Whether you are still in school or beginning your career, figuring out which type of firm you want to work for is imperative to your long term success and happiness.
Your career is a very personal path and one that requires much thought and consideration.
Most people think all CPAs and their jobs are the same: crunching numbers all day. However, there are some major differences between the public and private accounting sectors.
So if you want to learn more about large accounting firms and how they differ from smaller private firms, keep reading to learn more!
Large Public Accounting Firms
1. Exposure is one of the greatest things about going into the public sector.
Even as an intern at a public accounting firm, you’ll be introduced to and possibly have the chance to work with CFOs and CEOs of large corporations. This is especially beneficial if you work for one of the Big 4 accounting firms like Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, or KPMG.
2. Most firms will pay for your travel and/or relocation expenses.
If you’re given the chance to work abroad, the largest firms will happily pay for your expenses. Once again, this is especially prevalent when working with PriceWaterhouseCoopers or other big names in the industry.
3. Working in the public sector can greatly bolster your resume.
If your resume is posted anywhere online while you’re working at one of the largest accounting firms, you may yourself receiving a large number of emails and phone calls every week from recruiters. You’ll always be in demand!
4. You’re free to work the way you want.
Most public accounting firms extend a great amount of autonomy to their employees; providing them with company credit cards and confidential information. Lastly, they usually trust their Certified Public Accountants and other professionals to get their work done, without micromanagement.
5. There’s always upward mobility.
At most firms, you’ll undergo a yearly review where you’re rated on a scale from 1 to 5. If you rank at the high end (5) of the spectrum you can expect a 10-15% raise and bonus. Regardless of where you rank, you will find that you receive structured feedback on how you can improve your current performance.
1. Long hours are the biggest drawback of working in the public sector.
You may find yourself working more than 50 hours every week. However, there will be times when you barely have any work.
2. It’s not always flexible.
Depending on where you work and who your clients are, you might find that flexibility is lacking. Most public accounting firms force you to choose an industry to work with and what branch within that industry (advisory, tax, or audit).
3. Excellence is expected.
While structured feedback and compensation are listed in the “Pros” section, it can also have its downside. If you rank lower than 2 on the scale, you are normally fired immediately with no chance to improve your skills. In addition, if you rank somewhere in the 2 to 4 range, the feedback you receive may not be the most positive.
Private Accounting Firms
1. Specialization is one of the greatest pros of working in the private sector.
Choosing whether to work in the IT, medical, or forensic accounting fields will allow you to hone your craft. Your professional services will definitely be valued by at least one private firm.
2. Live your life outside of your job.
People everywhere are looking for greater work/life balance. Fortunately, the best companies in the private sector allow for much greater flexibility in this area.
3. No big surprises.
If you don’t like change, the private sector provides consistency in your tax services work. Hence, this will allow you to truly become familiar with your client, your position, and your required financial services.
4. They’ll try harder to keep you.
Recently, the United States private sector has bolstered their salary and incentives to closely match those of the public sector. Most now offer sign-on bonuses, stock options, annual bonuses, and a pension.
5. Team players are welcome.
If you’re looking to support your company, a position in advisory services for the private sector will definitely fulfill this dream.
1. Lower starting pay is the biggest downside to working in the private sector.
Although there are a number of benefits, short-term salary is not one of them. Expect to put in some serious hours at a small-scale CPA firm before you start seeing the big bucks.
2. Lack of travel opportunities.
Unless your small accounting firm is located in New York, don’t expect to visit the Big Apple any time soon. The same goes for any locations outside of the country.
3. Work/Life balance isn’t always possible.
While it may be rare, long hours are still very much a possibility. Consequently, you may find yourself working the same 50+ hours a week that you would in the public sector.