Leaving Public Accounting? Here’s What to Look for in Your Next Job

People leave public accounting for a number of reasons, but chief among them is a desire to take on a more challenging, specialized role. That’s why there’s nothing sadder than seeing ambitious professionals leave one sector only to languish in another.I’ve witnessed this time and again. Accountants stop building their technical expertise when they take a new job, or they jump at positions that offer a high salary and sexy title but little in the way of professional development. Others become complacent, and they stop building their professional networks, don’t seek out challenges, and fail to connect with people who are doing innovative work.But you don’t have to fall prey to this career kiss of death. By taking a holistic view of your job options, you can make smart, empowered choices about the companies with which you work. Use the following criteria to assess whether or not a company will further your ambitions and deliver dynamic, fulfilling opportunities.

Smart, Engaged Supervisors

The person to whom you report on a regular basis can make or break your job experience. If you’re coming from public accounting, you want to work with a supervisor who understands what you did there. She’ll know how to accentuate your strengths and improve your weaknesses, and she’ll have a keen sense of the projects that suit your experience when you first join the team.

“By taking a holistic view of your job options, you can make smart, empowered choices about the companies with which you work.”

You don’t want to land at a company where the supervisor doesn’t value finance and accounting. Not only will you miss out on valuable mentorship opportunities, you’ll probably find yourself doing boring work in a cramped back office. That kind of set­up is bad for morale and can cause career stagnation. Inquire about your immediate supervisor’s background. If she’s worked in accounting and finance or has a track record of hiring and developing CPAs, you’ve found a plum organization.

Growth and a Good Reputation

The finance and accounting industry in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area is small, so it’s not hard to research a company’s reputation. If few people have heard of the business or negative rumors are flying around, proceed with caution. When you interview at any company, talk with as many people as possible about the culture and workplace environment.A few good questions to ask:
  • Are employees happy here?
  • What is the turnover rate?
  • How many people stay longer than a year or two?
  • Where do people get hired after they leave this company?
The last question is an especially strong indicator of a company’s status. Well­-regarded businesses typically see employees move on to challenging roles at top companies. You want to know that this position fits into your desired career trajectory.Look for companies that see at least 5­10 percent annual growth. You want to work at a company on the rise, especially in your first job outside public accounting.

Passion for the Industry

Here’s where you can really draw on the specialized knowledge you gained as a public accountant. If you have a lot of experience in asset management or a passion for consumer products or biotechnology, you can go after positions in these industries.Recruiters will help you find the right opportunities and present your experience in a way that works for the new job. At BVOH, we assist public accountants who want to move into a wide range of industries. If you’ve cultivated the right experience as a public accountant, you can use it to your advantage when you’re ready to take on a new role.

“Whether you already have a 20-year plan or you’re still discerning your professional calling, prioritize your career development as early as your first job.”

A Word About Startups

Startups offer exciting, challenging environments and fantastic finance experience. However, there are some advantages of working for a large company before joining a startup. Bigger organizations have larger finance departments, meaning there are greater opportunities for learning many skills and receiving valuable professional guidance. You’ll also learn about implementation strategies and standard best practices, which will help you if you join a startup later on.When you work with a more established company, you develop a broader network of contacts in financial planning and analysis, corporate development, and other areas. These contacts will help you land jobs in the future.If you still decide that the startup world is a better fit than a large corporation, consider the following questions to find the right opportunity.

Who are the Investors?

Research their past investments and whether or not those were successful. Ask around about the investors’ philosophies and personalities. Their reputations and track records will speak for themselves.

Is the Company Well­-funded and What is its Burn Rate?

Working for a startup can be incredibly thrilling, but it’s essential that you understand the financial landscape and risks before you sign a contract. In some cases, the founders may say they have a year’s worth of capital, but when you look at the books, you find that there’s significantly less than that. Know how stable the company is and the likelihood of its success.

Who Will You Report To?

Again, it’s important to know your boss’ or manager’s background. A CEO who doesn’t have a background in finance won’t understand that if you’re coming from public accounting, you won’t have hands on experience closing the books and will have a significant learning curve when you start. However, if you’re working under a controller who also has a public accounting background and can train you in operational accounting, that could be a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow your skills.

Culture Over Compensation

A high salary and glamorous­-sounding title often lure public accountants into unfulfilling and stressful positions. Being well­ compensated is important, but you need to take a big picture approach to your job search.Some of the best companies in the Bay Area don’t pay the highest salaries because they don’t have to. Their great reputation and admired cultures bring them the pick of the litter when it comes to job candidates. Working for one of them might mean taking less pay for a more enriching professional experience.Beware of companies that offer disproportionately high salaries. They may be compensating for a negative work environment, long hours, and poor work-­life balance. Same goes for impressive­-sounding titles. They matter less than your actual job duties, so don’t be swayed by the sexiness of money and supposed power.Always come back to your core career goals, and focus on the quality of the experience versus short­-term financial gain or ego gratification. You’ll make more money and see more success long­-term if you take jobs that have integrity to your values and goals.Whether you already have a 20-year plan or you’re still discerning your professional calling, prioritize your career development as early as your first job. You don’t have to have it all figured out, and there’s room to pivot as you learn more about yourself and your passions. But by making conscientious choices at every step, you prepare yourself to take advantage of the right opportunities when they arise.

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