A few career tips

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  • #3255714

    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.

    CPA, CIA, CFE, MBA, Big4 Alum, Private Industry (Financial Reporting & Internal Audit), Now Sole Practitioner.


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  • #3257841

    Thank you for taking time to share your career tips. I really appreciate it.

    Any idea on what data analytics would best complement the CPA certification? Or from where to start? I want to work in a big bank after passing the CPA exams. Portfolio management or risk management, if possible.
    Thank you again.


    Thanks for coming back to share all of this experience.
    Interesting read.

    How do you like being a sole prop vs working in Big4 or corporate world?

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

    FAR-93 11/9/17 (10wks, 250 hrs, Roger 1800+ MCQs, Gleim TB 600+MCQs, SIMs)
    AUD-88 12/7/17 (3 wks, 85 hrs, Roger 1000 MCQs no SIMs hail mary)
    REG-96 1/18/18 (6 wks, 110 hrs, 1400 MCQs, no SIMs)
    BEC-91 2/16/18 (4wks, 90 hrs, 1240 MCQs)


    Thank you for these tips. How is the hours in SEC reporting? Do you have to work at month-end close/qtr-end and year-end?


    @CoHa: Data Analytics is an important part of being a CPA. You'll oftentimes run an analytic on comparative financial information to search for trends, suspicious activity, etc. During the planning phase of an audit, if you go Audit LOS, you'll perform analytical procedures to help gain a “bird's eye” view of the financial situation, determine where risks of material misstatement may be found, materiality, etc. Most firms utilize various data analytics software, such as ACL (Audit Command Language), to manage large, complex data sets, and help isolate suspicious transactions during journal entry testing (i.e. manual entries stemming from management override). Data analytics is a pretty hot buzzword right now and I know firsthand that senior leadership gets extra excited about it. Much of the fancy software is only useful for incredibly large data dumps that are disorganized in its raw form, so I personally believed the software to be a waste of money unless I was consistently sifting through data so large that it justified the cost, which I didn't. However, the board at the the Fortune 500 company I last worked asked why the Internal Audit department wasn't using software like that and I told them we rarely encountered raw data so large and disorganized that it would substantiate such a cash outlay to purchase. They didn't care and required we purchase a subscription for the department at what I believed to be a waste of cash ultimately owned by the shareholders. So, if you're interest lies in that direction, you'll be aligning with where the profession is headed. If you plan to pursue this route via formal education, I'd recommend pursuing data analytics and learning about the various software available (i.e. ACL) in addition to the accounting major/MBA/MAcc.

    @Recked: I'm very happy being my own boss and running my own practice. However, there's also a substantial amount of risk when going out on your own, such as needing to build your own book of clients, deciding on a niche, billing, regulatory requirements with the state, peer reviews, forming an entity to limit liability, purchasing E&O insurance, etc. You also have to be prepared to go for extended periods of time without earning an income. In the beginning it's oftentimes about building your brand and networking. I found that word of mouth is what led to a lot of the business I've done. You have to absolutely make sure that you know your stuff. So, if you ever want to go out on your own, it's imperative that you soak up every piece of knowledge while in public and/or private industry. Don't just work to earn, work to learn. I found that working in public accounting and private industry was incredibly valuable to my knowledge. If you go audit in public, you'll be a GAAP and SOX expert. When you go private, you'll become a business/finance/accounting expert. Combining external audit and private industry experience is huge. If you go tax, that's probably an easier transition, but you'll still want to offer other non-tax services. Maybe even basic attest services such as very small audit, review, and AUP services. But you'll also be subject to system and engagement peer reviews.

    @kay2021: I addressed most of your question in the original post. In terms of hours, it depends on how far ahead/behind you are in the financial calendar. Typically the corporate controller will post a calendar and checklist showing what tasks need to be completed and by what day leading up to filing. The financial reporting manager works alongside accounting and is in charge of compiling the financial data provided from accounting and adding to a set of skeleton financial statements. Once the first draft is completed, it goes to the controller and select management for comments/review. After comments are implemented, the second draft goes out and is the one that typically receives the greatest amount of scrutiny. It typically goes back out to financial management (controller), external audit partner, internal audit, and various other relevant parties to the financial reporting process. Once second round comments/reviews are complete, the third draft typically goes to the board disclosure committee. Very little alteration typically happens at this level, so this draft essentially resembles what is uploaded to EDGAR and presented to the public. The timeframe to complete this is what can drive stress. Public companies are bound by regulatory requirements to publish financial information within a certain time frame depending on their market capitalization (i.e. large accelerated filers). The stress and hours in SEC reporting are still better than public accounting IMO. Though it depends on a number of variables, I'd expect 60 hour weeks during the last two to three weeks leading up producing a Q. Three to four weeks if producing a K.

    CPA, CIA, CFE, MBA, Big4 Alum, Private Industry (Financial Reporting & Internal Audit), Now Sole Practitioner.


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