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Regional CPA Firm Associate Concerned About Being Pigeonholed in Healthcare Industry

Welcome to the my-bracket-is-decimated edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, an associate at a regional CPA firm enjoys her valuation work but is concerned about getting pigeonholed into the healthcare industry. Is it possible for her to wiggle her way into another industry? What kind of careers can she find if she can’t get out?

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Back to the problem du jour:

Dear GC,

I am a recent graduate working at a regional CPA firm doing business valuation / healthcare consulting. I really like my job so far but I have some questions about my future potential. The office that I work for is mainly, if not 100%, involved in healthcare, and as such, with the current trend in healthcare laws, we do mostly physician practice acquisitions and fmv comp agreements. I have sat and passed all four parts of the CPA exam (now I just have to wait for the 2 years experience) and will soon be training to get a CVA/AVA certification (AVA until I am a licensed CPA).

I guess my question is what kind of job will I be able to get after this? The problem I have is that I love the concept of what I’m doing but I’m not entirely in love with healthcare. Also, because I value mostly physician practices, the majority of my valuations are adjusted net book value (which is the easiest of all methods for valuing) which means I might not ever get valuation experience on a level that would make me attractive to other valuation companies. If I stay here am I doomed to either try and beome a hospital CFO or if I’m lucky, try and become a partner? This being such a niche specialty, I guess I’m wondering if I’m just pigeonholing myself.



Dear SA,

Before I address your question specifically, you are aware that the Baby Boomers will slowly be populating hospitals, retirement communities, rehab centers and the such in the coming years, thus making healthcare one of the most lucrative industries in our fair land, aren’t you? Landing a CFO/Director of Finance gig at a hospital or being a partner with expertise in healthcare wouldn’t be that bad. Of course you can always jump to a bigger/smaller competitor that has a healthcare valuations practice as well.

But you’re “not entirely in love with healthcare,” so I’ll address your pigeonhole problem. Many people find themselves in similar situations and it usually happens when you haven’t made the vision of your career path explicitly known to a superior, mentor or performance counselor. It sounds like you’re a still a fairly new associate so you might be a bit anxious but I’ll go with it. If you’ve been working for less than a year, then you simply make it known that you’re interested in jumping into similar work but on different clients (e.g. financial services). If you’re between the one and two-year mark, hope isn’t lost but by now your managers have come to trust your work and they probably have plans for you. If you’re at two years-plus, then you best speak up now (why haven’t you asked already?). Your firm should be receptive to your wishes and you’ll be able to get some experience with new valuation methods and clients.

If your firm isn’t crazy about your idea, then it may be time to explore your options. It’s important to get some exposure to various industries and technical issues but do keep in mind it’s in your best interest to choose an industry at some point in your career (and the earlier the better) and you could do a lot worse than healthcare. If you choose the jack-of-all-trades route, your peers with more expertise will be favored by managers and partners in specific areas as opposed to someone with little or no exposure to their industry. So speak up in order to find new opportunities but keep in mind that healthcare may harken you back (for one reason or another) but you’ll have plenty of career options in a field that will be blowing up for years to come.

Big 4 Tax Associate Feels Pigeonholed; Is an Ultimatum Necessary?

Welcome to the All Saints/Election Day Eve edition of Accounting Career Couch. Today a Big 4 tax associate is concerned that their career experience has been too narrow and has been begging TPTB to rotate to a different group. Will a fist-pounding ultimatum finally get the point across?

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Back to our trapped tax guru:

I’m currently a 1st year senior at a Big 4 company and I have specialized in the R&D Tax Credit since I started here. Ever since passing my CPA I have been requesting a rotation in other parts of tax such as provision work and FAS109. I keep on getting the ring around from both my Partner and HR who say a rotation is coming but that I just need to be patient.

Since the R&D Tax Credit is such a specialized area I understand that they don’t want to just give me up because they have invested 3 years in me to learn the Credit but it is not fair to my career development to be stuck in one of the many areas of tax. From talking to recruiters and searching the Internet it does not seem like there is really a secondary market for R&D Tax Credit Specialist such as myself and I believe not being able to earn experience in other areas of tax with negatively effect me when I start looking for a private job in the next year or so. What do you recommend that I do? Should I put my foot down and let my partner and HR know I am going to start looking for another job if I don’t get a rotation in the near future or should I start interviewing with other Big 4 firms to find the kind of experience I am looking for? Please help!

Dear R&DTC Associate,

It’s true that some partners/managers will hold on to some SAs or associates like grim death the moment they express interest in doing something different. The concern is typically they don’t want to lose a talented staff person to a more provocative practice or they’re simply too lazy to train someone new. So your concern is valid and it sounds as though you’ve been proactive but you’ve still have some options before going the “take this job” route.

First, go back to both HR and your partner and ask if the rotation is a realistic possibility and requestthe specifics behind the delay. It sounds as though you’ve taken the Job approach and it has gotten you nowhere. Reiterate your patience and express your concerns about your narrow experience.

If that stalls, try reaching out to some partners and managers in the division where you would like to work. Maybe you were recruited by one of them or you have a friend in that group. Explain the situation and perhaps they can broker a solution for you. Going behind your partner and HR probably won’t feel so great but seeing as though you’ve exhausted every other possibility, you have little choice.

If that fails, then it’s time to have the Come to Jesus meeting to get things moving. You don’t sound like you’ve got issues with your firm other than the snail’s pace of the rotation process. Explain your position (again) and this time state that you have little choice but to go somewhere else to get the work experience you desire. Keep it cordial but definitely make your frustration known. Hysterics rarely work. This should get you some answers one way or another. But we don’t think it should have to come to this.

Good luck.