You have made such great choices in school, going into Big 4, and passing your CPA Exam. Are you planning on becoming a Partner? If not, it probably makes sense to begin your job search sooner than later.
Get Your Experience and Get Out
A few years ago, Accounting Today published a great article stating that if you are seeking to transition out of public accounting into industry, the best time to do it is when you are a first or second year senior. This is generally achieved after spending three to five years in Big 4. “At this stage, a public accountant has maximized and leveraged his or her current position but is still pliable and moldable.” Employers seek Big 4 accountants at this stage in their career because they have established a solid foundation of general accounting and finance knowledge which they can then develop based upon nuances specific to the employer’s industry and company size.
As recruiters, we see this every day. Hiring managers in industry love seeing Big 4 experience on a candidate’s resume. Even more so, employers love when a resume lands on their desk for an accountant who left Big 4 and subsequently developed hands-on experience in an industry setting.
Why do hiring managers prefer a potential candidate have experience in both settings?
Accountants with experience in both public and industry accounting have demonstrated they successfully made the challenging transition from Big 4 public accounting to corporate accounting. As a result, their learning curve is much flatter than those of their peers who have yet to transition out of public accounting.
Why is it detrimental to wait until I’ve become a Senior Manager to transition into industry?
As a Big 4 public accountant approaches their six-year mark in public accounting, they’ve already learned the fundamentals skills valued by hiring managers in corporate accounting. Although they continue to gain knowledge specific to their area of expertise, many hiring managers feel as though the cost of acquiring this knowledge exceeds the benefit. . Many Senior Managers who finally decide to see what is out there come to realize they are no longer in the driver’s seat. For example, if a hiring manager is looking for a Director level role and wants ten years of experience, they will prefer someone with 5 years of Big 4 experience and 5 years of industry over a straight Big 4 Senior Manager with 10 years of experience almost every time.
If you’re not in the tiny population of the 2-3% of public accountants that eventually make partner, it is not a matter of IF you go into industry, but WHEN. Big 4 Partners and Senior Managers are excellent at discouraging senior exits from public. You might hear that in industry, you don’t get better raises or promotions or that you’ll get pidgeon-holed into a boring and repetitive job. It’s certainly true that scenario is possible, but in most cases it is not. Just look on LinkedIn and see for yourself the career progression of other Big 4 accountants. You’ll see that many have very rapid career progression and can be assured their compensation increases with each move, some earning significantly more than Big 4 partners when they reach the C-suite or VP levels. Our best advice is talk to Big 4 alums that have been in industry INSTEAD of talking to people who never have, then make your own determination. We’ve placed hundreds of public accountants into industry and always poll them on what they like about industry, what they miss about public, and if they would ever go back to public. Here are the most common answers:
What Big 4 alumni like about industry accounting:
- Predictable lifestyle – The vast majority work less hours, and when there is overtime, it’s not as much and they know exactly when they are going to work it. They can take vacations without worrying about some client problem blowing it up.
- Challenging work – They get to dive deeper into their company’s business, seeing first-hand how the business runs than merely scratching the surface from a consulting perspective.
- Making a difference – In industry, they have the opportunity to identify issues, then come up with a solution and actually implement it, rather than making suggestions as a consultant that may or may not be given any attention.
- Compensation – Base salary increases in industry accounting and offers a better bonus structure.
What Big 4 accountants miss about Big 4 accounting:
- Camaraderie – Big 4 alumni are used to working with colleagues around the same age, education level, and career progression orientation. Industry can be a mixed bag sometimes, where the talent level can be watered down and working with people that only care when the clock hits 5pm.
- Technical training – Unless you move into a public company SEC role or a technical accounting function, former Big 4 accountants are generally not as up to speed on new accounting pronouncements as they used to be.
- Flexibility – Generally speaking, Big 4 accountants miss the perceived work schedule flexibility. As one of our candidates put it, “I knew I was working 70 hours, but I got to choose when I worked them. Industry follows a more standard business day schedule.”
Would they ever go back to Big 4? The answer is usually an emphatic “NO WAY!”. There are aspects they miss, and they certainly appreciate the training and experience gained in Big 4, but Big 4 Alumni enjoy corporate accounting life. Whether they are trying to accelerate their career as quickly as possible or trying to slow it down and focus on family, industry accounting provides the flexibility and opportunity to do so. People that return to Big 4 after a turn in industry is a very rare exception.
Even if you are not actively looking for a job, consider meeting with a recruiter who is relationship focused, with a niche in your local area, and who has a proven track record of placing accountants from public into industry. Most public accountants we speak to are not actively looking. By working with a recruiting and letting them know what you are seeking from your next career move, you have someone actively search and qualifying opportunities for you in your local market.
You are experts at what you do. Work with an expert in recruiting to help make your move from public accounting to industry one that makes sense for your career.
If you are interested in working with the Talance Group to advance your accounting, finance, or information technology career, contact a member of our Talance Group team! To learn more, visit us online at http://talancegroup.com/.