Private to public accounting, good or bad idea?

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  • #1762436
    hanseny007
    Participant

    Hi, I am 35 years old and wondering if switching over to public accounting would be a good idea (married, but no plans to have kids). I've heard enough of long work hours and busy seasons, which I wouldn't mind.

    I have about 5-6 years of corporate accounting experiences since I had my bachelor's in accounting and in the process of taking the CPA exam.
    The reason why I wanted to switch over is that I'd like to get public accounting experiences before it gets too late. Someone told me that 1 year of experience in public accounting is almost comparable with 2-3 years of private industries.

    Is there anybody who switched over to public accounting from industries?
    If so, do you regret or you feel like you made a right choice?
    And what career level would I fit in (associates vs. senior)?
    What's the average salary increase in public accounting (I got 2% increase last year in the current company).

    Thank you in advance!

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    #1762903

    @hanseny007 I switched from industry to public (tax associate) after finishing my CPA in 2016. The switch was a no-brainer for me since I was leaving an industry role where I was underpaid, and I eventually want to work seasonally preparing taxes on my own so the experience is invaluable. At 30, I am definitely older than the majority of my team, including the seniors/supervisors, but I wouldn't say that's been a negative at all. I actually love the work I do and the people I work with, I'd just prefer to do a little bit less of it.

    Chances are if you've never worked in public accounting, you will be asked to start as an entry-level staff. I had my CPA finished before I started, so I was hired at a 2nd-year equivalent salary, which was nice. I would say the average raise in public accounting will be 5-10%, maybe higher if you factor in promotion years, the year before I left my industry role I received 1.5%.

    After a couple busy seasons I can tell you it's taken a toll on my health and family, and I'll probably be looking for a change over the summer. In my experience, the flexibility in public accounting during the off-season is much better than in industry. But the 4-5 months per year of 6+ day weeks where I've eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner at my desk erase almost all of that extra benefit.

    Overall, I do not regret my decision to pursue this experience and would recommend everyone with their CPA work at least one busy season and see what public accounting is all about. Good luck with your exams and whatever you decide to pursue!

    #1762985
    ultrarunnerultrarunner
    Participant

    @Ryan, it is very inspiring. But I found it extremely hard to switch from industry to public. I tried for years, then eventually made the transition via a campus recruiting (I went back to the school to pursue a Masters). Private experience won't be counted, so you have to start over as an entry-level associate. Most public accounting firms hire entry-level through the campus recruiting. 30 or 35 years are not old at all. I am much older than you, but many good public accounting firms don't care as long as you are qualified for the job. All the best!

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    #1763389
    Tncincy
    Participant

    Ultrarunner: That's good to know that Public firms are not too concerned about age. I am 53 and I think I will have to work under a CPA for experience sign off, I was thinking going with a public firm but private is just as good. (I guess).

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    #1763672
    LongShot
    Participant

    Do it. I had about 5 years govt acctg experience, and almost 4 at a big bank holding company getting fantastic experience. Nobody cared. Resumes routinely unanswered. Went to public back in September and now I get unsolicited e-mails all the time wanting to interview me (I haven't taken any because my bosses are awesome. My last boss was not.).

    Though I should point out I got very, very lucky. It's a very small firm in that the 2 partners are my only bosses. But that also means I do audit, acctg services, tax, and whatever oddball stuff comes up that the bosses don't feel like doing or just don't have time for. I was 31 when I took the job last year and actually got a slight raise from where I was at (already had my CPA).

    The learning curve sucks. Sucks more that I've been in acctg about a decade, have a CPA, and still feel lost 1/2 the time. But that happens. That's why a learning curve has its own name.

    If you can find a good fit with-at worst-a small pay cut, I'd say do it. I thought I'd missed the boat at public acctg in my 30s making too much money, but I was wrong. At least in my area (which is tiny), people are falling all over themselves to find even halfway qualified accountants. Even had 1 guy tell me 2 years ago he wouldn't have bothered calling someone with no public experience, but hadn't seen a job market like this in 30+ years at his firm.

    I work more than I ever have, but love my job. And I'm married with 3 very young kids. Work/life balance isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. I see my family more now than I did when I was taking the CPA exams. That's not even a bit of an exaggeration.

    #1768481
    Golfing NY CPA
    Participant

    I am actually considering this myself. Potentially leaving a “safe” stable but dead end Government job for a risky public accounting job for a year or two.

    Am I crazy?

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    #1792056
    CPAfit
    Participant

    I don't think so. Although a lot of people are not convinced as to why a person would want to leave a stable, well paying, 8-6 corporate job at an MNC to join a Big 4. Especially considering the amount of experience a per has under his belt prior to joining a Big 4, which does not count at all upon joining the firm.

    I am an international candidate living in the Middle East who passed his exam back in 2016. I was avoiding public accounting at all costs, mainly due to the high requirement of late sittings and the amount of learning curve that I'll have to face. I was under the impression that I was too old and I should stick to my current job in the private sector. Somehow made up my mind last year and started applying at all the local Big 4 firms except KPMG. KPMG does not have a very good reputation in the Middle East market.

    Interviewed at PwC, passed both rounds technical and Partner but in the end they told me I was too old. By the way, I'll turn 30 this Summer but the partner told me they only accept within the 22 – 25 YO range for entry level candidates.

    Applied to E&Y, got an offer from their Transaction Advisory Services division. Sent them my credentials for the final screening before the offer and they just ghosted me. Followed up with them for a couple of months and then the Senior Manager who interviewed me stopped answering my calls altogether. I applied again for a position in a different division, reached the Partner interview round but this time the Partner shredded me into pieces as he was not convinced that I am serious about joining a Big 4. His concerns were, that I am too old, married and been in the private industry for way too long. He said that I will have a hard time adjusting to the environment and a lot of young people would be senior than me and that would frustrate me. So didn't get the offer this time.

    Finally applied to Deloitte through a referral, passed both rounds with a breeze. Took a lot of convincing from my side and my referral's to show the partners that I am very serious about working here. Got the offer early Spring and joined the firm three weeks ago.

    Until now, the learning curve has been very huge. I've learnt so many things in the past three weeks that I never even came across during my 6 years of private accounting. The training program offered by the firm is also very rigorous which shows what an amazing system the Big 4s have in place when it comes to the development of their employees. I do agree that the average age of entry level associates is a bit lower and most of the people still don't understand why I made this move. i personally feel that It is a great move from my side and any candidate who has a CPA and would like to continue in the field of Accounting should opt for it.

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    #1792603
    Tim
    Participant

    “He said that I will have a hard time adjusting to the environment and a lot of young people would be senior than me and that would frustrate me.”

    That's so dumb I work in private and I've had bosses younger than me, so what. I've had more issues with older bosses that don't know what they're doing but are only where they are because of their age. The younger bosses are usually the intelligent go-getters that I respect a lot more for their achievements.

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    #2132980
    evacpaa
    Participant

    this is very inspiring. I am currently trying to apply for BIG 4 jobs. Have 1.5 year private accounting experience, but I got stuck on getting an interview. I reached some people on linkedin, but when they sent my resume to hiring manager. I didn't receive a lot of reply back. I wonder if you can share about your experience how did you get an interview from BIG 4? what's your way of apply those positions? I don't see entry-level position posted on their website as they are usually campus recruited. I would really appreciate your sharing!!

    #2134696
    cpamang
    Participant

    I made the switch, and truly enjoy the public work much more than private. In public you face new challenges daily, keeping your job interesting. Be prepared to start at the bottom though, as most firms don’t care how many years of private exp you have. It doesn’t translate.

    #2142703
    DM
    Participant

    Evancpaa – what jobs are you applying for in what region? Audit? Tax? Risk?

    All Big4 firms should be hiring right now to fill seasonal winter hires for busy season Q1 2019. This is a temp position / internship for experienced people that want entry-level experience at Big4 for winter busy season. Look/inquire for these opportunities right now in the biggest city nearest you where big4 is located. HOWEVER, there is a cut-off date for seasonal winter hires because the entire class goes through a week of training together before starting on an engagement.

    #2143291
    Elle
    Participant

    Has anyone here ever worked as Internal Audit/Risk Assurance at a Big4 firm? Trying to gauge if it's going to be the same experience as External Audit.

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    #2146252
    iceman
    Participant

    “Overall, I do not regret my decision to pursue this experience and would recommend everyone with their CPA work at least one busy season and see what public accounting is all about.”

    That's never gonna happen for me. I'm already well into the 6 figures $ as a manufacturing Controller and just now getting my CPA.

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    #2213641
    Khan17
    Participant

    Hello Everyone;

    I just recently passed all section of CPA exam from state of California. My application has also been approved and i am waiting for my name to appear on website.
    I am working in Private industry for the last 5 years and i also holds MBA degree. I did CPA so that to find better opportunity. In my current job everything is great except my pay and growth opportunity. My first question is what is the average salary for an Individual with MBA,CPA and 5 Years of general accounting experience? My second question will they offer me higher pay in public accounting looking at my current experience and educational background, although i have never worked in Public accounting.
    Please share your experience

    Thank You

    #2213968
    ultrarunnerultrarunner
    Participant

    @Khan17, congratulations on passing the CPA exams. Like you, I was debating what I'd need to do after passing the exams. I decided to switch to public accounting, but unfortunately, public accounting won't take industry experience as experience. So you will have to start from the bottom if you want to explore your options in public accounting. As you know, the State of California is very competitive. It is unlikely that you move up unless you have both CPA and public accounting experience (or Big4). Anyway, since you have MBA, you may find other options as well. Business analytics or BI is very hot now. With your background, I am sure you will find a way to explore your options. All the best.

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    #2214517
    Khan17
    Participant

    @ultrarunner thank you for useful feedback, I would definitely try other options. I am in mid 30's and have kids as well definitely starting from bottom is not an option for me.
    Will see if i can find a better position in private industry hope they respect my CPA. I study hard to pass CPA with full time job and kids now i am debating what need to do after passing the Exam.

    #2214865
    12tang
    Participant

    You have to do what you feel is necessary. But since you asked, I'm here to offer my opinion on the matter. I think the oversold idea that one must do public to be worth anything in the job market is an absolute joke. Colleges push it hard. Ask yourself why. Funding? Scholarships? Follow the money trail… If you like to follow the herd then maybe public is for you. Can you make it without the experience, you bet! It's all about how you sell yourself, how ambitious you are and how much work ethic you have. I show up and put in good honest work and I'm paid accordingly. I can negotiate and back it up. Meanwhile, there are lots of youngsters with HORRIBLE WORK ETHIC and they can't talk. I hear this all the time from employers everywhere. I also hear that it's like no one wants to work anymore, so they don't. They take tons of time off or they do everything in their power to work remotely, etc… So what am I saying? Don't be like that! Be better!

    I started out in industry and make very good money. Total compensation is around 150k. Does this mean I'm safe? No. I could lose my job and yes, because I don't have public experience it will be harder for me to navigate the job market. But you know what? I'll make it work; I always do, because that's who I am. I have never walked the heavily walked paths in life and I have always found a way to come out fine, if not better than most. Some people must do the same as what everyone else is doing, or what's preached to them by others. I say, make your own way in life. There are way too many variables involved to conclusively say, that one must or should do public in order to make it. Look at the successes of most famous people and you'll almost always find that they too, found their successes in unorthodox ways. At the end of the day, this is beautiful America. Success in this country is what you make of it, it's truly in your hands. There are plenty of entrepreneurs without college degrees to prove that narrative. At the end of the day, do what you feel is right.

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    #2214937
    Khan17
    Participant

    @12Tang thank you so much for awesome and inspirational words, i have met many CPA's without any public accounting experience who are working as a Controller in Private industry or in a more senior position with really good pay. I moved to USA 6 years ago and started everything from ground zero, as a new immigrant i believe i am happy for what i accomplished so far, in these years not only i did my MBA and CPA but also landed a full time permanent job in a medium size publicly traded manufacturing company, but something i am not happy is the growth opportunity.
    I haven't been promoted and the funny part is our company hiring new people in my department in senior position who has no idea of the work, whom i need to train and they later on review my work. All these made me to decide to move on, but i am happy to find this forum and thank you all for sharing your experiences.

    #2215174

    I've seen plenty of public companies hire people with corporate experience at the senior level. Public companies offer more than just auditing and tax services. They have consultant jobs that you could find yourself qualified for.

    With that being said, public accounting is overrated. The biggest benefit of public accounting is that it is much easier to get a promotion because the turnover is high. I worked in public for over two years before I switched to industry and I enjoy industry accounting much more.

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    #2220580
    Small4
    Participant

    Is there anybody who switched over to public accounting from industries?
    -I didn't do this BUT i do have 6> years experience in both (so 12 total) but i went public to private midway. My opinion is, if you want management type positions in private, often times a lengthy experience in public is very good in a resume. Unless you are on of those lucky folks where there's a clear path upwards in private, switching company to company usually gets u an edge if you have public experience.

    If so, do you regret or you feel like you made a right choice?
    -I look at it as “what do you want to get out of public experience? If you have a clear goal: “make manager/director in public” or “i'm leaving after year X so i can do XYZ” then you will never regret it. If you go to public with no expectations/set goals, it could be a rough time since there's definitely 60-70 hr weeks in there where it aint nice at all, especially with a spouse.

    And what career level would I fit in (associates vs. senior)?
    -I say associate if Big4 but senior if its a small/mid tier public accounting firm. I only say that because i believe even private managers usually come in as seniors in big4 since they usually have to prove themselves first. Unless you are a super seasoned manager.

    What's the average salary increase in public accounting (I got 2% increase last year in the current company).
    – This is where public accounting trumps private. I recall getting 8-12% each year where in private its 1%-4% if youre lucky. So the key though is if you do decide to move to public accounting again: 1) have clear expectations where you want to be after X amount of years. 2) if will benefit you immensely if you leave public accounting (after 8-12% raises) and have a larger base salary whenever you switch to private again so you can be ok with small raises moving forward.

    With that said, good luck with your journey!

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