Early 30s… Where to get experience?

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  • #185943
    IWPGirl
    Member

    So I talked to my boss today and I thought I'd throw my situation out there for some Ninja advice…

    I am in my early 30's and passed three sections with one more to go in July. My current job in private accounting is the only accounting experience (2 years). I always wanted to work in public accounting to get wider experience and to work for a bigger office. I interviewed with two firms within the last year but there was no hiring decision.

    So… my boss wanted to know whether I am currently looking for another job because we have some people leaving and he might need to hire (which I understand). But some interesting points came up during our conversation.

    1) Passing exams and getting a license is really nothing without work experience. So what to do and where to go to get that “great” working experience that will get most benefit in the future?

    2) Smaller CPA firms do not pay well to start if there is no experience (pay cut). Bigger firms avoid hiring people after 30 if they come from private because these people do not stay. So are there any Ninjas who went to public at my age or is it something people do straight out of college? Any experience to share?

    All comments are appreciated…

    #643309
    Mayo
    Participant

    “Passing exams and getting a license is really nothing without work experience.”

    IMO, everyone should be asked to hand write this 100 times before signing up for the CPA exam.

    #643310
    funtiks
    Participant

    I disagree with above comment.

    Having exams down will definitely improve your chances of getting a job

    #643311
    mla1169
    Participant

    It all depends on your career goals, there is no hard and fast rule to be applied. I prefer working as an accounting manager/controller for a small privately held company. I like a small department and getting to see every detail, don't mind entering payables or payroll and I like calling customers with past due invoices. I have no public experience and that doesn't stand in my way at all. However if I wanted to hold a similar position at a large publicly traded company it would *almost* be mandatory to have had public experience. The exception for me personally is I've had bites from large public companies that rely heavily on DoD contracts because I have a good deal of experience in that specialty.

    #643312
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    @mayo You could say “whats having the exams done with no experience” but i believe obtaining experience is not that hard. So i ask you, whats experience mean when you cant complete the exams?

    #643313
    Mayo
    Participant

    “Having exams down will definitely improve your chances of getting a job “

    Maybe. It certainly does if you have experience. Which is my point.

    This forum, as well as others, is always full of, “I passed the CPA exam, now what? I can't find a job!” threads:

    https://www.another71.com/cpa-exam-forum/topic/passed-exams-no-job

    https://www.another71.com/cpa-exam-forum/topic/exams-passed-but-still-no-job

    https://www.another71.com/cpa-exam-forum/topic/passed-all-but-no-experience

    https://www.another71.com/cpa-exam-forum/topic/passed-the-cpa-exam-but-cant-land-a-audittax-job-any-advice

    Point is, there's this perception that the CPA exam is like a golden ticket in and of itself. It's not. But paired with proper experience it's a great career boost. For some more advanced positions it's required.

    Again, pairing the exam WITH experience is your best bet. For many people, especially career changers or students, effective networking is just as important if not more than passing the exam.

    Look at me. I don't have a CPA, but have very good experience. It took lots of networking on my part to get into my job. Had I wasted it solely on trying to pass the exam my job prospects would not be as good.

    So, yes. Technically you're correct. Passing the CPA exam will help. So will an effective network as well as an understanding of how the accounting career field works. But most people choose the former because it's easier than getting out there and meeting people.

    Again, everyone should be forced to hand write, “Passing exams and getting a license is really nothing without work experience”, if for no other reason to make them consider if they are spending their time in the most effective way.

    #643314
    Mayo
    Participant

    “So i ask you, whats experience mean when you cant complete the exams? “

    For me practically everything. I've been at my Big 4 plenty of years, gotten great experience, plenty of good ratings, raises, bonuses, and promotions ALL without a license. I'm only getting it because I have to or my firm will eventually kick me out.

    But if you asked me to choose one or the other, I'd choose experience over the exam any day. Of course, having both is optimal.

    Edit: It's not as simple as one or the other. My point is that many times passing the exam is ignored in favor of more effective methods of obtaining a job. It's the same thing with the whole obsession with “Should I do CMA, CFA, CIA, CFP next?”, all the while they are an AP clerk with no appropriate experience for ANY of those certifications. Umm, how about you spend your time more wisely?

    #643315
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I agree with you mayo, CPA exams and experience are like milk and cookies, cant have one without the other. I kind of f'ed around in college, i didn't do any internship but i sure did have a lot of fun. I'm using these exams to try to give me a boost into getting a job in the fall, as in if i have the exams complete my grades don't matter much. I got some high powered connects, i'm hoping to at least get a chance at an interview at a big 4 because i'm very good at selling myself, i bring lots of energy and lots of passion. After all i did sell my self in high school and found some suitors willing to pay for my college so i'm hoping for the best.

    #643316
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    “Bigger firms avoid hiring people after 30 if they come from private because these people do not stay.”

    I don't really agree with the after 30 part. Older candidates tend to blame it on their age but I've seen a ton of 30-ish old people as 1 year audit associates at my firm. 30 is still young (IMO I typically can't really visually tell the difference between a 25 year old and a 30 year old) and your maturity & confidence compared to younger candidates will help in interviews/networking. Let me tell you something, a 30 year old master of accounting student typically does waay better in interviews than a 24 year old. I'm sick of people blaming their age when it's actually often a plus.

    However, I agree that bigger firms avoid hiring from private (vs. from schools for entry level and mid-tier firms for experience hires) and the longer you've been in private the harder it is to make the switch. However it definitely happens – and your interviews are a testament to that.

    “So… my boss wanted to know whether I am currently looking for another job because we have some people leaving and he might need to hire (which I understand).”

    umm? Say NO.

    #643317
    HappyDayss
    Member

    I think sometimes these big 4 dont hire older folk's for entry level jobs because of their description of what a “good fit” for the firm is.

    #643318

    The CPA will give you an edge against other candidates who don't have it for entry level jobs. What it won't do is allow you to slide right into a senior level role. That will always require experience, but experience usually starts with that entry level job and the CPA will help you get it.

    #643319
    Tncincy
    Participant

    There is no way I would be going through the spending money, studying, and agonizing over this exam if it didn't mean anything. I could waste time doing something else and I am 48 thank you.

    I realize you are looking for advice, and concerned about the experience, but you're 30ish for cryin out loud. You have time to gain experience, pass the exam and get a good job (but you have a job) or work for a few companies. Just take your time….you certainly can't get it all at once. But one thing for sure pass the exam and who knows how many different doors may open.

    It begins with a 75
    Been here too long as a cheerleader.....time to pass
    #643320
    Mayo
    Participant

    “The CPA will give you an edge against other candidates who don't have it for entry level jobs”

    And effective networking/recruiting beats both for entry level. Plus, it's free 🙂

    #643321
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I got a job in public with absolutely no accounting experience (former elementary teacher) at the age of 46.

    I think passing the exams without work experience definitely gives you a boost above others graduating with no experience and no CPA. Passing the exam means you have the knowledge/foundation it takes to handle your job. The experience will come later. If you want a job in public then passing the exams is important. CPA firms want you to be a CPA. I think it's different for private. So it all depends on what your career goals are.

    #643322
    Mayo
    Participant

    “I think passing the exams without work experience definitely gives you a boost above others graduating with no experience and no CPA.”

    Roughly 95% of my coworkers were offered public accounting positions without passing one exam. Same with the three other big 4. Same with my classmates at BDO….Grant Thornton….BKD….etc. Some did as you describe. Passed their exams, got ok or good grades, but never spent time speaking with any of the firms until right before graduation. Some of those got offers in large firms (assuming that's what they wanted) and others ended up in smaller ones.

    I'm not arguing that passing the exam can't be helpful. But IMO, at entry level, effective recruiting and networking is a better investment of your time. If you have the time to do both…even better.

    But passing the CPA exam with no experience instead of effectively networking is akin to locking yourself in the library your entire college career to get a 4.0 and never attending a recruiting event, networking with the firms, or doing anything besides studying.

    “Passing the exam means you have the knowledge/foundation it takes to handle your job. “

    Fine. I'll give you this. But if I'm an employer hiring for entry level why should I care? After all, there's plenty of people who have passed the exam who are horrible at their jobs (trust me…I work with some of them). Does the exam make them an attractive candidate automatically? I say no.

    But let's assume I've spoken to you a handful of times. I notice you're articulate, intelligent, professional but not stuffy, and overall nice guy/gal. That tells me a lot more than just 4 scores on a piece of paper. And you better believe that knowing that puts you ahead of all the nameless resumes out there.

    However, again, the CPA, coupled with the right kind of experience, will do wonders to boost your career. It's getting that first bit of experience that matters….which is my whole point.

    And yes, you may well get a job from solely passing the exam, but I'd be willing to bet you'd have gotten an even better one by just going and talking with people rather than locking yourself in a room with some books. Then again, if you can do both…

    #643323
    lude4life13
    Member

    Mayo is spot on with his advice, coming from another Big 4 associate. You can have every degree and certification in the world, but all that means is you passed a test. If you can't prove that you can handle the job, then all that is for nothing, and like Mayo said, you will almost never be put into any type of senior role without experience. I have also personally seen people take that route, “I will get my degree, my masters, then my CPA, and finally get a job.” Trust me it is MUCH harder to do it that way. Not impossible, but harder.

    #643324

    Mayo – nothing against networking, I think it's great but I still think having passed 4 parts of the CPA is stronger for most people. If you happen to be super social or be extremely good looking then perhaps it may work just as well to get you in the door but then you are in the door and won't get very far (in public accounting) without the CPA. Plus, the local CPA groups will help in the networking process and in those groups I think it helps huge to be able to say you passed the exams and are just waiting on the experience.

    #643325
    acamp
    Participant

    Passing the exam is great resume material for entry level positions, will it GET you the job, no, but it helps. It shows intent and that you're serious about your new career. Not to mention, studying for the exams a couple years into your public accounting career really sucks!

    Big4 will hire you. People with a few years of outside “real world” experience bring a different flavor to the engagement. You just need to be prepared for a mid-twenties person who likely has never worked outside of public accounting to be your supervisor. If you can get over that, you'll be fine.

    Network, network, network. Join your local CPA society and attend an event, send messages to campus recruiters on LinkedIn, etc. Its not that you need a best buddy on the inside, but an acquaintance who might reach out to recruiting on your behalf, to get your resume from the electronic hiring wall to a person. For example, I had a friend from grad school email me about her boyfriend wanting to get into accounting. I met with him to discuss, he seemed like a great candidate and I pestered our local recruiting to make sure he got interview (he received and accepted an offer).

    Maybe your school has an accounting career fair that is open to alumni?

    Being a bit older won't hinder you and I strongly suggest going the public route as its like experience on steroids; you do a relatively short number of years and will end up in a fairly senior roll when you leave. Whereas, those same years spent in industry from an entry level position likely not produce the same results.

    Self proclaimed: Highest ratio of Replies to Others v. Posts Created on A71

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    #643326
    Mayo
    Participant

    “I think it's great but I still think having passed 4 parts of the CPA is stronger for most people”

    Agree to disagree then 🙂

    To clarify, it'd probably be best to have a couple of sections passed, while networking heavily. Much better than ignoring networking in place of 100% studying.

    My point is: Don't just study. Get out there and meet people too.

    #643327
    nicole2035
    Member

    The CPA is worth something, that's for sure. How many people do you know have said ‘well i almost got the CPA exam' ..or make up some excuse for why they don't need, etc. I dont' think you need the CPA exam to be successful especially if the job you ideally want doesn't require it. CPA firms just like any other place have to do some kind of training, it's expected, and plenty of places are fine with it but what they want to do is lessen their risks and costs for an employee. Hiring a new graduate is ok, but let's be real, how many stay? Not many, then they still have to pass the CPA exam etc. A lot of risk with that, so i think you have to try for it. Screw what everyone else says unless they are a CPA and were in a similar situation, or can help you with your situation. Your boss has his own motives, one is prob to discourage you from seeking another job or try to downplay your accomplishment

    As others said, you have to know people. I've began networking. Hate where i live, but you can't isolate yourself. And just from my viewpoint, i'd never talk with a boss about me potentially moving on unless me and that boss are best friends

    #643328
    Tux
    Member

    Focus on your long term goals. Early 30's is still young. I'm older than that and have very minimal accounting experience. I'm getting my CPA as a career change.

    Even if you have to take a pay cut, initially, you won't regret it if it puts you on a career path that you really want.

    I've sacrificed a lot, financially, to make this career move, but I won't look back because I was really unhappy in my old career and I couldn't imagine living the rest of my life in a miserable career.

    And, BTW, even if you ARE looking for another job – if your boss asks you if you are looking, JUST SAY NO.

    You need to do what's right for YOU. Leave when you're ready. Don't give them a reason to kick you out before you have something else to fall back on.

    Lastly, no negative thinking. Don't think in terms of statistics – “Bigger firms avoid hiring people after 30 if they come from private because these people do not stay” – You are NOT a statistic. You are a unique individual who is very capable of making things happen for yourself. That kind of thinking creates victims.

    You can network and bust your butt to meet new people and get your name out there and find out about opportunities that you never otherwise would have known existed.

    Look for the way IN – Not the way OUT.

    #643329
    ruggercpa2b
    Participant

    I started at Big 4 at 33 so they do hire people older. Now I have to focus on passing the exam because while I have experience most job interviews I have gone on they have expressed wanting someone with a CPA. For me getting that CPA means taking my career to the next level.

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    #643330
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I started in public at 42 after changing careers. I did three years and moved up to senior. I got a job as senior accountant at a large bank last week. I don't have my license yet but I am going to get it because I want to be a controller or CFO at some point. The way I see it is you can do anything if you work at it so it really doesn't matter what order you do it in. You just need to find the right fit. Some firms would rather you have the license because they can always teach you to audit. They are hiring you because your are teachable they don't need to reinvent the wheel.

    #643331
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    hmmm!

    That was the same question I asked for a big 4 recruitor 1 and 1/2 year ago! ‘ do you hire older people? ( I was 33 then)'. Then I was doing MSA and took and Passed FAR. Even if I didnt succeed in getting employed by a big four , I got Audtior job position in the Government.

    When I look back ( I did one interview with 1 big four) it was my performanace at the interview and lack of internship that affected my chance of getting selected at the big four. I believe my age had minimum impact , if any in the selection process.

    What matters most is motivation, networking, and the right attitude!

    Good Luck

    – Passed all exams ( awaiting work experience to be licenced!)

    #643332
    stag
    Participant

    I agree with @tes. I'm in my mid 30s and is just starting my accounting career. I failed to get any serious look by any of the accounting firms, national or regional. Then my luck changed all the sudden after I landed a staff accountant job (my first accounting job ever.) I got multiple interviews and ultimately multiple offers from Big 4 with a month of my new job. So I think experience, not age, is a bigger determinant.

    #643333
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    @stag….what type of firm did you get your first staff accountant position with? I'm having some trouble getting looks, and when I get looks, I'm not getting offers. I have strong academic credentials, 10 years experience as a bookkeeper, and I've already passed the exam. I even have two years experience on the board of a 15000-member nonprofit organization. I just got shot down by another Big 4 firm today after a pretty strong pair of interviews.

    I'm in my mid-40s….I interview well. I think I've adequately answered any of the typical age concerns (I can work with younger people, I can work with a younger supervisor…and I have evidence that I have already done so successfully, etc….). All of the Big 4 recruiters, Next 6 recruiters, fellow students, and professors are astounded that I haven't found a position (although none of those recruiters has come through with an offer). I network constantly, and my list of acceptable locations to work is pretty large. My academic credentials are as strong or stronger than many fellow 22-year olds that got the opportunity to do multiple Big 4 internships, and I worked 25-30 hours a week in addition to taking 17-18 hour semesters. I'd like to say that age isn't a factor, but I've had multiple people tell me that if I were 25 instead of 45, that I would have had an offer a long time ago. Right or wrong, I have to answer multiple questions about how I would work with younger supervisors, etc…so I feel like I'm not starting on a equal footing with my peers when I interview. I seem to always be coming from behind.

    I'm staying positive, and focusing on future opportunities, but I would welcome any constructive suggestions on how to handle the issue. Apparently whatever I'm doing isn't working. Personally, I think my age should be a nonissue, and I honestly don't bring the issue up at all unless I'm asked, and I frankly can't step into Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine and turn back the clock 20 years.

    Any suggestions would be welcome.

    #643334

    I know of a number of people who started working in public accounting in their 30's. Big4 tends to hire right out of college, but I know of several people who started out at a smaller CPA firm in their 30's and then after getting a year of public accounting experience they had no problem getting a job with a large firm.

    #643335
    stag
    Participant

    @chappyfade I got a job at a private company with revenue around 20 mil. I do the very basic stuff like bank rec and updating schedules. What really helped was that I started right before the audit and was able to see how things were done on the other end. I think all that matter was that when I met the recruiters, the first thing they said was, “oh, you are working already.” A lot of my classmates (mostly 30+ with couple college age kids) are career changers and everyone of us had gotten offers at Big 4. So I don't think age is a big deal to Big.

    #643336
    stag
    Participant

    @chappyfade I got a job at a private company with revenue around 20 mil. I do the very basic stuff like bank rec and updating schedules. What really helped was that I started right before the audit and was able to see how things were done on the other end. I think all that matter was that when I met the recruiters, the first thing they said was, “oh, you are working already.” A lot of my classmates (mostly 30+ with couple college age kids) are career changers and everyone of us had gotten offers at Big 4. So I don't think age is a big deal to Big.

    #643337
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    @stag I'm then at a loss to explain my situation. I've gotten very few constructive answers, if any. I've consistently asked if there's anything I can do better, or anything I can do to improve my profile, and I've either gotten no feedback (majority of time) or an answer like “it's competitive out there, you're a good candidate, you'll get something soon….etc”

    Area of the country might matter as well….I'm in the Midwest. Attitudes may be more progressive out toward the coasts and away from flyover country. I went to a big state school (and a top 15 accounting program), but all but one of my accounting classmates were in their low-to-mid 20s except for one, and he's 30 (and doesn't graduate until December, and he doesn't have any offers yet, either). So I don't really have any comparable in my program….I thought my experience would be a plus for me. It hasn't been so far. I've also struggled with finding an industry job around here…it's just frustrating. Internships were similarly frustrating, so I didn't have any luck getting one of those, either.

    @numbercruncher….I am right out of college. I graduated with my M.Acc. three weeks ago. I'm still utilizing the business school career services, but there isn't a job fair again until September, and I'd rather not wait that long.

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