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December 9, 2014

Choosing Your Accounting Career

This time of year, many public accounting firms are focusing on hiring full-time employees, part-time employees, and interns for the upcoming “busy season.” The question many interns or straight-out-of-college candidates have to address is: How do I choose where I want my career to begin?

First, you must start by deciding if you want to work in the Public Accounting arena or the Private industry. What’s the difference? The primary difference is that in private accounting, you’re working with one specific company/industry (the company who hires you). In public accounting, you’re working on multiple jobs, many times in multiple industries, and depending on the firm, you may also be working in multiple niches (taxes, bookkeeping, and auditing) for different clients within these different industries.

Anders  is a public accounting firm, so this blog focuses on choosing between different public accounting firms. Let’s say, you’ve created the perfect resume, you’ve interviewed with several firms, and you’ve received multiple offers for a job or internship. How do you decide which to choose? Following are a couple tips to consider before accepting an offer:

  1. Location – Not only should you consider the city where the firm is located, but also consider the distance to your house.  In addition, if you have family outside of that city/state, and there’s a chance you might move in the future, consider whether the firm has other locations.  You may also consider the location in relation to restaurants for lunch or stores where you frequently run errands.
  2. Training – Being new in the workforce is a different world, so it’s important for firms to have a good training program in place to acclimate you to your new role.  Learn-as-you-go training is inevitable in the accounting field as jobs are typically a case-by-case basis.  You should, however, have some sort of training on the software used and have a good idea of your responsibilities in your position after you’ve been hired.  Ask if there is a mentoring program available for new hires to ask questions about any confusion about responsibilities, the client work, the firm procedures, etc.
  3. New Business Expectations – Does the firm require you to bring in a certain number of new clients per year, quarter, month, etc?  If so, are there resources available to help you do so?  Although not all firms require you to bring in a certain number of clients, most firms do prefer that you’re involved somehow in the community, through networking events, serving on a board, etc.  Ask what the firm does to help you get involved, and ask what the firm does as a whole to be involved in the community.
  4. CPA License – Is a CPA license required to move up in the firm?  It’s becoming more common for firms to offer some sort of reimbursement of fees for taking the exam or a bonus after the exam is passed.  This should appear in the benefits package or on the company website.
  5. Continuing Professional Education (CPE) – This is required once a CPA license is earned.  Are you a self-study learner, or would you rather learn in a classroom setting?  Determine what programs the firm utilizes to help employees maintain the CPE requirements.
  6. Technology – Public accounting is leaning more towards being a completely paperless operation.  Because of that, technology is crucial, not only to the firm, but to your advancement as well.  What software program is used for audit and tax clients?  How is the information secured?  If you’re planning to go into audit, what are the capabilities for working in the field?  Is there a working-at-home option?  How large is the IT staff to help fix issues or update programs?
  7. Finding a niche – Most CPA firms will eventually require you to choose a niche of either tax or audit.  From there, they might also encourage you to choose an industry niche.  If you already know whether you want to go tax or audit, ask about the industry focus of the firm.  If you are unsure whether you want to go to tax or audit, ask if there’s a stepping stone for you to try one or the other.  Typically an internship will help you decide the direction to go, but some firms will offer a generic position where full-time employees start before choosing the niche.
  8. Advancement – What are the typical steps to advance in your career?  Ask what the levels are (typically, staff, senior, supervisor, manager, partner, or some variation).  Also ask how many employees are in each level.  Look at the website – are there several older partners who might be retiring soon?  There might be room for expansion in that sort of firm.
  9. Busy season hours – Public accounting firms are extremely busy from approximately January – April each year due to most entities running on a calendar year-end of December 31.  This timeframe is called “busy season” for auditors or “tax season” for tax accountants.  During this time period, firms typically have a minimum hour requirement that is over the 40-hours required for full-time employees.  This requirement can range from 50 to 60 hours a week up to 90 or 100 hours per week, depending on the firm.  Be sure to have a good idea of what will be required of you during this time period.
  10. Compensation – By coming straight out of college, there’s not much opportunity to negotiate your salary as you really haven’t proven yourself in the workplace; however, do your research.  Know what the market looks like in that area.  The size of the firm and the location of the firm play a big factor in the starting salary of the market.  Your salary should reflect the market as well as the number of hours required during busy/tax season.  In addition, many firms offer a bonus during the year or at year-end, so take that into consideration as well.
  11. Benefits – From retirement plans to insurance, it’s important to know what the firm offers.  Does the employer have a match to the retirement plan?  What are the premiums and the deductible for the health insurance?  Is vision, dental, disability, or life insurance offered?  What about parking – does the firm pay for parking?  What is the vacation/paid-time-off policy?  How many holidays are offered each year?  Consider all benefits offered as this should reflect the base salary as well – if Firm A offers a lower base salary than Firm B, but Firm A offers more benefits than Firm B with the same hour-requirement during busy season, Firm A might be a better option despite the lower base salary.
  12. Culture – What’s the culture of the firm?  When you interviewed, did it seem to be an open-door policy?  Was everyone friendly?  Look at the website to determine what outside events in which the firm participates.  Do you like going to Cardinals games, Blues games, or a Fox show?  Maybe the firm has tickets available for employee use.  Culture can be very subjective decision, but you should have a “feel-good” feeling about the firm you choose.  If you don’t, the culture might not be right for you.

Overall, only you can decide where you fit in the best and what option is best for you. It’s good to have an idea of what you’re looking for ahead of time as you don’t want to feel overwhelmed or underchallenged before you even finish your first month at work.

To learn more about working at Anders, visit our career page.

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