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I'm looking for some advice about returning to public accounting in a small firm setting. I graduated with a BA in Accounting in 2008 and have been a licensed CPA since 2010. I worked as a staff accountant for a very small CPA firm (4 accountants) for 1.5 years and didn't mind the work or the hours– at such a small firm I would put in 55-60 hours a week max during busy season. I worked in both tax (personal and small business) and audit (small companies, not-for-profits, governmental, etc.) and didn't really have a preference for one over the other. The pay was terrible, but I didn't mind the job itself. I left for small private industry for circumstantial reasons that didn't have anything to do with disliking public at the time.
For the past five years, I have been in a stagnant role at a small, old-fashioned private company, and I need out. I've stayed because my starting compensation was excellent, but it has hardly increased in my time here and this dead-end job is no longer worth the pay (approx. $70K per year). I work 45 hours per week and get 9 vacation days per year, and I only have maybe 5 or 6 hours of "work" to do each week. Although I was hired as an "accountant," the "work" is mainly monotonous secretarial bs with some A/P functions thrown in. I answer phones and make coffee and am so BORED here; it's a joke. Career suicide.
I'm strongly considering returning to public in a small firm setting (maybe 20 or so accountants). I miss the challenge and variety that comes with public accounting work. I'm completely burnt out with my current job, so I'm worried that my judgement is off right now. Can anyone give me any advice about returning to public accounting given my current situation and my work history? I know I would probably be starting at the bottom no matter where I choose to work, so I anticipate a pay cut. Other than that, I really don't know what to expect. My biggest concerns are career satisfaction and work-life balance; I am a mother to two small children that are my priority. Right now, with a 45 hour work week, I technically work 260 hours of "overtime" each year anyways plus only have 9 days of vacation– not sure how much worse working at a small firm could be. Could you provide any insight about whether or not going back to public is a smart move? Or any other advice you can give would be so appreciated. Thanks in advance!
Dear Bored and Stuck,
Your situation is the worst. Seriously the worst. And the longer that you let it keep going, the harder it is to get out of it. It’s like a vicious cycle that zaps your energy, makes you think you are on a one way path to “career suicide" and some days makes you want to drink lots of wine and binge watch Game of Thrones. (Not that I know from experience or anything)
You say you want career satisfaction (challenge and variety!) and work-life balance. You say that your kids are a priority. That’s awesome! You know what you want! Now, to make all of those things actually happen…like yesterday. Ok, how about next week?
The main thing that you keep bringing up is your value. “I know I would probably be starting at the bottom no matter where I choose to work, so I anticipate a pay cut,” and “monotonous secretarial BS” and “dead-end job." You have hit the nail on the head: Your judgment is off right now. It’s totally normal that you would feel like this when you have been bored out of your mind for so long.
When you believe that your work isn’t valuable then no one else will believe that you or your work is valuable. This will come through in your resume, your interviews, and honestly, how much you will get paid. Tough to hear but it is true. So what can you do about it?
It’s time to shake it off. Like Taylor Swift? Kind of. It’s time to focus on you and why you are so awesome. A great way to do that is by learning something new this week. By trying something different. Maybe…
- Finish that book that has been sitting on your dresser since February 2015.
- Join a mommy and me class or try meditation.
- Learn how to cook the most amazing banana bread.
Whatever you want to do that is different and fun! Wow, that feels refreshing just thinking about it.
I know that learning something new has nothing to do with your résumé or your Linkedin profile. But I will tell you why. Once you learn that new thing and spend that time on you, you are giving yourself an energy boost. You are telling yourself that you are vibrant and valuable. Yay for making yourself feel better! Ok on to the next step…
With your newly reinvigorated self, take a look at your résumé . Does it scream “I’m in a job that I hate and don’t think any of the work that I do is valuable?” If yes, here’s a tip. If 80% of your job is mindless, coffee getting, paper copying work, focus on the 20% of your job that is cool.
And if even that's a stretch, focus on the 10%. You get the picture. Make your first bullet the most amazing, results-oriented, bullet that you can muster. Read through the rest of your résumé and with each bullet, ask yourself, “So what? How does this show that I am awesome?” Because in case you had forgotten, you are awesome.
And next, for the love of wine, focus on how much you are worth. You definitely do not need to start at the bottom, wherever you choose to work, and you definitely do not need to take a pay cut. You have 7 years of experience, you have a variety of skills (both public and private), and you are a hard working mom with 2 kids. Wow! You have accomplished a lot even if you don’t think so right now. Remember that confidence is contagious. Your interviews can go like this:
“My job sucks right now, I haven’t learned anything, and you should hire me at the bottom for less pay.”
OR…DRUM ROLL PLEASE…
“I’m ready for a new challenge because I’m such a go-getter. I would be the perfect fit for this non-entry level, higher-paying job (with challenge and variety) that has work flexibility because I care about kids. I have these strengths and I’ve learned these things (and I even just learned how to make a really great banana bread! Want a piece?)”
Confidence is contagious. You got this.