Author Topic: 25yo tax accountant thinking of leaving public. would appreciate career advice  (Read 8812 times)

Cheddar Bob

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I'm about to wrap up my second year at a Big 4 firm as a tax accountant.  I currently make about $65k and should make a little north of $70k when raises kick in in September.  I have a Master's in Accounting and I got my CPA last fall.  The experience at this Big 4 so far has been good.  I lucked out by being in a group that does not have busy seasons.  My group does work unrelated to compliance deadlines and thus how busy you are is dependent on the project.  I don't think I've ever worked over 60 hours in a week and I'd say that at least 80% of my work weeks have been less than 45 hours.  I feel really lucky that I've made it 2 years with this schedule when almost all other people in tax have to work consistent 60+ hours during busy seasons.

However, I have reasons to believe that all of this is unsustainable. Firstly, my group travels a decent amount.  I have been lucky that my projects have not required nearly as much travel as other people's projects.  There is one person I know who has traveled probably 90% of weeks since I was hired, and this travel was often halfway across the country.  I've enjoyed the travel I've done but I'm not sure if I would like having to travel so far on a week to week basis.

Secondly, as I move up the ranks, there will be an expectation of working more hours.  The Big 4 is notorious for grinding people and I just don't think that's something I want to do.  It isn't so much that I value work-life balance, but rather I value my pay-per-hour.  Sure, if I stick around for a few more years I could be making $100k but it would be while working 50-60 hours.  As I think about it more and more, I think I would rather work a consistent 40 hours job and then try to make some extra money on the side somehow.  But I just don't know how realistic it is to find 40 hour jobs in accounting.

I figure that I can reach FI in about 10-12 years at my current pace.  I'm debt-free and have about $35k invested in index funds.  I think I'm in good shape as far as being frugal and avoiding "keeping up with the Joneses", but I'm worried that by leaving public accounting I may be taking too much of a hit in the income department.  If there are any accountants out there with advice or similar experience,s please let me know.  Thanks.       

Goldielocks

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You will be fine, it is your top side potential income that will take a hit rather than right now.

Look into jobs like controller for a private corporation. Those are steady and under 50 hr per week and limited travel.

VaCPA

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There are tons of jobs in private sector that are 40-45 hour week range. Since I left public I've moved from Assistant Controller>Controller>Director of Finance and have never worked long hours. It probably helps I've worked at medium to small sized private companies. High level accounting executives at Fortune 500 companies probably put in some hours. If you seek that type of schedule you'll have no trouble finding it in accounting.

dkaid

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You should feel free to leave whenever you want at this point... you have your CPA.  I've worked corporate for the last 15 years since leaving public and while the work is not interesting or challenging, it has terrific work life balance.  When I first started I worked Financial Reporting and worked some OT (although less than public).  Now I work in Finance and work a reduced hours schedule.  No stress.  YMMV by company/industry, obviously. 

Miss Piggy

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Sure, if I stick around for a few more years I could be making $100k but it would be while working 50-60 hours.  As I think about it more and more, I think I would rather work a consistent 40 hours job and then try to make some extra money on the side somehow.       

What's the difference? Either way, you're working 60ish hours to make about the same pay, no?

COlady

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I'm about to wrap up my second year at a Big 4 firm as a tax accountant.  I currently make about $65k and should make a little north of $70k when raises kick in in September.  I have a Master's in Accounting and I got my CPA last fall.  The experience at this Big 4 so far has been good.  I lucked out by being in a group that does not have busy seasons.  My group does work unrelated to compliance deadlines and thus how busy you are is dependent on the project.  I don't think I've ever worked over 60 hours in a week and I'd say that at least 80% of my work weeks have been less than 45 hours.  I feel really lucky that I've made it 2 years with this schedule when almost all other people in tax have to work consistent 60+ hours during busy seasons.

However, I have reasons to believe that all of this is unsustainable. Firstly, my group travels a decent amount.  I have been lucky that my projects have not required nearly as much travel as other people's projects.  There is one person I know who has traveled probably 90% of weeks since I was hired, and this travel was often halfway across the country.  I've enjoyed the travel I've done but I'm not sure if I would like having to travel so far on a week to week basis.

Secondly, as I move up the ranks, there will be an expectation of working more hours.  The Big 4 is notorious for grinding people and I just don't think that's something I want to do.  It isn't so much that I value work-life balance, but rather I value my pay-per-hour.  Sure, if I stick around for a few more years I could be making $100k but it would be while working 50-60 hours.  As I think about it more and more, I think I would rather work a consistent 40 hours job and then try to make some extra money on the side somehow.  But I just don't know how realistic it is to find 40 hour jobs in accounting.

I figure that I can reach FI in about 10-12 years at my current pace.  I'm debt-free and have about $35k invested in index funds.  I think I'm in good shape as far as being frugal and avoiding "keeping up with the Joneses", but I'm worried that by leaving public accounting I may be taking too much of a hit in the income department.  If there are any accountants out there with advice or similar experience,s please let me know.  Thanks.       

I'm also a CPA and work as a tax accountant. I worked in public accounting for two different regional firms for 5 years before making the jump to a private company. I worked as a Senior Tax Analyst for the private company for 3 years. I had twins last year and now work as a contractor for the same company for 25 hours per week.  When I moved from public to industry I received a 15% increase in pay, worked close to a 40 hour week, and had an extremely generous benefits package.  I seriously don't know why people stay in public accounting, I really don't. The only think I miss is the variety of the work.  Industry work gets monotonous at times but sometimes it is nice because you know what to expect each year around the same time (year-end, then provision, then work on tax return, then work on planning, repeat).

Are you near a major metro area? If so, there should be corporate tax jobs galore.

Cheddar Bob

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Sure, if I stick around for a few more years I could be making $100k but it would be while working 50-60 hours.  As I think about it more and more, I think I would rather work a consistent 40 hours job and then try to make some extra money on the side somehow.       

What's the difference? Either way, you're working 60ish hours to make about the same pay, no?

Good point.  I should have clarified - I would enjoy the flexibility and solitude of trying to do something on my own versus doing 50% more accounting work. 

Thanks for all the responses.  Seems like I just need to do more research about what's out there on the job market. 

pbkmaine

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Your local and/or state CPA society would be a good place to network.

Miss Piggy

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Sure, if I stick around for a few more years I could be making $100k but it would be while working 50-60 hours.  As I think about it more and more, I think I would rather work a consistent 40 hours job and then try to make some extra money on the side somehow.       

What's the difference? Either way, you're working 60ish hours to make about the same pay, no?

Good point.  I should have clarified - I would enjoy the flexibility and solitude of trying to do something on my own versus doing 50% more accounting work. 

Thanks for all the responses.  Seems like I just need to do more research about what's out there on the job market.

Ah, that makes sense.

lampstache

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Having been an experienced hire recruiter at a large public accounting firm that I'm sure you've heard of, you're in a great position all around. Your weekly hour requirements have been very generous in comparison to your peers as you've already mentioned. With that said, if life is good now I'd recommend to stick it out until you've been a Senior for at least a year (maybe less if you get a great opportunity). Get the pay bump or two depending on how long you stay and it will make your next move that much better.

If you go to industry and don't love it, you will always have an opportunity to go back to public accounting within about 0-3 years. With Big 4 experience behind you, you will always have an opportunity. Good luck!

Daisyedwards800

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I used to be in public and I make a LOT more now that I left, perks are better, hours are great.  Just make sure you don't take a low ball offer right out.

bognish

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I would not quit because your job could require more hours or travel in the future. Seems like you currently have a good balance, like your job and are getting good experience. Stay put until faced with actual changes in your job requirement. I would think that your marketability will only increase by year up to the 5 years public in mark. It doesn't hurt to keep an eye on the market for a dream job, but I would not suggest actively searching if you like your current role and are gaining valuable experience.

cchrissyy

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I would not quit because your job could require more hours or travel in the future. Seems like you currently have a good balance, like your job and are getting good experience. Stay put until faced with actual changes in your job requirement.

Exactly what I think too

couponvan

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Having been an experienced hire recruiter at a large public accounting firm that I'm sure you've heard of, you're in a great position all around. Your weekly hour requirements have been very generous in comparison to your peers as you've already mentioned. With that said, if life is good now I'd recommend to stick it out until you've been a Senior for at least a year (maybe less if you get a great opportunity). Get the pay bump or two depending on how long you stay and it will make your next move that much better.

If you go to industry and don't love it, you will always have an opportunity to go back to public accounting within about 0-3 years. With Big 4 experience behind you, you will always have an opportunity. Good luck!

+1 for getting the Senior designation and a small amount of time behind it for long-term career options.  Seniors are very much in demand in the industry and you retain the ability to boomerang to another CPA firm.  Just don't burn your bridges when you leave, and you'll retain lots of options.

Cheddar Bob

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Thanks for all the advice so far.  Just wanted to give a quick update - I will be getting the promotion to Senior.  Should be official by September.  I agree it's probably a good idea to stick around for at least a year to get experience as a Senior.  But I am starting to explore other options - I have a few meetings scheduled next week with some recruiting firms just go get a feel for what else is out there.

Jenny1974

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I worked in tax for a Big 4 (Big 6 at the time), and left after about 3 years to take a job in industry.  It was the best move I ever made.  I stayed in public just long enough to pass my exam and make Senior.  It was great experience, and I made some great contacts but I would have been miserable staying.  My pay increased over 35% when I took my industry position.  Moved up the ranks and am now in a leadership position making more than I ever thought I would (well over 6 figures). 

Public was a great stepping stone for me.  I never saw it as a long-term career path.  It opened a lot of doors for me when I was ready to leave.  Private industry, in my experience, offers better work/life balance, better money and generally less stress.

Proud Foot

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I didn't see whether you are married or in a serious relationship.  If not then definitely get experience as a senior (congrats on the promotion) and enjoy the travel! When I did public accounting (Audit) the travel was really enjoyable for me.  I would have stayed there longer if i wasn't already married.  With your tax experience you should not have a problem moving to a tax role within a company. And although your pay ceiling in industry may not be as high as if you became a partner, you should get a nice raise at your initial move as well as more consistent hours and potentially better benefits.

Cheddar Bob

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I am single.  The travel so far has been fun but there are downsides.  For example, it'd be hard for me to make plans to something on a weeknight as it's possible I could be out of town that week. 

Public was a great stepping stone for me.  I never saw it as a long-term career path.  It opened a lot of doors for me when I was ready to leave.  Private industry, in my experience, offers better work/life balance, better money and generally less stress.

I have also never seen public as long term career path.  So it will be interesting to see what else is out there when I speak with some recruiters next week.