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Two-Timing Intern Considers Coming Clean

Ed. note: Are you questioning your career choices? Looking for guidance on how not to be a total jackass? Hoping for validation? Just feeling lonely and need someone to talk to? Get in touch, the career advice brain trust has your back.


I wanted to get your advice on whether or not I’m being unethical. I’m a career changer (finance to accounting) and finishing my masters in accounting in Summer 2012. I missed the recruiting window since I declared my major so late. Faced with the fact that I “missed the boat” on the recruiting season I luckily landed an audit internship with a national (top 20) CPA firm. My GPA and years of professional experience as well as a good interview got me in the door. Top 20 isn’t Big 4; but in this job market I couldn’t afford to be picky.

But the Big 4 kool aid was calling me. I know they suck, underpay, and overwork but I view those factors as necessary evils to build my human capital. While the campus recruiters shunned me, I applied directly to the Big 4 as an experienced hire. Got an interview, and landed a full time staff audit position upon graduation (no internship required).

My problem is; I’m still interning this Spring (before graduation) at the other national CPA firm. Is it wrong for me to conceal the fact that I’m already signed to the Big 4 firm upon graduation? My Big 4 hiring people say I’m not doing anything wrong to conceal the fact since one is an internship and the other is a full time position. But I can’t help but feel that if the smaller firm knew there was zero chance that I’ll come aboard full time (if they offer) that they would reconsider allowing me to intern. I don’t want to start my new career being shady, but I want the internship experience and I need the money. Plus; there’s always the risk that the Big 4 firm rescinds their offer if the market shifts, right?

Thanks for your help guys,

Stuck in Gray Area

Sooooo, what is the problem, exactly, Gray Area? Call me dense or shadier than you are but I don’t really see the moral dilemma here. In theory, you’re cheating on the company that gave you an internship, not on your wife. In America, you’re completely allowed to do this (it’s called at-will employment, not indentured servitude). As long as you aren’t running off to your new employer with your current employer’s dirty little secrets, you’re fine.

Then again, you have to keep in mind that public accounting is a small world. In the worst case scenario, you piss everyone off with your two-timing and no one wants to hire your dirty dog ass. In the best case scenario, your “top 20” firm is used to getting ditched for the Big 4 and doesn’t care, or never finds out and you simply end your internship on a good note and move on. But if you’re some kind of superstar standout over there, they might stalk your LinkedIn profile and “wonder” how you landed a Big 4 gig so soon. So?

Yes, technically you are being shady. Unethical? That’s a stretch. Still, it’s a great sign that you are considering these things, it shows you’ll make a great CPA some day.

You mention “this job market” – of what job market do you speak? Jobs are a dime a dozen in accounting, and with something like 3% unemployment in our cozy little industry, you shouldn’t feel forced to take whatever you can get just to have a job. Unless you are a serious underachiever, morally bankrupt (not an issue, see above), socially challenged or cursed with horrible halitosis and a contagious skin condition, you should be able to find a decent gig in this industry unless market conditions wildly change. I just don’t see that happening.

I recommend channeling your inner Ayn Rand for a good dose of “to each his own” that might help you get over the moral dilemma. Your first loyalty always lies with your own well-being (be that financial, mental, whatever), unless your employer has personally given you a kidney or bailed you out of jail, you really don’t owe them anything except the work they pay you for.

That being said, if you are half-assing your work at your current firm because you know your days are numbered, that’s a bit more shady than simply lining up an opportunity you feel is better for your goals. As long as you’re doing what is expected of you, I see no harm to your public accounting karmic balance. Then again, I’m kind of a sketchy, money-grubbing sleazebag.

I’m hoping the sketchy, money-grubbing sleazebags who frequent this site will be happy to back me up on this.