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Tax Associate Who ‘Can’t Handle’ Public Accounting Searching for Options

Back with another edition of “I’m an accountant and my career is in the crapper,” a tax associate just finished their first year with a mid-tier firm and has discovered that public accounting isn’t exactly the glitz and glamor they were expecting. NOW WHAT?!?

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I’m a first year tax associate at a mid-tier firm and after running through my first spring and fall busy season of working 70-80 hours a week, I’ve basically come to the conclusion that this lifestyle is “not my cup of tea”. The reasons are pretty typical, no life, managers hate me, don’t like the people, the culture is toxic, if you leave at 8:00 pm you feel like the world is watching you leave, etc. etc. For those who want to say “well you just couldn’t handle it”, you’re absolutely right, I couldn’t. I [also] know a number of associates in numerous service lines at the end of their respective first year just find that their job is not for them. My question is, what kind of outs do people in this situation have? I know that the option to transfer to another service line and the standard “just grind it for another year” are typical responses, but what other options are there? And how do recruiters view those who have only one year of experience at a public accounting firm?



Dear OneFoot,

At the beginning of your letter you sound as though you were engaging in a little self-loathing. Sort of like, “Nobody likes me. I’m a pathetic human being because I can’t find it in my heart to LOVE public accounting. What do I do?” Then you admit that there are others around you that hate it as much as you. This surprises no one. Accounting firms see this happen every year: a first year associate realizes quickly that this isn’t their ‘cup of tea’ as you put it. If you’re truly as miserable as you sound, the fact that you made it through both the spring and fall tax seasons is impressive. We’ve seen associates turn in their papers less than six months on the job.

Does this make you a terrible person doomed to a lackluster career that would make Milton Waddams look like an employee of the month? Of course not. You mention the popular options “transfer to another service line” or “grind it out another year” and we agree that they don’t make a damn bit of sense if you’re simply over public accounting.

Realistic options for you are to start talking to professional recruiters and be honest with them about your situation. No recruiter worth their salt is going to say, “Can’t help you kid, move back in with your parents.” They’ve seen others like you – public accounting wasn’t a good fit and you want out stat. The reality is that because your experience is so brief, you might end up in another entry-level position; the sooner you accept that as a possibility, the better. That being said, what you must, must, must, must do OneFoot is give the recruiter a good idea of what you want to do. We know that doesn’t include public accounting but what kind of job would you really like? Knowing that will go a long way helping them get you the job you want. Until you can answer that questions honestly, you’re not going to be happy in any job – public accounting or otherwise.