Welcome to but-what-does-Emilio-think? edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today's edition we revisit the age-old debate of a senior associate wondering if they should stick with their firm until they get the bump to manager. It's been awhile since I've addressed this, so it's about time we went for another go-round.
Back to our SA:
Hey Going Concern,
I'm an S2 working for a 2nd tier accounting firm. I'm contemplating looking for a new job once this busy season is over, but am also considering working 1 more year and making manager before moving on. What do you think? Is it worth leaving now when I'm so close to manager or should I stick it out 1 more year? Will I have more/less or better/worse job opportunities after I make manager?
Dear Maybe Manager,
As I alluded, your plight is common amongst many in the world of public accounting. And as you can imagine, there are two divergent camps in this debate: those who think you should stay and those who think you should jump ship. I'll do my best to tackle both arguments, running down the pros of each first.
PROSStay until promoted - Staying until manager means you get a title, a nice bump in salary (historically) and if you're lucky, a little bonus. You've either mastered the art of navigating the political waters of your firm or you're such a superstar at your job that TPTB had no choice but to recognize your talents with a promotion. Now that you've reached this crucial level in your firm, clients, recruiters and others view you slightly differently. You've got experience (obviously), management skills (presumably), are smarter than the average accountant (sometimes a BIG assumption). This will - right or wrong - give you the opportunity to get into similar more senior positions when you are ready to leave public.
Leaving prior to promotion - Jumping ship now allows you to move into a company where you'll get the opportunity to learn what it's like to be on the client side of the equation. Whether you'll actually interact with your public counterparts will be determined by what kind of job you take (that may be a good thing). Regardless, you'll learn a lot in your new job that you won't in a public firm. This is ideal if you see yourself working in-house somewhere as opposed to making a career in public.
Stay until promoted - Simply put: managers have it bad in public accounting. They get shit from partners; they get shit from seniors; they get shit from staff; they get shit from clients. Managers are swimming in shit. As a senior, you definitely have to deal with a lot of the same people but the pressure from partners and clients, as a manger is different. You're expected to be able to deal with all of it well. Mediocrity isn't really an option. The only way to get around your mediocrity is to get really, really, really good at throwing people under the bus. If you've found yourself in that situation, you can probably count the people who think you're a "good manager" on one hand and none of them work with you. Also as a manager, you're so caught up managing, there's very little time leftover for professional development. Granted, you'll have the opportunity to learn more things but will you want to? You're already overweight or severely sleep-deprived. Are you really the type to spend your precious spare time boning up on the latest developments in accounting rules or tax law? Probably not but the catch is, you're expected to. Lastly, once you move outside the firm, your perspectives on audit/tax/consulting will largely be formulated and lots of employers are looking for people that still a tad impressionable. Prospective employers aren't crazy about 30-something know-it-alls that just want a CFO/controller title and a salary.
Leaving prior to promotion - The biggest risk here is that you'll end up making a move that feels lateral. You may get a nice bump in salary but you'll probably feel like you're still in the same spot on the pecking order. Most SAs - regardless of practice - have self-inflated their own professional value and finding out that your experience is pretty unexceptional can be a shock. Sure, there are some opportunities for vertical move when you leave public but the odds are against you.
So there you have it. And to answer your question directly - I'm a believer that you'll have more and better career opportunities if you leave your firm prior to being promoted to manager. Your experience will be more diverse, you're hopefully still open to seeing how other companies do things and your brain won't be watered down with "managing" so much. That will come later.
I'm sure I missed some things, so jump in people. I still haven't watch the GMA interview.