A common path for accountancy graduates is to start their careers at an accounting firm. The top accounting firms offer positions in audit, tax, and advisory. Each of these positions offers exposure to various clients and industries. The experience from working at an accounting firm can help
you transition into an industry position or provide you with a base to get on the partner track or even provide you with the tools to start your own business. The work can vary significantly depending on the type of firm you are interested in. When comparing accounting firms, it is fitting to separate them into three categories: The Big Four, regional firms, and local firms.
The Big Four
The Big Four firms consist of: PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Deloitte, KPMG, and Ernst & Young. These four firms are consistently ranked at the top of all surveys for best places to start a career. If you work at one of the Big Four firms you will be surrounded with some of the top talent in the accounting profession. These firms provide services for the most recognized companies in the world and you will have the opportunity to work closely with those clients. Working with multinational clients provides you with invaluable experience which you can use to either grow within the firm or start a different career path after your time in public accounting. Aside from the name recognition and great experience, working at a Big Four firm usually means you will be receiving the highest pay rate for new accounting graduates and the potential to earn a very lucrative salary as you get promoted. As for the CPA exam, the Big Four firms typically pay for the study materials, exam fees, and even offer a bonus for passing the exam in a specified amount of time.
The environment at a Big Four firm is fast paced as expectations are very high. They consistently strive to provide their clients with exceptional services. At times, the work can be demanding and stressful. You must be willing to work long hours when it is necessary to meet a deadline. It is important to be willing to be flexible with your schedule as you can expect to work nights and weekends and travel out of town when needed. During audit and tax busy seasons it is common to work a minimum of 60 hours per week.
Aside from the Big Four, there are many top regional and international firms that can be great places to begin after college. These firms include: BDO, Crowe Horwath, Plante Moran, Grant Thorton, Baker Tilly, and many more. The work and experience at these firms can be similar to the environment at the four firms mentioned above. The only significant difference is the smaller size of the businesses the regional firms retain as clients. The clients include mid-size and local businesses, banks, schools, and other government services. Regional firms also have busy times of the year which can require longer work hours and demanding deadlines. The opportunities and pay tends to be comparable to that of the Big Four firms.
Local firms typically maintain a staff of less than ten people and work with small businesses such as doctor’s offices, local grocery stores, electricians, etc. The local firms also provide tax and consulting services to individual clients who have complex tax returns that require the assistance of an experienced professional. An advantage of working for a small local firm is having the opportunity to build strong and lasting relationships with the local businesses and clients in the community. You also get the privilege of working closely with the partners who started the firm or worked their way to the top. Although smaller firms have their busy times, the work hours and environment are generally not as demanding and stressful as the environment at a large firm.
An accounting firm is an excellent place to start your career. Each type of firm has its own advantages. Only you can decide which firm best fits your desires and goals as you start your career!