When searching for a job at an accounting firm, there are many factors to consider, such as location, types of responsibilities and training.
Another important factor to consider is the size of the firm. Accounting firms can vary in size from one to more than 10,000 people, and it’s important to make the choice that will best fit your personality, your career goals and your lifestyle.
Although the experience at each firm may be different, we spoke with recent grads who are now working in accounting about their experiences to help you decide where you’ll fit in:
Large firms often have big groups of 40 or more new accountants starting at once, which means the competition can be higher than at smaller firms. Smaller firms, on the other hand, doesn’t have that much competition. With so many people starting at the same level at once, there is a lot of pressure to compete and work overtime which can create work-life balance issues.
However, since so many new accountants start their jobs at once in large accounting firms, it also means the firms tend to invest a lot of time and money in classroom-type training and mentoring, which small firms cannot usually do.
At larger firms, you may also work in groups or teams and have joint tasks and clients. This is great if you like working in a team and enjoy having multiple perspectives on a project.
While learning on the job will help give you hands-on knowledge in the accounting field, you have to depend on your supervisors to train you. Most of the time the people that are supposed to be training you are very busy handling their own workloads and don’t have time to teach you everything which can be frustrating.
Tests and standardized training
Larger firms like KPMG and PwC typically offer preparation and paid time to study for exams like the Uniform Evaluation (UFE), and often pay for the cost of the exam too. This is generally not the case in smaller firms. They do not get any paid time off to study and so are the exams are not paid for.
Responsibilities and duties
If you’re working in a big firm, you’re often given one specific area to work on, such as tax or auditing. But in a small firm, you’re more likely to be involved with all aspects of the job. In the first week, you could be doing corporate tax returns even though that type of work is usually done by a senior accountant.
In a smaller firm, you are given a lot more different tasks to be responsible for and you start handling clients from day one. That being said, many large firms offer rotational assignments within their internship and new grad programs to allow employees to gain a variety of experiences.
Future career goals
You will have larger clients and more networking opportunities at a larger firm and that may help you advance in your career. However, instead of working with a handful of big clients, at a smaller firm, you will work with many smaller clients.
If you’re a young accountant in public accounting and you want to eventually work at a client company, then working with big, global companies will help jump-start your career. You will also likely meet people from all over the world.
If you’re ever interested in re-location, you’ll probably have more opportunities to do so at a larger firm, which may have offices across the world. Young accountants are often encouraged to take advantage of international secondment opportunities:
The types of relationships you have between your co-workers, supervisors and boss will be different at a large or small firm. In a smaller firm, there is less of a divide between the partners and you. You also get to know everyone, even people who are not at the same level as you/ Smaller working environments may also help shy people with the transition to working life.
If you want a relaxed, friendlier environment, it’s better to work for a smaller firm, but if you are a very outgoing, competitive person, then you may like a larger firm better.
A big advantage for big firms is the name itself on your resumé makes you that much more attractive to your next job.
Although the reputation of a big firm may impress future employers, ultimately your success at your job – no matter which size firm you worked at – will impress them more than any big name.
Increasingly digital practices
Many smaller practices are either running as completely digitalised firms or in the process of transitioning. This means running small business accounting and inventory software that will provide efficiencies for clients, as well as more and real-time insights from data into their companies.
What do you think?
If you’ve worked in accounting before, which type of firm do you prefer? What are the differences and similarities that you have noticed? Share your thoughts in the comments below.