• Career Center

    Consider a Mid-Market Accounting Firm Before Taking a Job in Industry

    By | April 24, 2017

    “Two years here [a Big 4 firm] to get that on my resume, then on to private industry.”

    That, in a nutshell, is how lots of Big 4 associates talk about their career. For some of them, it’s a fine plan. In a way, it’s an extension of what many accounting students believe: get into a Big 4 firm and use that as a springboard to a career in private industry.

    But there are pros and cons to everything, and this is no exception. The illusion of a well-paid job with set hours is not often the reality. In truth, the initial salary bump is usually followed by small annual increases; every accounting department has a busy season (or seasons), and the position that looks so promising can turn into a routine job.

    Before you make the leap to industry, it’s worth thinking about extending your career in public at a mid-market accounting firm. Here are some considerations:

    • If you like serving clients and helping them make their businesses better, a mid-market firm may be a better choice for you. When you’re working at a company, you only have one client.
    • If you like learning and doing new things, consider whether an industry job will pigeon-hole you. Will you be satisfied if you’re only responsible for doing only a few tasks? Will you become bored doing the same thing over and over?
    • If you crave work/life balance, start a firm and make your own hours. You can automate the practice and work from anywhere. 
    • If you want to make a difference, a mid-market accounting firm may be the place for you. As an advisor to clients, you can impact how they perceive a wide variety of personal and business decisions.
    • Helping others can be exciting. And not only do you serve as an advisor to your clients, but you can also impact the culture of your firm as well.
    • As firms move away from hourly billing to value or project-based pricing, the culture of the profession is shifting. At a firm, you can help lead the change.
    • If your goal is to earn a high salary, consider how much you’ll be making after 5 or 10 years in an industry job. Sure, you may have a higher salary than your public accounting cohorts at first, but according to Payscale an accountant’s pay increases somewhat for the first 5 to 10 years, but additional experience doesn’t have a big effect on pay. If you become a partner or owner, you can earn 2-3 times what senior finance people are making in-house.
    • Speaking of becoming a partner or owner, how many CFOs are there at a company? It’s not a trick question: There is only one. At firms, there are many partners/owners, which gives you a greater opportunity to advance in your career.

    A mid-market accounting firm is a great option for people who are entrepreneurial, like learning and want to help others. But you are the only one who knows what the best decision is for you.

    Before You Leave Public Accounting, Consider This

    • Big4Veteran

      I always feel sorry for people who are left with this choice.

    • sludgemonkey

      Sometimes the middle market firms have an interest in what you learned at the Big 4. For example, sometimes partners want learn how to be a big jag like the PwC guys are They’ll want to know why the Deloitte folks are so bright, and how the KPMG folks are so good at cheating the time and expense system.

      • Commando

        Quite true. It is easy for someone with Big Four experience to get a job at a mid tier firm. There is a reason for that. It is also easy to get a job washing dishes at Taco Bell.

        • Adam Hill

          I got to know if your ENTIRE closet consists of firm themed shirts (polo and long sleeve). See anything being worn during the Masters that you didn’t have in the repertoire?

        • sludgemonkey

          The Chilito was the greatest invention in Taco Bell history. Mix three of them in a blender, put it in a bowl and get yourself a margarita and it’s high times.

    • Non_chargeable

      If your fresh out of college and want that “brand” on your resume, then it makes perfect sense to go with a big 4. If you value family and work/life balance, then a regional or local firm may be a better fit.

      • Big4Veteran

        So true. Big 4 is for shallow people who’s career decisions are overly focused on establishing a pedigree, moving up the ladder and making lots of money.

        • Non_chargeable

          Money can buy nice cars, houses, and most importantly, hookers. It does come at a cost; your health will surely decline, less family time, among many other things

          • Commando

            Life is actually no better at regional firms. And you will need hookers, since no one puts out for nerds at regional firms.

            • Biff Tannen

              Sorry guys, but there will always be burlier, beefier, more interesting alpha males in other fields who chicks will talk to before they’d dream of acknowledging some nerd who (they assume) gets pantsed and stuffed in lockers daily.

      • RFLBM

        The local/regional firms, at least the offices in my city, seem to provide LESS work/life balance than Big 4 firms. And stricter dress codes, for some god-awful reason. Why would I go work at a firm with mandatory Saturdays during busy season when the Big 4 I currently work for doesn’t make abitrary hours requirements during a season when not all teams are even busy?

        • Non_chargeable

          I’ve worked with a local firm where busy season hours were 50 per week at the maximum. I don’t know which city or region you work in, but where I’m from 80 hours a week during busy season is a norm with a big 4.

    • Sixty109

      This piece does nothing for anyone. GC needs to up their game, they owe everyone .2 hours back. Make sure you charge all your time, folks.

    • Midwest Tax

      What is all this about mid-tier regional firms being so great? My B4 experience has been better than my regional firm experience in every aspect.

      • Commando

        It actually counts, where the only thing you get from a mid tier firm is a salary.

        • Adam Hill

          Public accounting prestige exists ONLY among other public accountants, the ones still in the shit show.

    • BKGreed

      “A mid-market accounting firm is a great option for people who are entrepreneurial” — um, not quite. BKD was about as far from entrepreneurial as you could get. Any time I tried to make suggestion for positive changes, the partner group shit them down as too expensive!

    • Commando

      How does one get out of bed in the morning when they know their wallet contains a business card illustrating the humiliation of a mid market CPA firm?