Is leaving public accounting after a year really that bad?

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  • #3106826
    DaKine256
    Participant

    I'm looking for some guidance on possibly switching from public accounting to industry. For background– I graduated in May 2019, joined a top 25 regional firm as an audit associate in August 2019, and finished the CPA in November. I chose a regional firm because I was convinced I'd have better work-life balance that at a Big 4. Turns out, not only do we regularly work 60+ hours/week, but we also have busy season 7 months of the year (due to having a significant number of NFP clients and EBPs along with for-profit) and significant non-billable expectations (e.g. volunteer hours, college recruiting). Additionally, I've been miserable at the firm because I don't fit in with the culture, and office politics are extremely strong. I don't enjoy audit work and don't feel like it uses my skill set. I've tried to make the most of my first year– I've been involved with college recruiting, office event planning, mentoring new staff, etc. I also spend a lot of time in networking and community involvement stuff, and recently brought in a client referral source. I exceeded the first-year goals and have been told I'm on the track to senior. I do feel like I'm learning a lot. But I'm miserable and don't enjoy the job at all. I feel drained all the time and don't have much energy to hang out with family and friends or do things I enjoy. I've been casually looking at jobs for a while and, after applying for my CPA license, finally gave the okay for recruiters to submit my resume for a couple industry positions. One job (a senior accountant position at a midsize personal loan company) has moved faster through the interview process than I thought. I'm starting to question whether I should move to industry. I've heard the longer you stay in public, the better your career prospects… but I don't really have ambitions to be a controller or CFO. I'm pretty sure I'd be happier in industry, but am I limiting my career? Should I stick it out in public until I absolutely can't anymore? Would appreciate input from those who have switched from public to industry. Thanks in advance!

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    #3106850
    April94
    Participant

    I worked at a Big 4 for about 7 months then left for industry. Mentally, I’m so much happier at my new job than I was in audit. My team and a lot of the people I met were just incredibly toxic. It made me question why these people were still working in public accounting even though they clearly hated their jobs! You can 100% be successful in industry or anything besides public. Your mental health is so much more important than any job. It sounds like you’ve put in as much as you can and there’s not many positives at your job anymore, so I would suggest start looking for another job. I knew it was time for my to leave after 7 months bc the thought of job searching made me so happy and I was happy to leave behind my toxic co-workers.

    "It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan." -Eleanor Roosevelt

    Licensed CPA in IL

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    #3106991
    monikernc
    Participant

    I think April said it all. Except, first take a vacation! I am going to repeat what I have said before. Don’t postpone your happiness. Go find joy!

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    #3107081
    Anthony
    Participant

    Time to bounce honestly. You already got what you came for, your license. Would making to senior would be good? Sure it wouldn't hurt..but at what cost? Not worth it in your case if you're getting burned out and dealing with a toxic work place.

    Not to mention because you already have some experience in public, you can always jump back in if you want to as an experience hire.

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    #3107339
    Recked
    Participant

    Get the experience you need to be licensed before you leave. Just my 2 cents, unless you have a CPA at the new job that can sign off for you.

    Memento Mori - Kingston NY CPA & EA (SUNY Albany 2002)

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    #3107609
    LongShot
    Participant

    Couple thoughts just to make sure you've considered everything. Also, I'm not trying to be some punk starting anything, more of a devil's advocate thing here. Hopefully, to help. If I were hiring for a position in industry I would take a couple things aways from your question.

    1) hates to work long hours, will be lucky to get 40 a week from them. Plenty of recently unemployed to choose from who'd kill to work hard right now.
    2) hates to work long hours during the weirdest of weird years when company needs them the most. Will jump ship at 1st sign of trouble, no loyalty. Short term prospect only.
    3) did not work well with others previously, unlikely to work well with others in the future.
    4) no desire to advance in career to controller/CFO indicates either fear of responsibility or lack of ambition. In either case, expect bare minimum effort.

    Just a couple thoughts to a) make sure you've really considered why you want to leave and b) make sure to answer the question “why are you looking to change jobs?” very carefully in any interviews. I realize yours was a question to us rather than an answer in an interview, just be careful with that one is all. Again, my intent was actually to be helpful here, hope that's how you take it.

    #3107729
    DaKine256
    Participant

    Thank you all for your input!

    @Recked – I applied for my CPA last month as soon as I hit a year of experience. All the forms have been submitted.



    @LongShot
    – All good questions, no offense taken. Some thoughts for each of your points:

    1) You're right that I dislike longer hours, but I'd define that as regularly working more than 50 hours a week. I think working 45ish regularly, and more during month-end close would be reasonable. I'd just rather not be working 60+ over half the year. If a company expects more, we're probably not a good fit. But I do think 45-50 is a reasonable request and have discussed this with recruiters.

    2) I understand your point here. I was lucky to survive my firm's round of layoffs. But I think the fact I stayed at my previous (part-time) job in the service industry for 5 years shows I'm not someone who leaves at the drop of a hat. I genuinely am looking for a more long-term solution because I know public accounting isn't it.

    3) Fair point based on how I described the situation. I don't think people skills are really the issue though. On the surface I've gotten along fine with everyone in the office, and even developed some close friendships with the few who have a life outside of work. I just find the office politics among managers/partners to be petty, and the majority of those above staff level don't have much of a life outside public accounting. One senior who left wrote a LinkedIn endorsement (unsolicited) mentioning I was hardworking and enjoyable to work with. I also love staff development/training– the new staff call me up multiple times a day to chat or ask questions because I love helping/investing in others and am good at it. So that's something I hope to continue if I switch jobs. I think all of those things show I'm able to work well with people. I just don't think my current environment is a good fit. But I always mention the positives about coworkers/management in interviews.

    4) Again, this is a fair point and a good one to consider. I worked my way through school with no debt, graduated summa cum laude with 152 credits in 4 years (while jugging additional responsibilities), and passed the CPA exam within 6 months of graduation. That and the fact I've exceeded my goals so far at the firm, show that I have ambition. Anyone who knows me knows I'm an all-in overachiever type; for that reason I know a lot of people will be shocked if I leave public so soon. But I think this year has shown me what's really important to me. I'm not opposed to being a controller/CFO– it's just not my main goal. Work-life balance and mental health are more important to me than money or a title. If I could work my way up to a leadership role and still have the energy to do the things I love and spend time with the people I care about, I'd absolutely take the role.

    The way I frame it to recruiters, is “I appreciate the experience I've gotten in public accounting, and now I'm looking for the next step in my career. I'd like to commit to a job that will allow me to learn and grow long-term with the company.”

    Thanks again for your input and for helping me think through some of these things.

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