June 18, 2018

Talent Crisis Survey: Where Have All the Accountants Gone?

talent-search-accounting-cpas

We’ve looked everywhere.

In a March 6 article in The Wall Street Journal, we learn that there is some kind of accounting shortage, particularly for “companies adjusting to accounting-rule changes in the U.S.” In other words, public companies are struggling to poach or even barely seduce experienced hires from public accounting firms.

Per the article:

Increasingly, the companies are competing for talent with major accounting and audit firms that had once served as a reliable pipeline for corporate finance back offices.

Some of the firms have changed their work culture in a bid to keep workers happy and keep them longer. When Len Combs started working at accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in 1992, long hours at the office were the norm, and work-life balance wasn’t a priority.

“The idea was, if you don’t like it, go do something else,” said Mr. Combs, now U.S. chief auditor for the firm. Accordingly, many young associates quit and took jobs in corporate-finance departments at public companies.

Surely Mr. Combs knows that the Two and Done rule has been in place since the time he started at PwC 25 years ago. And surely he also knows that there are still plenty of public accountants putting in their time to get licensed and leave at the first viable opportunity.

That said, PwC is trying new tactics to keep their associates at the firm, deploying perks such as work from home days, flexible hours, and the ultimate perks of treadmill desks, and Ping Pong and foosball tables. Because, you know, foosball is important when you’re putting in 60 hours a week doing work that should be distributed across a team twice your size. As is that hamster wheel of a desk, which serves to remind you how no matter how many steps you take, you’re still in the same exact place.

And now public companies are circling like sharks around the bloody water of public accounting firms’ unhappy grunts, looking for qualified hires to help them navigate new FASB rules on the horizon. But according to the WSJ piece, they’re not finding them.

So that brings us to wonder: is it really that bad out there? And if so, why the hell are you people spending another busy season slaving away for the man in public accounting when you could have it so much better at some desperate public company willing to mud wrestle other public companies to get you to work for them?

This is a topic we want to look at in depth, and as such are asking you to take this short survey. First, we want to look at data from the AICPA to see if there’s any drop off in accounting grads. We’ll use the results, dig around a bit more and report back. Your participation is appreciated.

Create your own user feedback survey

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Big 4 Careers: Can I Get into the Tax Practice?

From the mailbag, we have a young lad who is about to go through his first recruiting season looking to land a Big 4 position. He requested that he got some advice from those of you in the biz and that have been through the process.

If you have questions about your career, recruiting, choosing a firm a problem/challenge at work (wonky technical questions will be ignored) or whathaveyou, send us an email at [email protected]. In the meantime, let’s oblige this young man.

The details:

I need help (advice from professionals) deciding whether I should apply for tax jobs, or audit/assurance jobs. I want to work for one of the Big 4 firms, but I know that may be lofty since I didn’t necessaril path to a career in accounting. Below is a brief narrative so that you may better understand my experience and qualifications

I am a senior at the University of Memphis (Memphis, TN) and will be graduating with a BBA in Accountancy in December 2010. I work full-time during the day to provide for my family and I attend classes at night. I work for a small bank opening new accounts, but accounting is the field I would like to have a career in. I am 24, so not much older than many of my accounting peers, and this is my first degree. I currently have an overall GPA of 3.35 and a major GPA of 3.89. I am the VP of Development for my Beta Alpha Psi chapter, and I have attended BDO’s 2009 Pathway to Success Program. Due to a change of major from Biology to Accountancy several years ago, I will have 156 credit hours when I graduate in December. I have enrolled in a Becker course beginning later this month, and plan to complete three parts of the CPA exam in the final window of 2010 and the fourth in the first window of 2011. Firms are now posting staff positions and internships on the career and employment website at my university. The time has come for me to go through my first recruiting season, and I am experiencing some anxiety.

As I mentioned earlier I am really interested in the tax specialty, but I am most interested in working for a public accounting firm. I have been told by several people in academia that a masters is necessary for tax staff, and about 90% of the entry level tax staff positions are filled with individuals who have had at least one internship. I must delay my advanced degree for a few years since I am out of cash and do not want to incur debt via student loans. I have hopes, though, that having at least some portion of the CPA exam passed will give me a leg up in the battle for staff positions at accounting firms. Also, an internship is not really an option at the current time, unless it is absolutely necessary.

I would like to know if someone with my education and experience would even be considered for a full-time tax staff position at a Big4 firm. Should I apply and hopefully interview for tax staff positions? Should I focus my attention on landing an audit/assurance staff position? Big time public accounting is where I want to be, and I know I have what it takes to make it there.

I hope you can publish my question, and ask for feedback/comments from professionals that work at big 4, regional, and local firms.

Okay, so lots of “interests” to wade through here. Let’s break these down. You say, “I am really interested in the tax specialty, but I am most interested in working for a public accounting firm,” but then you also say that you want to work for a Big 4 firm.

Depending on how you rank the importance of these three goals, that should give you the answer to your dilemma.

Let’s say working at a Big 4 firm is the end all to be all for you. You might have an easier time getting in by taking a job in the audit practice. A market like Memphis won’t be hiring too many tax professionals and it is likely that they will have advanced degrees. If there are tax positions available, by all means apply and interview for them. To answer your question, a Big 4 firm interviewing for tax positions will probably listen to what your interests and career goals are but you might not fit their ideal candidate criteria.

To address a couple other of your issues – having portions of the CPA may help you but is by no means is it a huge advantage. Also, if putting off an internship is what works best for you, then understand that will put you at disadvantage to those that have had them, especially since the Big 4 is making full-time offers primarily to their interns.

However, your GPA, work experience and BAP involvement are all good things so chances are, a Big 4 audit practice will give you a serious look as long as you interview well.

If you land the gig, you could do some time in audit and then explore some rotational opportunities a couple of years down the road, although again, those are probably extremely limited in a small market like Memphis.

On the other hand, if you are truly interested in working in a tax practice, it might easier to go with a regional or local firm to get the work experience you want. Since it sounds like you’re a good candidate, you can be selective about who you ultimately choose and what areas of tax you want to work in. Once you have a few years of experience and you still want to work for a Big 4 firm, it might be easier to get into their tax practice.

For the rest of you out there, dispense with your experiences and advice. Does he have a chance at tax? With Big 4? Should he just give it all up and join the Peace Corps? Help him out.