As the global economy continues to recover, accounting is one of the fastest-growing fields. Increased hiring and a rise in mergers and restructuring in other fields, especially in financial services and health care, have necessitated growth in accounting to handle all the new activity. That growth, combined with senior employees retiring and leaving the workforce, has led to a robust job market for accountants.
What career options are available for job seekers with accounting degrees?
The Big Four
KPMG. PricewaterhouseCoopers. Deloitte. Ernst & Young.
These are the most prestigious employers for accounting grads. Why? Big Four clients work with Fortune 1000 companies, which means employees are exposed to complex accounting issues. A job with a Big Four firm is a great career move for someone entering the accounting profession. If, instead of moving up the ladder in your Big Four firm, you decide to work for another public accounting firm, take an in-house position in industry or government, or decide to hang out your own shingle, your Big Four experience will shine on your resume.
The central focus of the Big Four firms is audit services: verification of the accuracy of clients’ books. This also includes non-audit lines of business, including actuarial work (risk analysis and management), tax consulting, human resources management, and merger and acquisition advice.
Other Public Accounting Firms
Although the Big Four get most of the publicity, many smaller, less well-known national players and regional public accounting firms do plenty of hiring. Representative national firms include Grant Thornton, McGladrey & Pullen, BDO Seidman, and Moss Adams. There are also strong regional players around the country that usually affiliate themselves with some national network of similarly sized firms. Insiders tell us the hours are often a little better at these smaller firms than at the Big Four, the path to partner a little quicker, and the work more varied and interesting. If you go to a Big Four firm, your only responsibility for three months might be to audit the cash account at IBM. At a regional firm, you’ll be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, with a greater variety of job duties.
Whether publicly traded or not, every company has internal accountants to set budgets, manage assets, and track payroll, accounts payable and receivable, and other financial matters. For mid-sized and large firms, the internal staff works closely with public auditors at the end of the fiscal year and with senior management and IT staff year-round.
Controllers and CFOs at smaller firms often enjoy even more important and influential roles in running and developing the business. These jobs are just as demanding as those in public accounting. Most accountants in the private sector stay in one place, in one job, working with the same colleagues, for extended periods. However, should you choose to move around, accounting skills are very portable.
The government hires a lot of people with accounting skills. Traditionally the biggest federal employers are the Department of Defense, the Government Accountability Office, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Internal Revenue Service. In addition to monitoring individual and corporate tax returns, government accountants at the state and federal levels formulate and administer budgets, track costs, and analyze publicly funded programs.
You can always hang out your own shingle, individually or in partnership with other accountants, especially once you have your CPA. There is plenty of business preparing tax returns and advising small businesses, provided you have relevant expertise, such as a thorough knowledge of tax law. You also will need to market your services and manage your own business— time-consuming activities not everyone enjoys.
Some independent practitioners make a nice niche for themselves by specializing in a particular industry. For instance, an accountant specializing in tax prep for people in advertising and creative services may reap many referral benefits by virtue of their specialty. But beware: This kind of specialization can breed monotony because you’ll be working on the same types of issues day after day.