When you first started in the accounting field, you were probably often asked if you planned on doing public or private accounting. I felt very limited by this question when I first encountered it, but only because I did not understand that there are endless possibilities within these two categories. Here, we will focus on how you can harness the opportunities that public accounting has to offer by choosing a firm that is a good fit for you. Following are five things you should evaluate if you are in the process of pursuing a career in public accounting:

Non-Salary Benefits

It can sometimes be easy to see the number that represents salary on your job offer and choose the highest one without much thought. This is a dangerous practice because it ignores the hidden monetary value of other benefits that may be a very substantial part of your offer.

Insurance is a good example of a benefit that is almost always offered but to varying degrees from firm to firm. For many people, especially families, insurance is a necessary and expensive item in their yearly budget. If insurance costs are a big concern for you, it may be a good idea to look around for a firm that pays 100% of your insurance, even if the starting salary may be slightly lower.

In the end, the most important thing is that you weigh each part of your potential benefits package carefully to determine what is important to you and how a firm can provide for your specific needs.

Community Involvement & Networking

At the start of any career, it is important to keep your options open and take as many chances as possible to get your name out to potential clients or future employers. Some firms have built-in chances for you to do this, while others make it a little more difficult. A quick Google search is a good start to determining if the firm you’re considering will be a good fit for your community involvement and networking goals.  Look for articles about the firm from external sources as well as on the firm’s own website:

  • Do you notice that the firm participates in a variety of events that involve different industries and organizations?
  • Do you notice that different employees participate in each event, or is it the same group every time?
  • Does the firm have any affiliations with charitable organizations within the community?

These are a few questions you can use to jumpstart your research about networking opportunities within a firm.

You may also want to ask during your interview how the firm views community involvement and networking, and how easy it is for employees on any level within the firm to get involved.

Areas of Specialization

Every firm you consider has a particular industry or industries that they do a lot of work in, and they may be considered to have expertise within these areas. If you have goals beyond public accounting, such as a certain private sector where you plan to look for work in the future (i.e. banking, transportation, healthcare), finding a firm that works closely with this industry is a good strategic decision.

You may also have goals of being a consultant within public accounting for a specific industry. Either way, knowing what a firm is good at can help you make these decisions.

You can determine a firm’s area(s) of specialization by looking on the firm’s website – usually, firms are proud of the areas that they know best and want to showcase their knowledge. You can also ask about specializations during your interview process. Even if a firm is not particularly specialized in your area of interest, don’t let that be the only factor that prevents you from choosing this firm. Actually, a firm without a specialty in the area you’re interested in maybe a great opportunity. You could eventually become the go-to person in the firm for knowledge and resources about your area of interest. Just be sure to express any specific interests you have to the firm you are communicating with so that both you and the firm can be aware of opportunities that may arise from your interests.

Flexibility

It is a well-known fact that public accounting is a demanding field. Being part of the service industry often means CPAs are at the mercy of client expectations and government-imposed deadlines. That being said, working in public accounting does not have to be a miserable experience. In order to give yourself the best chance to be happy with a career in this industry, you should make sure that the firm you choose allows you to have the schedule and expectations that best align with other obligations or desires in your life.

  • Many firms have audit departments that travel a lot. If you have always been passionate about getting exposure to company cultures in businesses across the US, then this might be a perfect fit for you.
  • If you want to spend your free time focusing on family or something else in your personal life, you might want to look for a firm where you won’t have travel in your schedule as often.

It can be difficult to determine what a firm means when they say they are flexible. You will hear this at almost every interview, but you should ask questions and get specific requirements to see what each firm’s personal definition of flexibility is. Total hour requirements, travel, busy season, and vacation days are some examples of things you can ask about that will provide insight into what will actually be expected of you.

Culture

This is the most important area to consider when picking a public accounting firm. It may also be the area that is most difficult to assess before becoming an employee of the firm. One way to get a good idea of the company’s culture is to take your research beyond what you are told in the interview.

  • You can ask about job shadowing opportunities or any other chances you might have of getting into the firm during a regular workday before accepting an offer.
  • You can also ask around in the community about how other area businesses feel about the firm. Chances are, if the culture of a firm is negative, it will be obvious to other people besides just the employees.
  • Above all, ask lots of questions. If you are unsure or uncomfortable about something, ask for clarification. A firm that is willing to answer your questions and provide you with the resources you need is a firm worth working for. If questions are not welcome or answered without much detail, this can also be an indication of the culture you will find at the firm.

Watch for subtle signs about the firm’s underlying culture and trust your instincts. Just because a firm is profitable or prestigious does not mean you will be happy working there.

This list is a great place to start when considering your next career move and choosing a public accounting firm, it is a great place to start. Remember, don’t jump at an offer based on salary alone. Also, be wary of accepting an early offer before you have done all the research you need to make a confident decision. Passing on an offer may sound scary, but you likely won’t stay at a place that isn’t a good fit, and you certainly won’t be happy while you are there. Always be sure to do as much research as you need and don’t be afraid to ask questions.


Bailey Gilbertson is an Analyst at Abacus CPAs, LLC.  Bailey is excellent in situations that require strategic organization of information. She sets priorities and puts them into appropriate sequences. Bailey’s talent with both strategies and tactics makes her essential to any massive effort.

Learn more about Bailey >