Public accounting is a rite of passage. But what happens when you’re ready to move on?
Each year—even before the ink is dry on their college diplomas—countless accounting majors are off to one of the Big 4 accounting firms or a similar, smaller shop. Public accounting is a great place to start your career. The pace is exhilarating. The clients are impressive. You’re learning a ton, and you’re surrounded by like-minded, highly motivated people. Sure, busy season is intense, but you and your colleagues are in it together. There’s unique comradery that’s unlike anything else.
But for many people, there comes a time to leave public accounting and start a new chapter in their careers. Maybe they want better balance, less stress, or the opportunity to broaden their skills. Regardless, leaving your public accounting profession is a big decision.
Explore your options before leaving public accounting
Public accounting provides a variety of opportunities that can propel your career forward. So, it’s important to be thoughtful about decisions around whether to leave and when to leave. Consult with people you trust, including leaders at your firm. They know many people want to leave eventually, and they are committed to your success. Tell them how you’re feeling and ask about other opportunities that could be a better fit for you—in the firm or elsewhere.
Leaving public accounting is a leap of faith
If and when you decide to leave, there’s a whole new world to explore. If you’re like most public accountants, your career path while at the firm has been pre-defined. You’re guided through prescribed levels. Each year of experience provides an enormous amount of industry- and functional-specific training. But, when you leave public accounting, you chart your own course—it’s thrilling and terrifying at the same time.
Your future in accounting
Even when recruiters are knocking on your door, it’s important to take a minute to think about:
- What are my options?
- Where can I make the most impact?
- What companies share my values?
- What organizations provide opportunities for variety and growth?
- What are my long-term career (and life) goals?
These questions can be difficult to answer and difficult to assess in interviews. Identify your top priorities and think about ways to get those questions answered as you’re evaluating your options.
What to know before switching from public accounting to industry
Anytime you start a new job, there’s an adjustment period. But when you go from public accounting to industry, the adjustments can be especially surprising. You have all the background to succeed in industry, but it helps to know what to expect when you get there. For example:
- You’re in charge of your career. Yes, you’ll have a boss to provide some guidance, but in the corporate world, your career is what you make of it. Public accountants are used to promotions happening on a predictable (and frequent) schedule. In industry, however, there’s not typically a set timeline or roadmap for promotions. That means you have to advocate for yourself and seek opportunities that are not specifically mentioned in your job description. It’s up to you to network within the company, determine how you’ll continue your development, (including the training you need to keep your licenses active), and take the initiative to expand the ways you make a difference in your organization. These things can lead to exciting new opportunities.
- The team dynamic will be different. The oversight in your new role will look different because instead of having multiple people to report to, you’ll often have only one boss. If you miss having a variety of perspectives, proactively ask colleagues for their insights. You may have a broader team of people with a wide variety of skills and roles. Take time to learn what each person does and the value they create. It’s a great opportunity to create mentor relationships and expand your skillset. Before leaving public accounting, think about what you value in your team members and boss to help assess what you might need to be successful in industry.
- Your work is (usually) not the product. In public accounting, there’s a direct correlation between the work you do and the firm’s profit. In industry, your contributions are not as obvious. How you create value is different but important. As a result, you might need to establish ways to meaningfully measure the impact you make.
- The pace of work could be different. In industry, there are deadlines for sure. But some projects and initiatives will have a different tempo than you’re used to. Adjusting to a slower pace can be frustrating or freeing, depending on your work preferences. Considering things like the company size, backing (public/private), maturity (start-up or well-established), and trajectory (high growth, etc.) could help to align with your preferences for pace of work.
Don’t worry, you got this—and Salo can help!
Our Salo Compass program is specifically designed to help public accountants move into industry. It’s a rotational program. That means you work at several different companies and in many different roles over two to three years—getting a variety of experiences. It allows you the opportunity to build market value, see first-hand what kind of work you like to do and understand the kind of company culture that fits you best—all before committing to a longer-term role. And, throughout the program, you’ll have a supportive team helping you navigate your transition from public accounting to industry successfully.
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