Discussion:Career Question

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MSTguy (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
It seems to me that the majority of users and contributors to these forums are public accountants either working as sole proprietors or within small, local tax practices. I'm just curious to find out if any members here work for larger national accounting firms or perhaps even for one of the Big 4. In addition, does anyone out there work in industry as a tax manager for a corporation or similar? I've been in public practice at a very small local firm for 3 years now (straight out of undergrad) doing mainly tax preparation and planning for individuals with closely-held businesses. But I've recently been wondering if it would be worth my time to try out a bigger firm just for a change of pace - I'm always worrying that I'm missing out on learning more things or finding a niche I enjoy more, but at the same time I don't want to fall prey to the "grass is greener" theory. So if anyone has any personal career advice or stories they could offer about working in public practice at a large or mid-size firm versus as a sole proprietor or partner in a local firm, I'd be more than happy to hear them. What matters most to you guys - salary, work-life balance, etc., etc.? Thanks in advance.

BottomLine (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
I was in risk management in the commercial banking industry for 20 years. There is not enough money in the world to make me go back. Although I still work the 60-80 hours a week that I worked then, now - the harder I work - the more I make. Not so when you work for a salary and the question is what have you done for me in the last 60 days. Now if I don't like a client's ethics, I can fire them. I left two banks because I didn't agree with them defrauding the regulators and the stockholders and then senior management expecting ME to sign the reports so they could pass the buck if they got caught. I now have a small bookkeeping and tax business. I help my clients make money and plan for the future. They appreciate me!

Bengoshi (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
Great question MST! I'd also like to hear the opinions of the experienced people here.

Death&Taxes (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
While in college under my school's co-op plan, I spent 21 months in total with "Big 8" firms [which tells you how long ago this was]. I take it you are not a CPA. Those firms then, and maybe now, pushed their 'men' to pass the test, but then often sent these same success stories off to one of their clients to be Assistant Controller or some such position. Many years later, after being the right-hand man of a tax lawyer I interviewed with a 'White Shoe' law firm for their tax department. I'd been doing 500 returns a year, manually, in the lawyer's practice. Here I would prepare no more than 150. The tax lawyer gave me great autonomy and had me handling tax audits, problem-solving, and collections {ugh]. At White Shoe there was more structure, more review processes and more specialists to handle everything. At the tax lawyer's, my advice on tax shelters was often directly opposite that of my boss. These were mostly equipment leasing deals. (He represented two principals of leasing companies.) Having done 6-8 audits of these shelters, I'd seen how little clients understood them and all only wanted IRS off their backs. I would often tell not to buy them. The big law firm manager told me that if White Shoe approved of something it was good. In essence clients got their reassurance from the firm name on the return; with the tax lawyer, and now in my own practice, clients were reassured by my signature, not the firm's. Ironically, years later a client brought in an "OJ Simpson" damages award in a case where a family member was killed by a prominent man. White Shoe had been the lawyers; they recommended the family members report the award net of fees [this before the Supreme Court ruled against this] without really explaining the risk in their letter. They simply stated they felt there was ground to fight and at worst, avoid any penalty. They wording to be used was the enter "Award at net" on Line 21.

MSTguy (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
Not a CPA yet. Massachusetts requires 150 hours of college credit before the exam can be taken (although currently they are looking at reducing it to 120 for purposes of taking the exam, but 150 for being licensed) I'm working on my master's in taxation, and have just about 150 hours now, so once I finish the masters I'll start studying for the exam.

Green hunter (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
MSTguy - as someone who has worked on "both sides of the desk" at both the BIG 4/8 and as a Corporate TD, i can tell you that your question is one that is very relevant. In terms of the work life balance vs salary question - thats something only you can answer based on where you are in life. I always advise that if you can handle the stress, hours and politics try going to a large public accounting firm for the experience however if you do not have the stomach don't waste your time - they will chew you up and spit you out - and you wont be better because of it. I personally would wait first to pass the CPA exam - combined with the MST and work experience you will be much more marketable, plus you dont want to be working at a PA firm and studying for the exam. You should ask yourself what you enjoy working on - if you like doing individual work and small business tax chances are you should stay at the small firm or similar firms however if you want to work on large coporate tax issues or simply specialize go to a large PA firm and then when you get tired of that you can switch over to the corporate tax deprtments of a large company. My opinion is if you broaden your background you will have more opportunities. Now let me also say this, even though I have followed that path I ask myself if the "grass is greener" being a sole practitioner, being my own boss, "eat what you kill" etc. So there is truly no answer that is teh right answer that I can give you other than telling you to consider what you want to accomplish and shooting for that goal. The only advice that I can truly give you is to never stop trying to learn other tax areas because it just makes you more valuable and more marketable. Just my two cents...

Sea-tax (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
I have not expierenced working in a BIG 4 arena but a lot of my College Friends did and I can only tell you that they enjoyed themselves for awhile , but said it became real old quick. They have told me that going into private practice was the best thing they ever did. I think the biggest reason they did not like it was the long hours with not much more reward. When I work 90 hours a week durring tax season I am doing it for my self to get ahead not someone else. ANyhow just my 2 cents.

Sandysea (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
I worked in a big 6 firm (coopers and lybrand) in the audit department...yech!!! Like cattle being herded is all I can say. I then moved to a large private accounting firm with 40 partners and slews of staff accountants, etc. I finally moved to a smaller firm (2 partners) but several staff and I learned more from that Jewish accounting firm then all my years elsewhere. The more I produced, the more he gave me an opportunity to develop and strenghten some areas. It is where I got my nonprofit tax experience and my auto dealership experience. I am now a sole proprietor, have not too many clients (going to do an informercial if I fall short..hehe) but am using the experience from all arenas. If you are in a smaller firm, from my experience, they need you more and you will learn to do many more things. In a large or big 4 firm, you are sectioned off...imho of course :)

JR1 (talk|edits) said:

September 8, 2006
It's going to have a lot more to do with your personality. Are you able to put your head down, dress up, not have a personality, and do whatever you're asked to for whatever they think is fair, and be happy?

ORRRRRRRR Do you want your own life, wear shorts when you want to, tell clients ¡A Dios! when you want to, laugh and scratch and work in your underwear if you want to?

But the company parties are pretty lonely. That's the only downside I've found. Oh, and health insurance. Need spouse with real job....

Sandysea (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
hehe jr....now I have a mental picture...THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!

I still enjoy my company parties...I may be alone, but hey...I am my own best company.

I got rid of the spouse...so no health insurance. Sure hope I don't get sick soon!!

Speaking of...yes, today I am wearing shorts, flip flops and a t shirt....sunny HOT florida...but there is a time and place to play "dress up". But the heels and the stockings in summer in Florida? You can keep it all!!!

Death&Taxes (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
You hit it, JR. As I told one highly recommended $1 million dollar stockbroker, you are paying me for my brains, not what I wear....that was 1984 and he is still here. Yesterday I had to represent a client in front of the Tax Review Board of the City of Philadelphia. All I could find was black pants, a black shirt, black shoes and socks conservative tie and tweedy sport coat. These are clothes for my wake, not work but they did the trick.

Jdugancpa (talk|edits) said:

8 September 2006
If I worked for anyone I would have been fired long ago for spending so much darn time in this site. You, too, JR, Dennis and - well, you know who you are.

Natalie (talk|edits) said:

September 9, 2006
Very interesting comments. As for me, I worked at three local firms over a 10-year period. Each one of them provided a little different experience, all of which, I would say based on my conversations with other CPAs from the BIG firms, is more than what I would have gained with a BIG firm. It seems there is more opportunity to learn different aspects of public accounting in a smaller firm. I learned auditing, taxes, prospecting, billing, politicing (oh, yes, that's a big one even in the small offices) and how to turn a situation around so the client feels responsible for the outcome and much more.


And as far as what matters most, there's no question for me. It's my family, and the very reason I am my own boss. I have two small boys (7 and 3). My second son was born January first. Maternity leave ended mid March. Superwoman here I come or so I thought. Except that I really wasn't, and really couldn't do either "job" to my full satisfaction. Shortly after April 15 I gave my notice and haven't looked back. It's been one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Kody-tako (talk|edits) said:

9 September 2006
I am currently working for a small local CPA firm but will join one of the big four's in the next few months. Although my current employer is flexible and I have total control of what I do, I believe that you simply can't beat big fours' resources when it comes to learning. Also, the magnitude of tax returns I will be doing is totally different from a small firm's. I will have the opportunity to work on the largest U.S. companies' tax returns and to meet with the high rank executives of those companies. Not only this experience will expose myself to things I have not seen before, it will also allow me to explore other potential career paths.

Yes, I am expecting to spend an additional 25%-30% more time at big four but it will be a rewarding experience. I am 29 years old with CPA and MST. I am joining the big four because I want to bring my career to another level. I also got strong support from my wife and family that this is the right move for me. However, as many mentioned before, it is your own choice. What do you want to achieve at the end?

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