Go Small or Go Home: Life After Public Accounting

2020-02-21 | BY Elizabeth Hone | IN Job Seekers, Work Life

Go Small or Go Home: Life After Public Accounting

Three years in Public Accounting had me seriously considering my options. A few things I knew for sure:

  • I wanted to stay in the finance and accounting realm
  • I wanted to move into industry
  • I didn’t want to sacrifice career progress

I was left asking myself a few key questions – where could I have the most influence? How could I earn access to top leadership? What would give me a deeper purpose? And finally, how could I best leverage the skills and knowledge I developed in Public Accounting (read my article on leaving Public here)?

After speaking with a former colleague – then working at Microsoft – the choice between big fish, little pond and big pond, little fish became clear.

According to her, huge public companies like Microsoft rarely gave their Accountants a holistic, big-picture view; instead, accountants tackled disparate parts of the business without ever understanding how their work would fit into a ‘master plan.’ No surprise, that former colleague is looking to leave this kind of environment and join a smaller company with faster opportunities for growth.

If you’re wavering between offers at small(er) and big(ger) companies, you might want to consider the following before letting name-recognition sway your decision.

1. Direct access to the CFO and Senior Executives

At a smaller company, you don’t only work for a manager – you work for and with the CFO and the entire leadership team.

This face-to-face interaction naturally lends itself to:

  1. Learning more about the business
  2. Growing as a professional
  3. Having your voice mean something

Case in point, I was tasked with preparing a month-end financial management report that the CEO had requested to be created. I completed the report, sent it up the chain of command, and waited for comments to come from my boss. To my surprise, the CEO popped into my office – a Senior Accountant’s office – to discuss his vision and to get my opinion on the information included in the report. My opinion mattered! We worked on this report for months, and it is now used in a monthly presentation held with all of the Presidents and VPs, and is even included in our quarterly investor presentations filed with the SEC.

The direct communication with upper management allowed me to get a peek into what considerations and information is important to a business operationally, and I had a direct impact on the output.

2. Big picture planning and thinking

Which brings me to my second point – you’ll be exposed to a wider swath of the business and a deeper understanding of your place within it. At Microsoft, a well known public company, my friend seemed to be flying blind half the time; while she was doing well at her job, she was unsure of how it fit into a larger plan. I, while working at a smaller public company, was able within a couple of months to quickly see what role I would play, and could potentially play, at my company.

3. More pride in your work

While I’m technically a Sr. Financial Reporting Accountant – dealing ‘exclusively’ with the financial reporting of my company – I have had the opportunity to work on areas outside of my area of expertise, mainly in the operational side of the business:

  • I teamed up with our AP clerk to draw up improvements for expense reports/reimbursements, which involved developing an updated template and devising a new reimbursement approval process.
  • I helped to draft and implement improvements for inventory cycle counting and controls.
  • Along with the VP of Operations, I helped to determine the best shipping carrier agreement for us (UPS vs. FedEx).  Following a meeting with our UPS and FedEx account representatives, the VP of Operations and I determined which option was best and we both signed off on the final agreement.
  • I’ve even led the charge on implementing the usage of an inter-office communication program that is used across our four locations nationwide.

4. More pride in your work

This one is completely subjective – it’s entirely possible that you get the same level of meaning from working at a large corporation as I do at a smaller one. But I, like many, find that my motivation is directly linked to the impact my work makes, and that impact is exponentially increased in a smaller company. You’ll instantly be able to see how your role is helping to shape the present and future of your business, and you’ll feel personally connected to the success of the company.

So where should you go after Public Accounting? There’s no one right answer. It depends what you want out of your job, how you see yourself in 5, 10, 15 years, and what type of work you want to dedicate your time to.

For me, the choice came down to access, impact, and scope. Other factors may play into your decision process – location, prestige, your family, your interests, your experience level, etc.  Whatever you choose, make sure the company’s values align with your own!

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