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It’s been several years, but I’m revisiting this site and remembering how much I appreciated the good information that was shared back when I was in grad school and studying. I’ve since became a licensed CPA as well as a CIA with the IIA and a CFE with the ACFE. I went the route of starting in Big4, made senior, took calls from recruiters, went into private industry, worked in both financial reporting and internal audit for Fortune 500 companies, and now act as a sole practitioner where I focus on small business and HNW individuals. Though at times difficult with long hours, a career as a CPA is pretty decent gig. A few of my experiences:
Big4 or bust is a myth; the CAO & Corporate Controller at my last employer (Fortune500 company) was a GT alum. Who and what you know is more important than if you were Big4.
Fearing the long hours at Big4 firms is overblown. I worked for my Big4 firm in two different major cities, and both were similar. In the audit LOS, busy season was pretty much the third week of January through Late March. Unless you have a problematic client, which is not common, you’ll work 8:30 – 9:30 M-TH, 8:30 – 5 F, 10 – 2 Saturday. Many of those hours will feel more like hanging out with friends in an audit room. Lots of team lunches and walks to get coffee. I had numerous clients during my tenure and those hours were the norm for only about 6-8 weeks during JAN-MAR. There will be outliers, but if an engagement is so screwed up that people are working 70+ hour weeks for extended periods of time, then the firm and engagement partner will step in and address. I’ve seen this happen.
Once you have your CPA license and two years experience at Big4, be ready for headhunter calls. If you plan to leave and go private, sweet spot is senior level (year 3 or 4).
If you want to stay audit but have better hours, Internal Audit is a decent option. You can obtain your CIA license and move your way up as high as the CAE, which has great hours, and reports to the board, not management. I learned more about the operating of a company in IA than Big4. Be ready for a lot of travel (~25%). My time in IA took me to Europe, South America, and Africa to perform reviews and other AUPs at various consolidated and non-consolidated affiliates. I enjoyed enjoyed the travel and learned a ton by reviewing several different operating companies and their respective processes, controls, etc.
Financial Reporting is another good option. SEC Reporting Manager is a gateway to controllership, CAO, and beyond. Very stressful when it comes time to file the Q/K. Very repetitious. Your life revolves around filing seasons and their respective financial calendars. In between the Qs and Ks, you’ll likely still have a role in the month-end close checklist as well as work on various other special projects such as planning the implementation for ASUs. Perhaps assisting with EBP audits, various PBC requests from external audit, etc. When I was in that role, I constructed the Q/Ks using the financial detail provided from various functions and opcos, performed the the consolidation, updated XBRL, reviewed the press release, and uploaded the Q/K & 8-K to EDGAR. You’ll likely do the same.
Absolutely do not put off the CPA exam. You will never have more time than you do now to study. Ideally, you can finish over the summer between your graduation and your start date, which is oftentimes September for Big4. They pay a nice completion bonus if you finish before or during your first year. I completed before my first day and received a bonus in my second paycheck.
The most important thing is to learn. The knowledge and experience you’ll gain will be invaluable. The FS tie-out is probably the simplest yet most educational thing you’ll do. You’re performing a comprehensive review of financial statements, which is priceless knowledge.
If you ever feel nervous or overwhelmed, or scared that you’re going to get a job and forget everything you learned in college, that’s how most people feel. You’re normal. You’ll be just fine.
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