Public Accounting Jobs vs. Corporate: Pros and Cons

Young woman being interviewed for an accounting position.

When obtaining your accounting degree or other related finance degree, you have options. One of those options is to work for a public accounting firm. You may also explore accounting careers within a business setting.

As you consider your options for internships and accounting jobs, you should think about the best training opportunities that will advance your career as well as the business connections you can make.

Here are some pros and cons about starting in a public accounting setting vs. a corporate accounting setting.

Pros: Public Accounting Jobs

If you choose the public accounting industry prior to entering a corporate setting, you can enjoy these advantages:

  • Continuing professional development
  • Clear advancement tracks
  • Diverse work assignments
  • Networking in a variety of industries to discern your corporate path
  • Socializing with peers at the same career level
  • Flexible work scheduling
  • Outsourcing opportunities for a specific industry

Let’s say that you enter public accounting and discover that you love working with manufacturing industry clients. You could choose to remain in public accounting and enjoy its career advancement while serving as an outsourced controller or CFO through your firm, contracting with several manufacturers. This career track keeps your work interesting, which leads to career satisfaction and longevity.

Cons: Public Accounting Jobs

Compared to a corporate finance setting, public accounting jobs can have the following disadvantages:

  • Limited autonomy until reaching management or partner levels
  • Less depth in operational responsibilities for clients
  • More hours required in certain public accounting roles for tax or auditing

If you are interested in running your own niche or business, public accounting offers those opportunities once you move into manager and partner roles, but those positions are earned over time. Starting in public accounting gives you a solid foundation for moving into a corporate setting later, in which finance professionals are more involved in daily operations.

With more years of experience, public accounting can also put you in a position to be a highly knowledgeable business advisor for a variety of clients. Your choices depend on your career advancement timeline, interests and goals.

Corporate Accounting Jobs: Pros

Whether you are a recent graduate or an experienced finance professional, a corporate setting can be multi-faceted. You may start out as a bookkeeper and later move into more advanced accounting roles and responsibilities such as payroll processing or budgeting. Pros for corporate accounting jobs may include:

  • Focus on one company or entity
  • Involvement in processes, controls and software choices
  • Deeper insights on corporate culture and operations
  • Collaboration with an outside CPA or business advisor

Corporate finance roles can include overseeing the accounting department as a finance director, controller or chief financial officer. The primary advantage of this accounting career path is that you can support the financial health and growth of just one firm over time. You can go deeply into their budgeting, accounting, revenue projections and their ownership and succession path.

Corporate Accounting Jobs: Cons

If you enter a corporate setting rather than pursuing public accounting, you will experience a limited view of taxation, compliance and business advisory opportunities. Working at just one company or organization, you may experience these cons:

  • Finance issues specific to one organization
  • Limited peer networking opportunities
  • Limited advancement potential

In a corporate setting, you have a limited view of all aspects of accounting, but you may also have limited team members compared to a mid-sized public accounting firm. By the same token, your accounting career advancement may be limited in the finance department of a company compared to opportunities in a public accounting firm.

While it is assumed that public accountants work longer hours compared to corporate accountants, it depends on the company. Many public accounting firms offer flexible scheduling and part-time roles like many corporate settings.

Public accountants can transition to a corporate setting after gaining a foundational understanding of the industry. Conversely, corporate accountants can transition to a public accounting setting. There is no single right answer for your accounting career. Keep your options open and explore public accounting jobs as well as corporate finance. You can enjoy the best of both worlds.

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