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September 30, 2023

What’s the Cutoff Date for Leaving Your Accounting Firm Pre-Busy Season?

Are you in desperate need for advice from one of the GC hacks? Email us at [email protected] and we'll draw straws to see who gets to ruin your life.

Hello GC,
This is more of an opinion question from you and the GC community than actual advice. My question is particularly now before busy season, as I know some people are still debating GTFO of their current position, whether to jump ship to another firm or heading to the wonderful world of private. In your opinion (and that of the GC community) when is "too late" to leave before busy season? I think at this point it really is kind of a douche move to leave a public accounting firm as busy season looms. But where do you draw the line?
The reason I ask is that I was in this position last month (decision was already made, which is why I'm asking opinion rather than advice). A position at a smaller, closer-to-home, less-douchey partners, better-paying firm where a friend worked opened up and I jumped on it, as the position aligned with my personal goals much better than my previous firm. None of which is really important, so moving on. I gave my notice December 5th, which I thought was plenty of notice before busy season started (I should also note I'm only a second year staff, so replacing me really wasn't too earth-shatteringly difficult). The HR partner gave the "disagree with my timing, ethically questionable" line, which coming from a partner wasn't surprising, but what was surprising is even some fellow staff frowned upon my decision.
So my ultimate question. Where do you draw the line of being "too close" to busy season where it is ethically borderline to be leaving? Any comments from the peanut-gallery?
Too Late to Change it Now
Dear Too Late,
There are really two schools of thought here. The first is that there is no such thing as too close. You leave when you want and fuck everyone else and the Honda Accord they drove to work in. The second is that leaving your firm with less than 120 days until January 1st (yes, I'm totally making that up) should be punishable by a torture system that gets increasingly more ghastly the closer your last day is to New Year's. Since both of these are ridiculous, I'll give you my opinion which, can all agree, will be gospel going forward? Great.
The cutoff is the Friday before Thanksgiving. How did I come to that seemingly random conclusion? Here is my rationale:
1. I got laid off from KPMG on Tuesday, November 11, 2008 between 4 and 5 pm Eastern Time in a tiny office on the 23rd floor by a KPMG partner and HR representative who will remain nameless. That's my best recollection anyway. No, this is not one of those Steve Buscemi-serial-killer-in-Billy-Madison moments. It was exactly a week after the presidential election, so it's easy to remember, plus I have a memory like a steel trap. ANYWAY, I didn't have to return to work after that day so it was obvious that presence was not going to be missed for the last 6-ish weeks of the year and presumably not missed during busy season. There were many other people laid off this day and I can only assume the same logic applies. If the firm doesn't need us in the second week of November, could the third week be any worse? I think not.
2. Giving notice the week of Thanksgiving is, quite simply, a shitty move. Why? Because you've given your co-workers something else to stress about that is completely unrelated to asshole family members and whether or not the sweet potatoes turn out perfect. Thanksgiving is meant to stress over these things, not for freaking out because "Suzy tax accountant is leaving for a WAY better job at a retail client who has great benefits, better pay and – GODDAMMIT, WHY DIDN'T I TAKE THAT JOB?" Their loved ones don't deserve that shit.
3. Notice in December is too close for comfort. Yes, there are four whole weeks of Hanukkah-ing and Christmas-ing but Jesus, Mary, and Joseph it's THE HOLIDAYS. People are stressing about gifts and snow storms and trying conceive a new dependent for next year. Plus, does anyone really work in the December. The answer is an unequivocal "NO." The last thing they want is your bomb-dropping that results in them scrambling around trying to plan what they will do without you in less than 30 days time.
So, Too Late, in my opinion and for the purposes of this little exercise, you cut it a little close. Officially, I'm firmly in the, "You GTFO whenever you can," camp but I have, at the very least, provided the barometer for those of you that sweat these things. 
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