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An Accounting Career Perspective: Six Years after CPA License, Seven Years after Passing CPA Exam, and over Ten Years in Accounting
It’s been years since I visited this wonderful forum. I used to frequent this forum back in 2012 and 2013 while working as an auditor at a Big Four firm and trying to pass the exam. It took me roughly two years to pass all parts of the exam and then another six months to take the remaining credits at a community college to get to 150 credits. This forum was particularly helpful when I got a 74 score on my REG exam… twice. Not to throw in any excuses, however it should be counted that I worked full time as a senior audit associate at the time of passing my last exam and then taking all the extra credits.
I stayed in public accounting until I made senior manager and then I left my glorious Big Four career shortly after. It was a big decision for me. It’s a big decision for anyone who accepted an offer from a big firm and started their career there. I must admit though, the longer I stayed in public accounting, the harder it was to make the decision to leave the firm. Why? I genuinely liked the people I worked with and the job flexibility had gotten better with every year. I often was asked why I stayed with the firm. The question came mainly from associates and senior associates who worked on my engagements at that time. My answer was simple. I spent too many overtime hours as an associate and senior associate to let it all go to waste and to accept the same level position in the industry, albeit for a bigger salary.
As I read through this forum eight years later, I realized that career related questions remain the same. To leave or not to leave? If to leave, then when? Should I get my license first and then leave? Do I really need to study and try to get my CPA license? What opportunities are out there if I don’t have a lot of experience? How do you survive in public accounting? Are there jobs with work-life balance? Etc. The list is endless.
First and foremost, in my opinion, if earned your bachelor or master’s degree in accounting and began to study for any part of the CPA exam, you should continue until you pass all four exams and get licensed. Would you go to a medical school, graduate, and not get a medical license? I doubt it. You’ve earned your degree, now it’s time to get licensed. Which means, it’s time to study. This CPA exam is an exercise in endurance.
If you are an associate in public accounting, first year in, and you are trying to figure out whether or not you should leave your firm for a better work-life balance, my advice is to talk to someone within your firm or even outside of your firm and see if they can help you with making a decision. It’s important that the person you ask for advice is in public accounting and several years senior to you in terms of their career or they have spent several years in public accounting and now work in the industry. They will be able to provide you with a valuable perspective. The biggest reason why people leave public accounting in their first year or two is work-life balance. Well, this is based on my personal experience. If you can limit your busy season hours to three or four months a year, you have a good chance of making it to manager or senior manager without being burned out all the time. I used to say that work-life balance does not exist anywhere as long as we all work five days per week and 40+ hours. Is it worth it to stay in public accounting until you make a manager? I’d say yes, if you can handle the pressure and are ready to sacrifice a few years of your life on advancing your career. You won’t be able to gain the same level of professional experience and expertise in the industry. I left my public accounting job for a director role in financial reporting. I didn’t leave public accounting because of the work-life balance. My number one reason was the lack of additional growth. After a while, it seemed like I was doing the same thing over and over again without learning anything new anymore. This realization happened as I was finishing my second year as a manager. I yearned for something new in my career other than audit. Unable to land anything I was interested in internally, through internal transfer, I jumped ship. The second consideration was of course work-life balance. But like I said, it was never my primary focus. I would never not trade a public accounting career for a career in the industry if the work hours were comparable. Why? Simply because in the industry you won’t be able to move up as fast or learn as much in a very short periods of time. Plus, why trade something you are familiar with and where you’ve proven yourself already for something new if that new has the same work hours?
So why did I decide to come back here and post this? It’s simple. While I was in public accounting, I tried to help my people, yes, that’s right, they were and still are my people, with practical career advice, a resume review, or my opinion on a job opportunity that they applied for outside of public accounting. Even after I left the audit world, my former colleagues reached out to me for resume review and career advice. Back in 2012, I could never find any information on someone’s career experience ten or fifteen years after. A long-term career perspective would have been very helpful to me back in 2012 when I worked so hard to pass the exam and remain sane. I hope that my post about my personal experience in public accounting will help someone to make a decision that is right for them and their circumstances.
This April, I left my financial reporting world and started my own technical accounting firm. To be an independent business owner feels amazing. Although there are significant challenges that come with it, especially during this pandemic. As a side gig, I help my fellow public accountants with their resumes. If you are interested, check it out at https://www.fiverr.com/share/a7bXgp
Good luck to anyone who is working on passing their exams and congratulations to anyone who has passed any or all of them!
Founder and CEO @capitalaccountingadvisory
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