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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?
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.
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
Hey kids! Have you heard? The accounting industry is on fire! Don’t all pile in at once, now, let’s make a nice single file line toward the piles of cash, work-life balance and cash prizes! Yes, cash prizes!
You see, Crain’s New York decided to publish a piece over the weekend called simply “CPAs are getting hired,” which leaves little room for interpretation. While there’s no denying you all have survived the recession far better than your brethren in the doomed and overpopulated field of law, it comes off as a bit irresponsible in my mind for Crain’s to make it seem like firms are so desperate for good help, they’re giving out iPads and cash.
It’s no wonder, then, that employers are aggressively working on quality-of-life issues and recruiting incentives. At the Metis Group, perks include flexible work hours, a firm-sponsored kickball team and full company payment to prepare for and take the CPA accreditation exam, according to Managing Partner Glenn Friedman. The firm also gives out iPads for stellar performance.
In Ms. Teibel’s case, she hadn’t even been hired when the generosity began. Before she started with Berdon in January 2011, the firm had paid the $4,000 it cost her to prepare for the CPA exam. And before the interview process, Ms. Teibel had been wined and dined by Berdon partners.
“All that attention truly meant a lot to me,” Ms. Teibel said. “In an economy like this one, I’ll feel secure for years to come.”
Ha! Ms. Teibel is in for one hell of a rude awakening long after the partners have written off that steak dinner and traded ass-kissing and CPA review books for long hours and endless piles of busywork.
In reality, $4,000 will barely cover the cost of a year of Becker classes and one exam attempt for each section, so what happens if she doesn’t get it done in a year and needs to repurchase review materials? Or what if she fails a section? Or all four? Sure it’s nice to have your review course paid for but the truth here is that few candidates actually pass the first time through, and my experience with candidates who had courses paid in full was that they tended to do worse on the exam than candidates who had to scrape together their own hard-earned Federal Reserve Notes to buy review materials.
And what’s this about work-life balance? Is there a memo I haven’t gotten? As far as I can tell, based on completely non-scientific analysis of the comments many of you leave here, the slave drivers haven’t let up on you guys and have no plans to do so any time soon. If you’re actually good at your job, expect to be worked into the ground as your expertise and talent are a commodity the firms are more than happy to burn. But hey, enjoy that free iPad.
I recommend reading the Crain’s piece in its entirety, if for no other reason than to scoff and wonder in what parallel universe this takes place and try to figure out how to transport yourself there immediately.
Between this and the Yahoo! fluff piece awhile back, if I were a 20 year old wondering what to be when I grew up, this number-crunching gig might seem like the only viable option in these uncertain times.
Prepare for the bum rush of ankle-biters, kids. Or at least start working on your kickball skills.
Do you work? Are you a mom? Do you wanna be one? No? Then continue shotgunning 5-hour bombs.
For those of you thinking about juggling tikes and 10-keys, Working Mother ha y it’s exactly 100) companies that they think you’re looking for. Hey! and there are even some accounting firms in there, so if you think your current employer will keep you crunching numbersup until your water breaks, you may consider some of these firms.
BDO – “To encourage its employees to use flexible schedules, this accounting and consulting firm has formalized the request process, made sure nearly everyone has laptops that enable remote work and instituted flex training for all.”
Deloitte – “As they pursue their career goals, moms telecommute, ramp up or reduce their workloads, take paid sabbaticals and even go on five-year breaks, all the while maintaining connections to office mentors and freelance work.”
Ernst & Young – “If you’re surrounded by talented people, it makes sense to seek their advice on work life matters, which is what the female employees of this professional services firm often do.”
Grant Thornton – “[Women] earned 32% of all promotions to partner in 2010 (their biggest victory ever) and now fill nearly triple the number of slots they did seven years ago. In the hopes that they will occupy 20% of the partnership by 2015.”
KPMG – “While women earned half of all promotions to manager, senior manager and executive last year, the growth of virtual meetings means they don’t have to stay in the office to be considered top performers.”
McGladrey – “Most every working mom has a vision for her own future—maybe she’d like to get a better degree, rocket up the career ladder, have more kids or just get a little free time. Goals like these are often achieved by women at the accounting, tax and business consulting firm.”
Moss Adams – “Moms-to-be can earn up to $250 through the Beginning Right Maternity Program, which evaluates their health needs, supplies a nurse to counsel them through high-risk pregnancies, and helps them get ready for delivery. When primary caregivers give birth, they may take ten fully paid weeks off; those who adopt earn four fully paid weeks of leave, plus $6,000 in aid.”
PwC – “Working a reduced schedule won’t hurt your career at this audit, tax and advisory services firm: Moms who put in just 20 hours per week still earn full benefits and remain under consideration for top jobs.”
All of the Big 4 snuck into the WM100 top ten which shocks absolutely no one except for maybe Donna Kassman. If BDO, GT, MA, and Mickey G’s get their act together maybe accounting firms will get their very own special Mom list. God, that sounds awful actually.
2011 Working Mother 100 Best Companies [Working Mother]
Barbara Adachi, a principal in Deloitte Consulting’s human capital practice, started creating a stricter separation between vacation and work when she was in Patagonia on vacation several years ago. Her BlackBerry didn’t get reception there, she said, “and I had no choice but not to check it — it was very freeing.” [NYT]
As summer winds down, those of you that are still living the Big 4, et al. life may be wondering if you’ve squandered the last couple of months getting overserved on patios and roofdecks, spending hours by the pool and vacationing to exotic locales. You might say, “All this time I was having FUN, I could have been looking for my dream job. What was I thinking?”
For those capital market servants whose past season was simply too much to bear, you probably aren’t saying these words and have, at some point, spend a few weeks (or several) trying to find that perfect new job. For those who did finally pull the trigger on their public accounting career, a plea from a reader:
Can you guys do an article on the types of jobs (read: salary increases) former Big 4/public accountants have taken in industry (or somewhere else) after leaving this past busy season? I need a reminder of why I still work in audit.
Typically, auditors are in constant “remind me why I do this” mode but for the purposes of this post, we ask that tax and advisory professionals give the lowdown on their new gigs as well. Possible topics of interest to keep in mind when commenting:
• Did you simply leave for a bigger salary or bonus or were there work-life issues? If so, were your expectations in the marketplace met?
• Did you leave for a private company, nonprofit/government or – GASP – another public accounting firm?
• Is anyone going back to school?
• Anyone just saying fuck it and getting out of the numbers game altogether because they realized that money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?