By Ryan Lyons
The process of choosing a career path in the field of public accounting can be daunting. Sometimes it is a conscious decision and other times it may be something you fall into by chance. For me, I had little understanding of how my degree would materialize into a proper accounting career. So, I broadened my horizons by double majoring in accounting and finance and joined just about every applicable student organization I could. As per my required courses, I took the only auditing course available at the University of Houston, Clear Lake, and met one of "those" professors, whose enthusiasm and encouragement helped steer me in the right direction. By graduation, I fully knew that public accounting suited both my career goals and my personality.
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As one of my final undergrad projects, I researched and gave a speech on the "Pros & Cons of Public vs. Private Accounting," making me an expert of sorts, and in that process, I zeroed in on my preference for public accounting. This was further reinforced by a college career fair, where 80-90% of the local recruiters represented public accounting firms, whom I found to be more receptive and responsive to my needs. So, I chose an internship with a public accounting firm, where I hoped to build a broad knowledgebase, meet a variety of people in different types of businesses, and enjoy traveling at the same time. But I soon found out that this firm catered to a specific industry, exposing me to only one type of business, death care (i.e. cemetery companies). In this “ah-ha moment”, I realized that all public accounting firms are not the same, leading me to apply to Weinstein Spira due to their multi-industry client base (restaurants, oil and gas service companies, and steel manufacturing, to name a few). Joining this firm upon graduation as a new hire put me firmly on the public accounting journey I wanted to pursue with the opportunity for advancement.
One hurdle that warrants much consideration for this career path is the CPA exam. The test is a massive undertaking with 600+ hours of studying across four sections that must all be passed within an 18-month window. As a student who worked hard and eventually achieved the status of Magna Cum Laude, I feel comfortable with my abilities to study and pass each section. I look forward to joining the elite few who have earned those three special letters at the end of their name and becoming a certified public accountant.
There are also an array of projects and different types of people to deal with, requiring close attention to social cues. I see that as a positive, not a negative, since I am a people person. During COVID times, the real challenge has been communicating virtually and emailing more than in person and onsite client visits. This socially distanced format is working well, but I look forward to the time when travel is less restricted.
No matter the challenge of the day, the tradeoff for me is getting to review financial statements and accounting records of all kinds of companies as a public accountant, rather than focusing on one company's financial statements and accounting records as a private accountant.
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As my college professor pointed out, there may very well be a mix of public and private accounting pursuits over the lifetime of one's career. If that is true, what better way to start out than as a public accountant You not only gain a well-rounded foundation, but also learn what to look for should you ever find yourself working as a corporation's internal accountant.