Big CPA Firm or Local Firm: Which Career Move is Best For You?

After years of late nights, hitting the books to earn your degree while doling out an unfathomable amount of money to pay for that education, you are finally ready for your first career position in accounting. Now what?

Perhaps you’ve already passed a couple of parts of your CPA exam and are on your way to being licensed. Or maybe not. Instead, perhaps you prepared a few tax returns or participated in auditing a company while apprenticing at an area CPA firm. But now things are getting real. It’s time to find that first job.

Most every professional has been in your shoes. The doors are wide open, but filled with choices. Developing your own career path is a huge decision. There is no doubt an appeal to being part of a Big 4 firm: crazy big offices all over the globe, working with well-known brand clients and cutting-edge ideas, and of course, ultimately earning promotion to partnership and be among the power brokers in the CPA industry.

On the other hand, your university and all the online job sites show an abundance of interesting opportunities with smaller, local CPA firms. Admittedly, they are not nationally known names with TV ads and brag-worthy status, but these are respected companies with solid reputations. Perhaps you also like the spice of being involved more closely with clients that you experienced in your internship at the local firm.

It’s a conundrum.

Before you get your head tied in knots, take a moment to look introspectively about yourself and about the opportunities that lay ahead of you in your career. Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

First of all, congratulate yourself

You have earned your degree in accounting, so congratulations! You have chosen a career that ensures excellent lifetime income and employment prospects — better than almost any other professional career choice in our humble opinion. Best of all, you can avail yourself of a wide range of areas to specialize, as well as industries to learn. Your path can be immersed in whatever lights your creative passions, from fashion to technology, even government or not-for-profits for that matter.

CPAs have impact on every industry. In fact there are so many choices in front of you, we suggest doing some self-assessment before moving too far forward.

What kind of person are you?

Are you introspective or outgoing? Are you most happy crunching numbers and inventing new pivot tables or would you rather be interpreting the new tax legislation? Does the complexity of wealth management and preservation in the face of the tax code fascinate you? Maybe you would rather dive into creative ways to help a non-profit manage their limited financial resources to achieve important missions, like low income housing or feeding the poorest populations in the city.

Take some notes about yourself and be honest. What is it about the profession really ignites your passion?

Environment choices

While the pandemic requires many employees to be working remotely, eventually this too will change. When office work and visiting clients returns to the daily menu, think about what kind of environment you like best. Are you comfortable being a very small cog in a very large wheel when it comes to work? Large firms often have young professionals ticking and tying numbers on projects so isolated that they may never get to understand the entire audit process. In addition, young professionals rarely have access to conversations with the clients. CFOs and Finance Directors in very large firms are probably not going to be waiting for your call about research questions.

Do you like the feel of a smaller office where everyone knows your name? Do you like the idea of being part of a small team and being thrown into the mix of client work, with every day being a little bit unpredictable? These factors are fundamental to your daily career satisfaction.

Want to specialize?

It may be too early to decide if developing a specialty is right for you, but it is smart to expose yourself to firms that provide access to areas of specialization. Firms that encourage young professionals to specialize will provide you with the invaluable opportunity to understand how specialists differ from their counterparts in the firm. Considering that most specialties are commitments involving years to master, it may take a while before you can commit to becoming a specialist in business valuations, SALT or not-for-profit and government auditing. For this reason, it is worth looking for a firm that has a specialty that piques your interest.

It’s not just the work, and yet it is!

Culture plays a big role in the satisfaction you will have in the firm you chose as a career move. Taking a job mainly for money is almost never a good idea. The truth is, your career will bring you ample monetary rewards—especially if you become a skilled, passionate professional.

Most important for happiness is finding a firm that fits your lifestyle and your moral compass. What kinds of clients does the firm have? Do you like the idea of working with retailers, or would you rather become an expert to the software industry?

Perhaps your soul is most satisfied by doing good things for others, and working with a firm like ours that serves not-for-profits is your ticket to success. The point is, when you spend so much of your adult life working, you should be doing work that inspires and satisfies you every day.

Whatever you decide, best of luck in your young career. There has never been a better time to become a CPA professional. The paths are many and all are interesting—you merely need to take a moment to decide what kind of work makes you the happiest. The future truly is yours, so make the most of it.

If you have an interest in a not-for-profit consulting career but have questions, please feel free to contact us. We invite your questions and curiosity.


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