By John Michael Aguerre
Now that I am a staff auditor for a public accounting firm, I find myself reflecting on the choices I made that led me to this role—a perfect decision for me, as it turns out. In this blog post, I will describe my journey and offer some pros and cons for those who are grappling with whether to work in public accounting or within a given corporation’s accounting department.
When I came to the proverbial crossroads in the accounting field, I chose public accounting for two main reasons: challenge and opportunity. In contrast to working for a singular company in a singular industry, I gravitated towards the opportunity to work with numerous clients across many different industries—from oil and gas to technology to manufacturing. Public accounting also seemed to offer the challenges I enjoy on a daily basis, as no two days are the same and each client site is unique. It also provides endless opportunities for professional growth, preparing me to work anywhere, for anyone. This fits nicely with my long-term career goals to accumulate a wide variety of experiences and ultimately apply my leadership skills to roles with more responsibility. And since I am a “people” person, it gets me out of the office for weeks (sometimes months) at a time, actively interacting with CFOs, controllers and accounting department managers, as well as staff accountants. Building these relationships makes the job go much smoother and is enjoyable for me! Of course, in industry, you form close ties with the people you work with day in and day out, making for a rich teamwork environment.
Another choice was whether to pursue tax or audit within the public accounting arena. Previously, I worked on the tax side at another public accounting firm, giving me a chance to see if that was a good fit. This real-life experience served to be a valuable stepping stone towards choosing audit as my preferred discipline. Rather than making such a difficult decision right out of college, I was more equipped to make an informed choice after working in the field awhile. This route of sampling one or the other (or both) disciplines gives you more confidence to ultimately make the right decision and eliminate feelings of regret later on. If you are favoring tax accounting, I invite you to try audit. It might surprise you! Furthermore, I recommend opting for a rotational program if offered by your employer. Weinstein Spira has such a program and it really helps entry-level accountants find their niche.
Related Post: Audit vs. Tax – The Accounting Major’s Major Decision
The public accounting experience can differ depending on where you end up working. I feel fortunate to be at Weinstein Spira, a middle market accounting firm, where I am learning a lot from my supervisors and peers, in addition to clients I meet along the way. I get to touch all work papers and work on all the typical staff audit areas, including cash, accounts receivable/payable, inventory, leases, etc.
So far, I have had auditing assignments for clients in the construction, manufacturing and automobile industries. It has been interesting to see different accounting policies and how the business actually works behind the scenes. I am finding inventory to be an area of particular interest; whether it be counting the number of cars on a dealership’s lot, tying those counts into the perpetual detail or testing adjustments to inventory. One especially fun job was doing an inventory count in South Carolina where I worked with an associate counting excavator machines and parts. Another assignment took me to a petrochemical company to verify the right amount of chemicals were present.
My chosen career path is definitely right for me; however, both choices are valid depending on your personal career objective. The decision to work for one company in a specific industry is a great way to dive deep into that type of business-oriented accounting. But, if you’re like me and want the endless variety and exposure to all types of experiences, people and locations, then I suggest going for public accounting. From my observation, the avenue I chose looks to have leadership roles right around the corner, if I keep working hard.
Either way, your career is in your hands. I wish you luck in choosing the right path for you and making the most of it.
For related information on career planning, please refer to our blog post on “What I Wish I Knew About Accounting in College.”