time; you will get talked about) over the difference of a 45 minute drive. I could understand if you were struggling between New York and Los Angeles (with tail and good salary potential in both relative to cost of living and actually being able to enjoy the apartment you pay too much for) but you’re within the same metro area. San Jose isn’t that bad and you have the advantage of being able to “escape” city life to some extent when you are not actually at work.

Would you be risking your offer? Did you sign it? Did you feel like it was right at the time but now think a handful of miles will be worth considering that bridge burned?

But living in San Jose means you don’t live in the thick of it. San Francisco is fun to visit and great on paper but after a few years, it gets really old. You’re already putting yourself through life in the Big 4, why make that worse by also subjecting yourself to guys peeing on the Muni and those damn grey speckled recycled blankets everywhere? What makes you more interested in San Francisco?

In your copious amounts of free time, you can drive near San Francisco, BART in, enjoy yourself a paper-bagged PBR and BART your ass back to the San Bruno parking lot and retreat back to your San Jose lair. It’s practically like being in San Francisco.

If you haven’t actually signed the offer, you could try to get a lead on “your friend’s” firm; tell them unsubstantiated rumors are one thing but calls from HR are another. I’d advise against rejecting the San Jose firm’s offer without having some sort of reasonable assurance (bleh) that the San Francisco office actually wants you but with less than a month to go, you better have started pursuing that yesterday. I assume you don’t have the luxury of doing this in person; if you were local, you would know San Jose and San Francisco are pretty much the same thing if you are talking about money but there’s also a quality of life issue here that you need to look long and hard at.

If you still like this idea, please go read So You’re Moving to San Francisco by Twitter API lead Alex Payne. I’m not trying to talk you out of it, I’m just asking you to really think this through before you screw yourself in San Jose. If you signed the offer, you should do the grownup thing and suffer through it for two years like everyone else. Then once you are sufficiently jaded, have passed the CPA and have the work experience to get the actual license, you are more than welcome to bail on the firm after the competition in San Francisco poaches you.

The market is not that good to allow you the opportunity to get this picky unless you are an Elijah Watt-Sells winner, 4.0 MAcc superstar or putting out. A lot.

First World Problem: When Does a Big 4 Tax Accountant Jump Ship for a Job at a Hedge Fund?

Ed. note: Do you have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at

Dear Going Concern,

I have been in Big 4 FS Tax for the past two years and recently was promoted to Senior. Headhunters have been calling me with great opportunities in the tax departments of Hedge Fund/PE firms. The pay increase is significant and the hours will undoubtedly be better. However, I’m worried about leaving Public Accounting too early in my career. My eventual career goal is to become a Controller or CFO at a Hedge Fund. The headhunters I’ve spoken with insist that HF/PE firms prefer candidates with a mix of Public and Private experience for those positions. I’m wondering if I should stick around until making manager at Big 4 or if, as the headhunters recommend, leaving now as a Senior is the right move for me.

First world problem

Dear First World Problem,

Alright, listen up. The most important thing to do when you want to start looking for a role is to find a headhunter or two that you trust (and hopefully can trust you to not tattle on them for $5 worth of Starbucks). Yes, we all loathe headhunters. They call, they email; some pester more than others. Sure, most are in the same pool with real estate brokers (an evil means to an end), but there are some that see you as more than a pay-day and will serve as excellent resources throughout your career. A good recruiter will send you a select handful of opportunities that fit exactly what you’re looking for, not a blast email with 17 write-ups all containing the same five bullet points.

That said, with two years into your career you’re just starting to see the wave of job opportunities. Two to four years is the window that many most staff roles fall into at hedge/PE firms, both on the fund accounting and tax side. This is because most asset management firms consider the Big 4 (and regional firms that have an alternatives focus) to be training grounds for their back office hires. Why hire an accountant off of a college campus to do fund accounting work when you can have the Big 4 train ‘em up and toughen ‘em, up for you?

However, the difference is that the number of tax staff positions in-house at a hedge/PE firm are limited. Example: a hedge fund running $5bil in assets under management through six separate funds needs a tax director (typically 7+ years of public/private) and a staff member to assist with work. The same firm would have Sr. Controller/CFO, 1-3 fund controllers and a small staff of accountants running the day-to-day. Because of this prime example in supply and demand, I’d encourage you to interview for any and all roles that interest you, but more important than when you leave is what you leave for. In your case, being a CFO is your ultimate goal – you should be looking at opportunities that are a blend of tax and fund accounting. These roles typically exist at less institutionalized funds, so do your due diligence on opportunities at the likes of Och-Ziff, Blackstone, Fortress, etc. Talk to your recruiter about your long term goals and the need to better position yourself by diversifying your professional experiences. Right now you know K1’s, wash sales and partner allocations; a good recruiter knows what it takes to get you on the Controller/CFO track. It might be the first firm you interview with, or the tenth. When you find it, you’ll know.