Considering Leaving Public Accounting? 6 Questions To Ask Yourself

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In the middle of busy season, it can sometimes be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  As the fatigue sets in, many public accounting professionals begin to feel like the grass is greener on the other side—accounting in private industry.  “Between the long hours of busy season and extra client calls, public accountants feel like they need a break,” says Laura Gutierrez, a Senior Director within The Execu|Search Group’s Accounting/Finance division.

“We see a lot of professionals struggling with what is the right move for their career, and while everyone is different, there are a lot more considerations to make than just the long hours of busy season,” says Laura.  “When all of the factors are considered sometimes the best move is actually not private industry.”  If you’re contemplating moving out of public accounting, Laura suggests asking yourself these questions first:

Do you want to stay competitive in the job market?

For accounting professionals looking to keep their skills up-to-date, the momentum and diversity of public accounting create the best environment to stay sharp.  A career transition from public accounting to private industry may affect your marketability in the future.  For anyone hiring an accounting professional, the candidates who have a background in public accounting will have an edge up on their competition.  Because they’re exposed to a variety of different facets within the accounting industry, employers see strength in that diverse background.

Do you want to become more specialized?

While there are some professionals who move into private industry with the intention of becoming more specialized in one field, this may not be the right move for everyone.  For some accounting professionals, they are passionate about a specific industry like nonprofit or entertainment, and they really want to specialize in that area.  However, there are many job seekers who haven’t put enough thought into a private industry role before accepting, and they can inadvertently specialize in a field that they aren’t enthusiastic about in the long run.  And once you’re specialized, it can be difficult to rid yourself of that perception in the job market.

Are you looking to advance in your career quickly?

Especially for accounting professionals early in their career, it is important to think further down the road than just your next job.  “Each new job on your resume can set the pathway for the next one, and for accountants looking to move up the ladder quickly, a public accounting firm is the best environment to do so,” explains Laura.  “While a private organization typically has one accounting team, the mere structure of a public accounting firm allows for immense flexibility in regards to both promotion and transition opportunities.  When you are at a private organization, at some point you will most likely have to look outside of that company in order to move up.”

Are you open to a pay cut?

Although the extra work in public accounting can be tiring, you are sometimes earning more than certain organizations in private industry.  In addition to that, with the exception of financial services, many private organizations offer a smaller bonus—or no bonus at all—compared to what public accountants may see at their firms.

What kind of office culture do you want?

While company culture is often overlooked, it is a crucial element of your overall satisfaction at work, and public accounting firms are beginning to shift their own culture to retain more employees—a strategy that is working.  Not only are they providing a more casual environment with a relaxed dress code and ping-pong tables, but they’re really embracing the idea of flexible work.  Many public accounting firms offer more flexible hours, as well as the option to work from home—benefits that can really decrease stress and contribute to a positive work-life balance.

Will the slower pace be too slow?

During busy season, it is really easy to convince yourself that the slower pace of private industry is what you want.  However, Laura observes that many professionals don’t enjoy the leisurely tempo for very long.  “It feels great at first, but after a few months, accounting professionals are craving the more challenging work they left behind,” she says.  “They miss balancing various types of accounts with different problems to solve, and private industry suddenly feels very monotonous.”