November 20, 2018

Changing careers

What Will Get an East Asian Languages PhD a Job Faster, a JD or an MAcc?

From “sometimes” GC reader JB (ever get the feeling like you’re being used for your snark and career advice?):

I finished up a Ph.D. in East Asian Languages and Civ. from Harvard, speak and read Chinese proficiently (non-native), and I absolutely hate academia. I’m getting out, and that’s that. I know–why invest 10+years of your life in a field getting a Ph.D. if you hate it? Well, it’s too late to change that, and I finished because I wasn’t going to throw away a Ph.D. from Harvard.

My problem is that I need to do something practical in life and fast. I’m old–36–and I’ve been thinking about getting a JD or a Masters in Public Accounting. It seems like the job market is shot for attorneys for the fuabout accounting? Perhaps some of your readers are ex-accountants who moved to law and could shed some light on the current state of both fields? I was thinking about doing the 18 month Masters in Public Accounting at a place like McCombs. Would you and your readers have any thoughts about one’s employability after finishing that program in the current job market?

Okay, lots to digest here. We’ll tackle the accounting angle first:

MAcc Route
McCombs is a good choice but make sure you check out their pre-enrollment requirements. We’re guessing your East Asian Languages background doesn’t cover Macroecon, Microecon, Stats or Intro to Financial Accounting.

That being said, if you do choose the accounting route, some might say a Masters in Accounting is useless while others will say it was the best decision they made. The usefulness you get out of it depends on your intentions, which are wholly unclear. Do you actually want to be a CPA or do you just want a job? Going back to school will at least get you in front of the Big 4 recruiters but they’d much rather take a 20-something with bad social skills and a stellar GPA over a 36 year old with one PhD to his name who A) probably has already formulated his views on the world and is therefore not so easy to persuade any other way and B) could easily leave them the minute the job market picks up for something bigger and better. Your language skills are extremely attractive however, so if you were interested in working in Asia (granted, this is probably a number of years into your accounting career) that could play in your favor.

JD Route
Accounting programs are not pimped and packaged like law programs, so there are fewer grads looking for jobs but in the United States being able to sue someone is a far greater skill to have than being able to depreciate someone’s PP&E so there are more law positions to lose. Check out our recent post on CPAs thinking about law school and you’ll find most lawyers (the non-CPAs, mind you) that jumped in the discussion would have done things differently. Spend five minutes perusing Above the Law Editor Elie Mystal’s posts and you’ll change your mind pretty quickly about pursuing a law degree. Again, your language skills are a big plus, play that up.

The Answer(ish)
To answer your question directly, the MAcc route is your best bet. However, you’re swimming an uphill battle trying to elbow your way into public accounting. I used to scratch my head wondering why some truly intelligent, qualified individuals couldn’t seem to find a job then it dawned on me that the firms like someone blank and pliable, not a free-thinker with goals that aren’t easily molded to meet their careful definitions of “work-life” and “life in general”.

If you play the game and don’t try to appear too ambitious, you might have a shot in public. But you’re better off figuring out what you actually want to do with your life and not wasting another 10 years working up towards making that decision. Good luck.

Three Things to Remember When Changing Accounting Careers

Happy Friday, folks. Hopefully with busy season ending soon, this marks the end of your work week. If not, well, keep reading. Maybe we can change that.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, you might be feeling the tides of change in the next few weeks in your office, whether that be with your personal career or with co-workers dressing better than usual.


It’s about the total package – Even in the glory days of post-SOX rulings and lush amounts of advisory services work, public accounting has never paid close to what the private sector provides. When looking for new positions, know that you should not be expecting to find 50%-100% salary increases. It can be expected to find base salary increases to fall into the 10-15% range. Why? Because honestly, the stories told over warms beers at your last work function were grossly overblown. Sure, the occasional rock star accountant makes the leap from newly christened manager to controller of a small fund and landing on a cushy financial pillow. The monetary difference between public and private (and I’m speaking of financial services) rests in the annual bonuses:

Senior Associate, Big 4: $70,000 salary + $5,000 bonus = $75,000

Fund Accountant, XYZ Hedge fund: $80,000 salary + $30,000 bonus = a no brainer

These numbers are general but realistic for today’s market. Keep these in mind as you reach for that red wax pencil.

Be realistic about your next job title – You’re an accountant. No, you can’t be a trader. No, front office is not for you (yet). You need to be honest with yourself and really scrutinize the experience you’re building in your current role. Working on a private equity fund-to-fund will not prep you enough to slip into a fund accounting role at the P/E firm of your choice. Mold your career experiences to fit what you want to do. The right recruiter will manage your expectations, which leads us to…

Start out with multiple recruiters – Finding the right recruiter is like finding a career counselor. Some will be pushy and force unwanted jobs on you. Others will take the time to polish your resume, help you realize the steps you need to take to work toward your ideal job, and only pass along relevant job opportunities. Consider a recruiter like this a blessing. And don’t forget to pass that person’s contact information on to your buddies. They helped you; return the favor.