• Career Center

    Accountants Suffer from Choice Overload

    By | October 19, 2017

    Job security isn’t something most accountants worry about. Everyone needs an accountant. Even with technology doing more of the grunt work, someone needs to be able to turn that garbled mess of numbers into decision-useful information. Yay, go us. We don’t need to worry about paying rent.

    But, having more choices does not equal greater happiness. In fact, I argue that too many choices make you less happy and more overwhelmed. I remember when I started looking for jobs after I left public accounting, recruiters bombarded me. I was dumbstruck that so many people were looking for CPAs. I know, it doesn’t seem like it’d be a bad predicament to have, until you live it, and have to go to all the interviews and try to decide what to do with your life.

    Even within public accounting, the options are daunting. Once you start to question if public is right for you — usually midway through your first busy season — the floodgates of indecisiveness open. Do you stick with audit, tax, or advisory? What about random subcategories like risk consulting or mergers and acquisitions? If you transfer departments, will your life get better? Will you enjoy going to work more?

    There’s some evidence to support that choice overload is a legit problem. In one study, shoppers were judged on whether they purchased jam more often when there were 6 or 24 jam options. Here’s what happened:

    At times, the display showed 24 varieties. At others, it included only six. Iyengar found that, yes, 60 percent of customers found themselves pulled to the large display while only 40 percent stopped at the small one. But with 24 possible options, consumers questioned themselves and only 3% made a jam purchase. At the small display, nearly a third of consumers who stopped by bought a jar of jam.

    Psychology Today cast some doubt on the concept of choice overload, pointing out the flaws in the research. Regardless, I think we’re onto something here. My “first job after college” hunt got a lot easier when I decided to go all-in with public accounting recruiting and eliminated industry roles right out of the gate. I even remember getting the advice to narrow the list of firms down to three or four, and then apply to only those firms. That way, when offers come around, it’s less intimidating to make a choice. (Of course, that assumes you get more than one offer, so take that advice with a grain of salt.)

    Bottom line, all this choice leads to a bunch of restless accountants, ready to job-hop for a raise and better work-life balance (the unicorn that it is). So is the grass greener on the other side? And which pasture do you choose if there are 10? Or 20? Or 30? Who knows! But happy hunting. And may the odds be ever in your favor.

    Image: Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

    • Pro Accountant

      This is great article I really appreciate the contribution to our field.

    • Big4Veteran

      Boo fucking hoo! Accountants have too many career options. Man, it sucks to be us.

    • Ronnie Pissface

      Many jobs are dead ends, designed to churn and burn people. I’ve had a few roles in the past five years – honestly, too many, and yes, it’s my own fault for hopping. In this time span, I’ve learned a thing or two, no doubt.

      First off, going into any type of low-level staff accounting or internal auditing job at a large F500 corporation is a bad idea if you actually want to make more than $75k one day. These places promise the world yet offer diminishing benefits, poor pay and no advancement.

      Public is the launch pad for success. Yet it sucks. No one in their right mind will stay in it for more than a couple years. Being Manager or Partner? Overrated. By then you’ve worked so many hours for such a small salary that your outsized earnings and shorter hours will still yield you a net loss of time disproportionate to any “rewards” that you’ll receive in your frumpy ass middle-aged life.

      I’ve enjoyed private equity the most. The money is good, the stress level is lower, and the ability to have a life and to make a living is nice. Still, it’s also a lower tech industry, so who knows how long the gravy train will last?

      Some of this depends on your place in life. If I were 22, single and didn’t have anyone relying on me, I’d sign up for a do-nothing IA gig and take my paltry $65-$70k, along with a mighty helping of travel and free time. Still, I see people hopping every two years from jobs like that, usually for a nominal “title” (i.e., Auditor to Senior Auditor, Senior Accountant to Lead Accountant, whatever).

      • LIFO the Party

        What would you do after 2-3 years of doing the IA gig? If you could do it over again..
        So many routes to take.. never know which side of the grass is really greener though..

        • Ronnie Pissface

          I’d spring for higher pay after two years. The IA circuit would be great once you hit six figures, provided you aren’t breaking a sweat. In my case there were other considerations at play.

    • JavierPR

      Can some one forward this to Bill Burr? I’d like to hear his take on our “problem” on his podcast.