Welcome to the christ-is-it-next-Wednesday-yet edition of Accounting Career Couch. In today’s edition, a former business journalist is looking to get into forensic accounting. How on Earth can you do that?
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Back to Mikael Blomkvist:
I’m in my early 40s and have never worked in accounting. I have a B.A. in liberal arts and am currently enrolled in a Masters in Accountancy program. I formerly worked 10+ years as a business journalist, during which I learned a fair amount of basic accounting and financial statement analysis. I especially enjoyed investigative business journalism, which led me to get a PI license and a CFE designation and work as a freelance fraud investigator for several years. But I quickly saw that I needed a CPA license and real-world accounting experience to command decent fees.
Once I get my M.Acc., I’d like to get a job in forensics at a public accounting or consulting firm and starting working toward the CPA. I know exactly what I want to do: forensics, and even more specifically, fraud investigations. I’d rather not toil in entry-level audit and try to worm my way into forensics if I can avoid it.
My questions are myriad. For starters, am I too old to do this? (Yes, I’m a married parent, have paid dues before, don’t mind paying them again as a career-changer.) Where should I apply? Would the Big 4 even be interested, or should I concentrate only on specialized/regional firms? Would I have more luck going the entrepreneurial/sole proprietor route than trying to get a firm to hire me? Will investigate for food. Anything helps, even a smile.
Let us just start by saying two things as it relates to the age question: 1) it doesn’t mean shit and 2) it’s irrelevant at this point. Judging by your actions you’ve already made up your mind and you’re just looking for a little confirmation.
Now, then. As far as where you should apply – Big 4 is an option but not a great one. They have forensics practices obviously but getting your foot in the door can be tough as the groups are small and positions are hard to come by. That being said, it won’t hurt to get in touch with the experienced-hire recruiters at the major firms in your area to see if there are openings. You’re certainly a better candidate than someone internal that has no investigative experience and wants to get into forensics for the hell of it. A little pavement pounding could turn up a great opportunity.
That being said, it seems to make more sense to seek out opportunities at boutique or small firms in your city. You will likely get the opportunity to meet the owner(s)/partners of the practice who will probably value your experience as an investigative journalist. Someone like Tracy Coenen would be a good example of an expert that could take you under their wing and show you the ropes (assuming they need someone).
As far as starting hanging your own shingle, it’s an option but you’ll eat what you kill. Are you prepared to live that way? Is your family prepared to live that way? Conversations need to be had. You may be able to lend a hand to other forensics specialists to get your feet wet but it will be a tough sell to land your own clients for quite awhile.
You’ve got the investigator’s instinct and presumably the iron-clad balls that Sam Antar insists are a must and that cannot be taught. These intangibles are extremely valuable and should be a major selling point no matter what path you choose. Skål!