As a former career counsellor, I helped candidates get jobs in Public Accounting. However, I never knew what the work truly entailed until I started working as a recruiter in a public accounting firm. Let me tell you, there are many misconceptions about the job!
I can’t believe how many times I heard that “I want to go into audit because I want to travel” or “I want to do tax because I took a tax course and fell in love with it.”
I’m not saying those statements aren’t true, but when you’re looking for a career you have to look at the job and what it entails. Traveling is not your job- it’s only part of it 401k audits and inventory counts are your jobs.
Ready to dive into it? Here is what you need to know about a career in public accounting:
Know the Difference Between Private and Public Accounting
When you think of accounting, what do you think of? People sitting at their desks, crunching numbers for the same company every month?
In some cases, that might be true for private accounting where the job is primarily bookkeeping, accounts payable, and accounts receivable.
However, public accounting is working with multiple clients with other companies to provide them with various accounting services. This could include tax, audit, and consulting (explained below).
Defining the Main Service Lines
Public accounting offers many services to the clients including tax, audit or consulting work.
Here is a simple breakdown of what each job entails:
The primary goal of an auditor’s job is compliance. They check and conclude whether a company’s financial statements are presented wholly, with the financial reporting framework and supporting materials/documentation.
This also includes evaluating internal controls, performing analytical procedures on accounts, testing, documentation of transactions, and inventory counts.
A tax accountant fills out individual or corporation tax returns. Moving up in the role, tax accountants often serve as consultants to help clients’ business plans, trust, and individual financial plans to minimize tax liability at the international, federal, state and local levels.
This job often requires following the rules and regulations with supplemental research of changing tax codes.
Consulting in public accounting is everything except audit and tax. This role varies from mergers and acquisitions, risk assurance, software systems, etc. See what each firm offers because they all provide different services.
It’s Not Your Typical 9-5
I’m not going to lie; you’re not going to be working only 40 hours a week. Each service line has a “busy season” where deadlines are frequent and demanding.
Each accountant takes an individual part of the job, where it adds up to a more significant project. If one section is not complete, you might be waiting for your colleague.
While there are times where you’ll be working 12 hour days, there may be some times where you leave at 4 pm during non-busy season. While it’s a lot of hard work, it’s also rewarding to know you helped your clients.
CPA Is Important!
Getting your CPA is essential and I suggest getting it out of the way ASAP! Some firms may not promote you until you have your CPA.
Having your makes you more marketable to the employer and increases your salary over time. However, if you’re studying and working at the same time, make sure you buckle down, make a plan and give yourself a hard deadline.
Public accounting is all about building relationships! Whether it’s with your clients, colleagues, superiors or even people outside the firm, strong relationships go a long way. This could mean leading to a potential employee referral, client referral or also having an advocate for a promotion.
Since public accounting requires working in teams, you can’t manage without one another. I suggest going to as many lunches, happy hours, meetings, etc. when you can start establishing those relationships early!
The Learning Curve Is Huge
I’ve heard over and over that “I’ve done this in my accounting internship.” No, you haven’t. You don’t know much unless you’ve worked for a public accounting firm.
Come in with an open mind, be coachable, bring a notebook and make sure to ask questions. You’re not going to pick up everything at once, and that’s completely okay. You learn a lot of public accounting work on the job, so be patient with yourself.
You won’t fully grasp everything until 1.5-2 years, and that’s when you’ll have to teach it to someone else! After that, you’ll be moving up to do different work.
Public Accounting Is a Gateway to Other Careers
Public accounting not only gives you exposure to accounting but about business as well. You’ll get an opportunity to work in different industries on different tasks and have a bucket of knowledge to dig into. While the path is to become a partner, you can also take your skills to become a controller, CFO, or even start your own practice.
Accounting is the foundation for every business, so once you gain those skills, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
It’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. I know a lot of people have heard about public accounting and that they should go into it, but most don’t know what it entails.
From services lines to hours, to CPAs, it’s a lot to learn, but if you’re looking for a career that is fun, challenging, and always changing, then public accounting is right for you. Just make sure you know what it entails and how you can prepare for it! It’s all about the willingness to learn and the drive to succeed!