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How Soon Is Too Soon To Leave Your New Firm for a Better Opportunity?

Ed. note: Back with a second edition of the advice column today. Thanks to D Dubs. for stepping up today.

Dear GC,

I graduated in December 2010 with a degree in accounting from a well-known university. Because of my grades (2.9 Accounting GPA, 3.0 accumulative GPA), I was shunned by nearly all of the accounting firms. This has led me to working in the accounting department at a fortune 500 company.

While in school, I was able to network and make several connections at both Big 4 and regional firms. I was told repeatedly by recruiters to “pass the exam and get some experience, then come talk to me.” I have passed the CPA exam and have almost a year of experience under my belt at this point.

In early November I signed with a small regional accounting firm set to begin in January. I know that it’s bad business to immediately bail on a company, but is it too early to get in touch with my contacts at the bigger firms? While I’m very grateful for the local firm, I have my sight set on a much bigger firm, and I want to make it to the big leagues sooner rather than later. Should I gain a year or two of experience at the local firm in order to move to the Big 4 as an experienced associate or possibly a senior associate? Or would it be better to reach out to my network now and attempt to make a transition?


I admire your tenacity to make it to the Big Four Leagues. Staying in touch with your contacts will hopefully prove to be beneficial. I suggest reaching out to them now, as it’s prime-time hiring season for public firms leading into busy season. Provide them with an update of your progress on the CPA exam and that a local firm has expressed interest in hiring you. In turn, express your interest in working at XYZ instead, and you were hoping to inquire about any openings they may have. If they have openings, be flexible to whatever level they want you to start at, as it’s more important to get your foot in the door. Leveraging off of your recent success with the local firm would not be the worst thing you could do; you’d hardly be the first or the last person to do so.

GC’ers – what do you think? Have any of you made the quick transition like described above?

Is It Time To Start Fresh at a New Accounting Firm?

Ed. note: Need career advice or a last minute sweet potato recipe? career advice brain trust? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll stuff you full of wisdom.

Hi GC,

After two years at a national mid-sized firm I’m seriously considering a lateral jump to either another mid-size or local firm. Through some bad luck and my own failure to balance work and my parental responsibilities (aka, put the spouse and kids completely on the backburner), I have gained a reputation among some of the higher-ups in my office for not being committed. While I believe this perception is unfair (I get all my work done on time and on budget), hat it is preventing my promotion to Senior. I don’t want to be in public accounting any longer than I have to, but would like to make the Senior level.

I’d like to stay with my current firm, but I’m concerned that I’m in too deep a hole now to climb out. Almost all the clients I was in line to inherit have been acquired, and I haven’t been picked up on as many engagements as I’ve lost. So even if I get good ratings on my jobs, I am pretty sure that my utilization figures are going to be ugly. A blank slate, full schedule, and even the chance at making Senior earlier are very appealing right now. But is a lateral jump worth the risk? Which is better (or worse) on a résumé: 2.5-3 years with one firm and not making Senior or 2 years with one firm as an associate and 1 year with a different firm as senior?

Please help!!

During my time in and around public accounting, I have found the promotion from Associate to Senior Associate to be a fairly automatic process. Come to work, do your work, make yourself available to go the extra mile (even if it’s not needed), don’t knock up the administrative assistant in the coat closet at the holiday party, and you’re handed the title (instead of a paycheck). Several top notch and newly minted seniors jump ship for private, further justifying the promotion of average Associates to Senior. For you not to be made Senior in the normal time period, I’m going to assume you screwed up somewhere.

From the leadership’s view, public accounting thrives on firm loyalty and employee trust. Whether it’s justified or not, you’ve been labeled as someone that management cannot trust. Somewhere along the line you must have done something to challenge these fundamental rules. The majority of partners and managers still to this day believe in the mantra that “I went through busy seasons of hell when I was young, so you can/should/deserve to, too.” Silly or not, it’s part of the code. So if I understand your statement above regarding family and work/life balance, you didn’t communicate fully with your managers/partners that you needed time with your young family. More likely is that you didn’t make your own “sacrifices” to make the work up: working from home in the evening after kids are in bed, bringing work home on weekends, etc. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t; what matters is that you need to accept the fact that your clients are being ripped from your ownership – this does not happen unless you’re dropping the ball.

Clean Slate.

You’re up against a challenge by staying at your current firm. Considering your attitude toward your career is, “I don’t want to be in public accounting any longer than I have to” you should work on your résumé this weekend and apply to other firms. The time between now and January is a hot hiring period for CPA firms of all sizes, but be sure to focus on the smaller, regional firms. You’ll have better luck finding the work/life balance you require. That said, do not think that you’ll automatically be handed the title of Senior this fall. A firm will want to see how you do as a experienced associate (how you work with management, the quality of your work, etc.) before trusting you to lead their associates.

Trust. There’s that pesky word again. Taking a busy season to prove yourself at a new firm will be a better use of your time than if you stayed where you are to fight the gossip mongers and labels that are undoubtedly floating around your office. Accept the challenge of proving yourself at a new firm – for the sake of your career and the benefit of your family.

While you’re sitting around the house this weekend, work on the following:

• Updating your résumé
• Updating your LinkedIn account (describing the industries you work on, add a nice – but not Sears photo studio nice – headshot, etc.)
• Researching the CPA firms in your area
• Digging up a recruiter’s contact information

Good luck.

Big 4 Wanna-Be with Displaced Apostrophe Disorder Wants to Make the Jump From a Regional Firm

Ed. note: Welcome to the final edition of Decide My Life For Me for this week. Thanks to all of you for keeping the shenanigans to a minimum while I attempted to fill Caleb’s comically large shoes (come on ladies, you know what they say about a man with big feet…) as editor this week. I will still be running the show for the first half of next week so if you have a question for me, DWB, Caleb or the homeless guy I let be my “Associate Editor” in exchange for cigarettes and half-eaten sandwiches, get in touch. Have a great weekend.

Dear Going Concern,

I am a third year auditor at a regional accounting firm. I was recently contacted by one of the Big 4 and decided to interview with them. Two days later, they called and gave me an offer. I told them I would think about it and get back to them. Well, here is my dilemma. I am very well respected at my firm and was awarded a mid-year bump in salary due to my outstanding performance. The partner’s [sic] at the regional firm tell me that I have a great future at the firm. However, it has always been my goal to work for the Big 4 and I finally have my opportunity. As far as compensation goes, the Big 4 company is bringing me in at roughly $7k more than I make now. The question is, should I continue to work for the regional firm where I know I have potential and respect, or should I go into the light and work for the Big 4?

Dazed and Confused

Dear D&C,
Here’s a baseball story for you.

Essentially, you’ve been playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates for the past three years. You have a small (but dedicated!) fan base, a decent stadium, and food court options that – depending on the season – are the reason fans even come to games. Your coaches are “good, not great,” which is basically a phrase that can be used to describe most aspects of your team. It’s a good job, you can pay your bills, and generally enjoy coming to work every day.

But you just interviewed with the in-state Philadelphia Phillies. League dominators, more fans, more national exposure, higher-caliber players, and oh yeah, a big bump in pay. Your coaches in Steel Country are all telling you that you have a bright future there, but you don’t have to look at the last 20 years of business to realize it doesn’t compare to the past five in Philly. Of course you have potential and respect in Pittsburgh, and sure, your teammates might verbally crap on the fan base in Philly (who doesn’t, amiright?), but come on – why wouldn’t you move?

Back to reality: better clients, better pay, better opportunities, bigger network, more resources.

You can always return to Pittsburgh.

Should a Regional CPA Give Up Work-Life Balance for a Shot with a Big 4 Firm?

Welcome to the that’s-the-last-time-I’m-getting-up-at-5-am edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a perfectly happy CPA at a regional firm wants to know if giving up his work-life balance and other intangibles for a Big 4 gig is a smart move prior to hitting the dirty thirties. Should he stay or should he go?

Trying to make sense of your career? Want to know your firm’s cool quotient? Worried that the axe will fall right after April 15th? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll give you a either an ego boost or a reality check.

Back to our friend who’s considering trading work-life for work-for-life:

I am currently debating on whether I should make the move from a regional firm to a Big 4, for assurance. Pros about my firm: it’s local and has minimal travel; there isn’t much intensity/pressure; I only have overtime from February until April, and other than that I work about 40-45 hours a week. However, the variety of clients is lacking and salary increases are pathetic. Granted the current economic climate, I think that I can get a 10K increase if I make the switch.

My biggest question is: “Is it worth it to give up the intangible benefits of the easy audit life for the higher salary and pressure of a Big 4 firm?”

I’ve got a masters degree and have my license. I’m also in my late twenty’s and figure that if I want to try the big leagues, now is the time.

What are your thoughts?


An indecisive CPA

Dear Indecisive CPA,

Your biggest question shouldn’t be “Is it worth it to give up the intangible benefits of the easy audit life for the higher salary and pressure of a Big 4 firm?” rather something to the effect of “Does a crazy person know they’re crazy? And am I that crazy person?” But forget self-reflection for a second, I’ll attempt to make sense of this for you.

I was in a similar situation myself at one time, although it was earlier in my career. I was working at a smaller firm, had a decent work-life balance but felt bored and the money wasn’t great. At the time I wanted to experience life in the Big 4 and found the opportunity to do so. You sound as though you have an itch to figure out what life inside the Big 4 is like but also know that you’re giving up the intangibles that you mention.

The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you’ll regret not trying to land that coveted Big 4 gig. If you read the comments here regularly or talk to your friends who do work for one of firms, you know what to expect. If your reaction to these anecdotes is somewhere in the range of “That sounds like pure hell,” to “I’d rather scrub the floor at Penn Station with my bare hands” then your decision has already been made. If, on the other hand, the curiosity is still too much to bear, I say it’s worth exploring the opportunity. If you don’t pursue it, you’ll likely never fully get over the fact that you didn’t at least go for it and find out for yourself what life at Big 4 is really like. Plus, you’ll get a nice little bump salary and you’ll meet some new people. Could be worse. And if all of the Big 4 cast you out like a leper you’ll be better off. Good luck.

Pennsylvania Firms to Merge, Attempt to Expand Non-Quaker Client Base

quaker_1.jpgTwo Pennsylvania CPA firms, Parente Randolph and Beard Miller Co., announced yesterday that they are merging.
The combined firm, still without a name (we’re pulling for “Beard”) will have 170 partners, over 1,200 professionals, and 27 offices in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Texas(?).
The combined firm will have a stranglehold on the coveted Quaker market in Pennsylvania and will be well positioned in the New York City market. It will be focusing its growth efforts to find similarly pious and plain clothed, plain speaking business people in upstate New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.
Pa. accounting firms Parente Randolph, Beard Miller to merge [Triangle Business Journal]