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Corporate Tax Jockey Wants Some Details on Life in Public Accounting

Welcome to the Rock-Chalk-Deadhawk edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a young tax accountant working for a Fortune 100 company wants to jump over to public accounting and wants to know what expect (other than the long hours, of course).

Looking for some average to above-average career advice that doesn’t come from your breathlessly judgmental friends? Wondering if a co-worker or client is annoyed with you but can’t seem to pick up any hints? Short on family time and need some solutions? =”mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected] and we’ll make you “Parent of the Year” in no time.

Turning back to tax trouble du jour:

Dear Going Concern,

I am interested in hearing your thoughts about how to make the move from the private tax world and into a public accounting firm. I just completed a Macc degree and have spent nearly one year working in the tax department of a Fortune 100 company. During the college recruiting frenzy I had an opportunity with a regional firm but opted for the large company instead because I felt it would provide more opportunity. After working on the private side for awhile I have realized that I want to pursue an opportunity in public accounting.

As I research firms to determine what they are looking for in an experienced hire I frequently see “1-2 years public accounting experience”, “MST and/or JD/LLM”, and “CPA or enrolled agent”. These qualifications have prompted me to contact you in order to receive your uncensored comments and answers to the following questions:

• Are a lot of Tax Senior positions filled by law school graduates?

• What is the difference between 1-2 years in public tax compared to 1-2 years at a Fortune 100 corporate tax department?

Dear Tax MAcc,

You kept it simple, so much so that we can barely find an angle to mock anything that you wrote. With that, I’m guessing you’re not working at GE (aka “best tax law firm“) otherwise you wouldn’t have tapped out your inquiry.

As a general rule, I’d say that the answer is no. It may depend on your definition of “a lot” and also what tax group you’re referring to but most of the SAs in tax practices are accountants with law school grads sprinkled in here and there. A public accounting firm is a choice of last resort for most (if not all) law school grads but in these desperate times they may be more common than in years past. Public accounting firms advertising for a JD/LLM simply don’t want to narrow their candidates to the MSTs/CPAs/EAs out there as anyone with a JD/LLM is clearly qualified to perform several aspects of the job.

Secondly, the main difference between 1-2 years working in public accounting versus 1-2 years at F100 tax department will be the diversity of tax issues as it relates to various clients and transactions. The tax department of a Fortune 100 company works for one client and should be well staffed with competent professionals that know the tax issues inside and out with very few surprises (unless you run your tax department like WFT). During the first two years in a public accounting firm your superiors will throw everything they can at you, including new clients and all the work they don’t want to do. This smorgasbord of clients will pose different issues and transactions that wouldn’t necessarily see at your Fortune 100 company.

Anyone made the jump from private to public? Give our hero some of your thoughts. I’m going to try and get my ears to quit bleeding.