Help This Old Guy Figure Out His Accounting Career Dreams

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After spending four years in the Navy, I went back to school and graduated with a BA in English in 2007. After looking for a job for a few months and watching my bank account balance disappear, I took a job at a manufacturing company. Within the first year I ended up in the accounting department when the AP Manager quit. From 2008 until 2009, I worked in AP, AR, and payroll, as others quit. From 2008 until now I have been the AP Manager/Staff Accountant. I actually enjoy accounting so I decided to go back to school. I am halfway through my MS in Accounting, and I am considering what I should do once I graduate next year. I plan to study for and pass the CPA exam by the end of next year. Career-wise, I really don't like the company I am working for and I plan to move on. I can stay in the industry I am in, and get a job at another manufacturing company, hopefully as an assistant controller, or move into public accounting. Since I am in my mid 30's, and I don't have a bachelor's degree in accounting, I am guessing a job with a Big 4 firm is out. I am trying to decide if I should seek a position with a small, local firm, or continue with my current path in corporate accounting. Will I make more in corporate or public accounting (with a small, local accounting firm)? Is it worth the pay cut to move from corporate to public? Will an accounting firm hire a guy in his 30's with four years experience in corporate accounting, a MS in Accounting, but no bachelor's in accounting?

Thank you for your advice,

Middle Aged Man

OK… seriously… Middle Aged Man? I get that you are a 30-something entering the world of 20-somethings but really?! As a 30-something (early, not mid, tyvm), I resent that. My boyfriend who graduated college when I was still playing with My Little Pony is middle-aged, not you. Get over it.

Anyway. The important thing here is to ask yourself what you want. From your email, I can't quite grasp what your goal is. How exactly did you go from English to accounting? It reads like you kind of just accidentally ended up there but that's not how it happens.

A smaller firm would love a guy like you. Motivated, not at all stupid and capable of following orders, what more could they ask for? Unless you absolutely need the Big 4 résumé item – and you don't given your military background and Masters, which are appealing to firms – don't even bother. Do your two years somewhere in public once you start taking the CPA exam and GTFO like everyone else does.

A move to public now will expose you to new industries that might appeal to you more so than whatever it is that is currently sucking out your soul. You might just find an industry you enjoy. It sounds like you have the freedom to make this choice so why would you question it?

The only serious point I want to get across to you is that instead of saying you are planning to take the CPA exam, start actually preparing for it. Have your applications ready to go as soon as you are eligible, and if you've been eligible for some time but haven't applied yet, I don't get why you're wasting your time emailing me when you need to be applying for the CPA exam. I'm serious. Being CPA-eligible and CPA-studying are two different things; the sooner you can get this over with, the more appealing you will be to firms. I get that you're not done with your MS but this is serious, so get it done while your brain is still in college mode if you can. You'll gain invaluable negotiating power over some dumb intern thinking he deserves a break.

It is not my job to tell you how valuable you are to accounting at large; you have plenty of marketable skills from what I can tell so I don't quite get why you need to reach out to us for validation that you aren't some loser no one in public accounting might want. So what if you're old? This gives you a leg up in today's work environment as I've found my Gen XY-ness to be an asset when managing Gen Y employees (interns for you) and reporting to Gen Xers or Boomers (managers and partners for you). Take advantage of that. You're a bit far on the spectrum but hopefully you've picked up the ability to transcend generational strife like most people our age have. Accounting firms are having a tough enough time managing Millennials, so don't let that opportunity pass you by.

If it is money you are after, I'd say do two years in a smaller firm for the CPA license experience and in the interim, you'll probably be exposed to something within that firm that tells you what you really like. Or at least points you in a better, more lucrative direction.

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