CPA jobs come in all different shapes and sizes. To ensure that you choose the career path that is right for you, it is important to begin searching for the general CPA job opportunities that exist long before obtaining your CPA license.
1. Public Accounting: Undoubtedly, most college professors swear by the notion that serving a 2-3 year stint working in the field of public accounting is the only way to secure a high-paying CPA job in the future. Although working in public accounting offers many advantages, many entry level accountants fail to properly weigh the costs and benefits of slaving away at one of the Big 4 firms, which includes Ernst &Young (E&Y), KPMG, Pricewaterhousecoopers (PwC), and Deloitte.
Work Experience – Unparalleled work experience in the field of audit and tax. Although many employees new to public accounting will be forced to perform repetitive tasks, there is no denying the fact that an entry level accounting position at one of the Big 4 firms will offer tremendous exposure to the industry as a whole.
Resume Booster – Love it or hate it, having 1-3 years of work experience at one of the Big 4 firms carries a lot of weight when looking for a new CPA job, especially as compared to other candidates from lesser known public accounting firms. While adding this experience to your resume does not guarantee you the job of your dreams, it does nothing but help your chances. Tack on a CPA license and you may find yourself with more job offers than you know what to do with.
Busy Season – Perhaps the two deadliest words for an entry level accountant are “busy season.” To be frank, the word “busy” actually seems understated when you consider the fact that you may find yourself working anywhere from 60 -90 hours per week January through April or May. Do the math and you may not like what you’re actually being paid per hour.
Repetitive Work – Although the general exposure to the accounting industry as a whole is important, most entry level accountants are forced to perform the same menial tasks over and over again. This is why many candidates feel that they “didn’t learn anything” while working at a Big 4 firm.
2. Industry Accounting: Although these types of CPA jobs are rarely praised in our accounting programs in our universities, the truth is that large corporations such as Exxon, Google, and IBM need accounts just as much as the next firm, and chances are, they offer many benefits that the Big 4 simply can not. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little biased (I’ve had experience in both public and industry), but I happen to think of many industry positions as the “hidden gems” of the accounting profession. And, because many college graduates are already sold on obtaining a position at a Big 4 firm, many of these hidden gems are literally yours for the taking.
Work/Life Balance – Contrary to popular belief, many entry level industry accounting jobs offer higher starting salaries than the Big 4 firm. And if that is not enough of a reason to investigate further, working 40 -45 hours a week (at most) will allow you to maintain a social life, keep your health in check, and possibly even obtain a CPA license early in your career.
Niche Focus – While an entry level accountant at a Big 4 firm might have exposure to a considerable amount of different industries, entry level accountants in industry positions become experts of their niche. Having a niche focus is imperative for people who would like to achieve the status as a “specialists,” and paid accordingly I might add.
Patience – Some people complain that promotions are hard to come by in the world of industry accounting. While I’m sure this is true of some companies, my experience in oil & gas has been just the opposite. Raises and promotions happen virtually every year, and furthermore, it seems reasonable to wait a little longer for a management position given the fact that you are only asked to work approximately 40 hours a week and you are arguable overpaid for your position as it is.
Repetitive Work – It seems that this is required of all entry level accountants regardless of chosen career path. In industry accounting positions, there will be days when you are bored to tears and think to yourself “am I really adding any value to this company at all?” Don’t worry; this feeling is completely normal in both industry accounting and Big 4 entry level accounting positions.
Regardless of the CPA job that you choose as an entry level accountant, make sure that you properly evaluate all of your options before diving head-first.