Author Topic: Career Advice - Public Accounting  (Read 647 times)

RedRoses

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Career Advice - Public Accounting
« on: December 29, 2018, 09:18:26 PM »
As the title suggests, I'm looking for career advice in the public accounting field. I'm primarily looking for advice on how to formulate the very vague medium-term plan mentioned below, but would also love to get some inspiration from hearing about the career paths of accountants or anyone who feels like sharing.

My original degree isn't in accounting, so I started in this field a little late. I'm almost 31, but only a first-year senior and about to start my third busy season. I'm at a smallish regional firm (less than 100 people). I'm half-way done with the CPA exam and hope to finish my last two exams in 2019. I do 60% audit, 20% tax, and 20% back-office work.

My short-term plan is pretty clear: get through this busy season, finish the CPA exams, maybe do one more busy season if it's too late to job search by the time I get my license.

Long-term (say, when I'm early 40s), I'd like to run or co-run my own small-business. I wouldn't necessarily mind if it's something related to accounting (maybe being a partner in a small firm), but I also have many interests outside of accounting, such as writing, editing, languages, policy/politics, real estate. Additionally, I really like the project management/operations side of things. I'd also like to set up the business so that I would only take enough work for me to have to work 40 hours per week, even if that means I don't make as much money as I could if I worked longer hours.

I'm not sure what my medium-term plan should be to get from the short-term to the long-term. I'm sure it would help if I knew what type of business that I wanted to run.

Why can't I jump straight from the short-term plan to the long-term plan? First, I don't currently live in the part of the country (USA) that I want to live in when I'm 40. Second, I'm not even close to being financial independent (making progress, but it's slow progress), so I'd like to do something in my 30s that generates enough revenue to allow me to live on slightly less income in my 40s and beyond. Third, if there's a really cool opportunity out there (like the chance to go overseas, or do some other kind of once-in-a-lifetime work), this would be the time to do it.

I'm not necessarily opposed to staying in public accounting. My firm is fine, but it's actually a lot more hours than I imagined being at a smaller firm. Ideally, my hours would be more reasonable because it has taken a toll on my personal life, but I'm willing to stick with it for a little while longer if that's the best option that I have.

One other thing to mention is that I currently live in a major metropolitan area, where there are all kinds of jobs (even in niche fields). The state that I'd like to live in when I'm 40 is in the Midwest, so the opportunities will likely be different.

Thoughts from any accountants out there? I'm social-media shy, and haven't posted on forums before. It feels weird to share this much information online. However, I will try to answer any questions that I can in order to clarify anything. Thanks!

Joel

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Re: Career Advice - Public Accounting
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2018, 11:26:52 PM »
Polish up your LinkedIn and resume. Get the CPA license. And see where things go. Donít feel like your first job out of public has to be your forever job. Donít be afraid to change companies / roles every 18 months or so. You may find you like the controller route, you may find you like the FP&A route. You may find you enjoy the environment at s big company, or you may flourish in a small company.

Personally, my goal is to be CFO someday, and I really enjoy the FP&A side more so than accounting. I have zero desire to retire to a large company and want to stay in the small company / start-up environment. Background: 3.5 years in big 4 audit. CPA, MBA. 15 months in internal audit at a large coop (hated it!) 15 months as accounting manager at biotech e-commerce  startup. Now, Director of accounting and finance at small-ish thriving e-commerce apparel company. Absolutely loved the biotech startup, and got poached for my current role with a significant raise, increase in responsibility, and more successful company. Almost 2.5x total compensation from where I was at with the big four in only three years.

Lastly, learn how to use Power BI / Power Pivot. Itís absolutely incredible software. Excel on steroids, automation, advanced analysis and  reporting. Iíve recently learned it in the last few months and itís a complete game changer for ability to perform any type of data analysis in excel.

chasingthegoodlife

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Re: Career Advice - Public Accounting
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2018, 01:36:11 AM »
Posting to follow - thinking about a career change to accounting.


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RedRoses

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Re: Career Advice - Public Accounting
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2018, 06:31:32 AM »
Thanks for your reply, Joel!

I did change jobs every roughly 18 months before I entered the accounting field, so I have some experience with what the environment at different types of companies looks like. You make a good point about continuing to try new things, though.

Thanks for the Power IB/Power Pivot tip -- I'll look into that.

What industries did you audit when you were in public accounting?

walkwalkwalk

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Re: Career Advice - Public Accounting
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2018, 08:23:33 AM »
I am in public accounting as well - mostly tax. Technically I work right now in "industry" since the firm I work for is not a CPA firm, but an EA firm. The pay is low, but at least I am learning about running my own accounting firm one day, since they have the size (possibly slightly smaller) clients I would like to have when I go out on my own. If you don't plan on offering audit services to clients in the future when you have your own practice, I would recommend going to an even smaller firm. The firm I work for has very good work life balance (I started late July and only worked more than 40 hours 1 or 2 weeks).

You really have to visualize what your practice might look like to get the "in between" steps to get there. If you do want to offer audit, then you may be in a good firm to be preparing for doing that at your own practice. You just have to think most about what you desire to do to think of those steps to get there.

Joel

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Re: Career Advice - Public Accounting
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2018, 08:51:04 AM »
Thanks for your reply, Joel!

I did change jobs every roughly 18 months before I entered the accounting field, so I have some experience with what the environment at different types of companies looks like. You make a good point about continuing to try new things, though.

Thanks for the Power IB/Power Pivot tip -- I'll look into that.

What industries did you audit when you were in public accounting?

I was in a small BIg 4 office (about 25 audit staff), and we didnít specialize in industries... but rather worked on whatever work we could. So I had a wide range, agriculture, consumer goods, manufacturing, construction, real estate, rental equipment, government, investment funds. All over the map. The good thing about a small office, 3-4 years of experience was all I needed to know the clients top-to-bottom and have a solid foundation of skills that I could leverage when I left.

RedRoses

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Re: Career Advice - Public Accounting
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2018, 06:05:45 PM »
Thanks for your comment, walkwalkwalk. You're right in that I need to take more time to visualize what I want the long-term to look like. Providing audit services in addition to tax would necessitate a larger firm. Also, I didn't realize there were EA firms--what are your clients like? Are you working mostly with individuals?

Joel, thanks for the follow-up!

Grafter

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Re: Career Advice - Public Accounting
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2018, 07:40:27 PM »
You're right in that I need to take more time to visualize what I want the long-term to look like. Providing audit services in addition to tax would necessitate a larger firm. Also, I didn't realize there were EA firms--what are your clients like? Are you working mostly with individuals?

I guess for me, as your LT plan appears to be some what vague, there isn't a ton of advice I can offer.  Though, what sort of hours or pay are you looking for?  As it seems to me, that you may do well with some sort of corp accounting (like financial analyst) or gov role (such as a state revenue department or accountant for a department) where the hours could be better (like 37.5/wk), but the trade off is less salary too.  Though there are also options to just be a seasonal tax preparer (where you have a set period of employment, but can work as much or little as you want), though it does come with the trade off in trade.  Though, pretty much either way, there have been some huge developments recently (both the TJCA from the government and various standards from FASB) that will keep both audit and tax people busy for a while. 

There is always some sort of consulting role, that would could design for yourself.  However, the down side there is always needing to hustle and get new clients (either due to needing to build up a base of revenue) or due to the type of service you provide (such as a one off to cover a specific problem, such as helping with YE reconciliations, cleaning up a mess, designing an accounting system for a small business, etc).

Though, while I would personally suggest getting a CPA license, given the job market (at least in my area), it is better to be a job seeker than attempting to find an accounting employee at the moment.

As far as EA firms, I've run across a few (such as the blogger that runs Wealthyaccountant).  They can run the gamut from doing niche returns (one did a number of doctor and dental practices and their owners), to doing everything (the wealthyaccountant), to doing "cheap" returns (at $100-$150 a pop, which I do wonder how they make money, unless they are very simple returns or have very low overhead; and given the liability and CPE needed, I would probably stay away from this sort of market).

walkwalkwalk

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Re: Career Advice - Public Accounting
« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2018, 09:16:01 AM »
At the EA firm I work for, I do the taxes for mostly home health agencies. It may change some in the future, as this industry is really hurting with medicare and Medicaid not paying as much, so margins are really thin for many of our clients. I think if you can find a niche, as a CPA you can do better than the lower priced EA's and provide what could possibly be a better work product to your clients than an EA. But as the other poster said, if the EA is just pumping out 100-150 dollar returns then that is not a viable practice for a CPA, hardly even an EA if they are good at what they do.