Whether you’re an accounting student deciding where to intern or take your first job or an accountant considering other options, you may have employment opportunities from both large and smaller accounting firms. We wanted to let you know about some potential differences to consider between working for large and smaller firms.
While large national firms or big regional firms may initially seem more appealing, small local firms may be a better fit for what you are looking for during your public accounting career.
To begin considering which option you will choose, it’s important that you determine what your goals are and how they will be met during your career. Of course, as a college student, it may be difficult to be crystal clear on your career goals when you might be just focused on graduating college and getting your first job. But, you probably have a good general idea of what you would like your work and personal life to be like.
Your aspirations may fit more with a smaller accounting firm, one you may not have heard of before, or they may fit with a larger one with a brand name you’ve known of for years.
From my perspective, there are several things that you should consider before making your decision.
4 Reasons Accountants Work for Smaller CPA Firms
- Work Experience – Smaller CPA firms may help you become a well-rounded accountant as you are typically involved in an engagement from start to finish. When you start your first accounting job, there will initially be a lot of training and learning related to specific tasks. This will be true whether you’re at a smaller or larger firm. However, at a smaller firm, as you prove yourself to be competent you are likely to have the opportunity to work on all aspects of a client’s business. This will expose you to not only the bookkeeping and tax aspects of public accounting, but other areas that help you see the whole picture. While working on payroll, auditing, and tax research across various types of industries, you become a better consultant and advisor for your client. Working at larger CPA firms that have hundreds of employees to handle specific tasks generally requires you to accept working on a narrow aspect of a certain client or industry, and may not allow you the chance to grow and become a leader that your clients look up to.
- Flexibility in Schedule – Your busy time at a smaller CPA firm is tax season, a short three-and-a-half-month period where it is colder (at least it is here in Michigan) and more preferable to work inside. After tax season, smaller firms may offer you a more flexible schedule. For example, a smaller firm may require less office hours in the summer time so you have more time to enjoy your family and other fun activities. Additionally, they may allow you time to take off personal time throughout the year. If you have to take a morning off during tax season for a doctor’s appointment or to attend your child’s play at school, they may be more flexible as long as you are getting your hours in throughout the rest of the week and are staying current on your workload. Large firms may not be as flexible or as forgiving.
- Team Environment – At smaller firms, younger staff members often work directly with partners and other senior staff, helping build stronger relationships with your coworkers. Thus, your work environment may be closer knit and relaxed, even during the tougher times of tax season. Your quality of work isn’t compromised as you learn what it takes to succeed in the CPA environment. You may end up with great quality of life as your quality of work grows each year.
- Quicker Advancement Opportunities – Because of the variety of your work experience and the fact that you work more directly with client personnel, your pace of learning is accelerated. Your supervisors and the firm owners quickly see your strengths, allowing for your assignments to be adapted to you. As you learn and master each level of public accounting, you can quickly advance from staff accountant to senior accountant to supervisor/manager. Having a clear path allows you to see your future in public accounting, as well as the salary increases that come at each step. Quite often, smaller CPA firms pay very comparable to the hourly rates paid by the larger firms…only smaller firms may give you more flexibility to help choose how many hours you work each year.
Working at a smaller firm has many rewards and benefits that larger firms may not. Besides the benefits listed above, you also have a bigger voice in the office and may be happier and less stressed, giving you higher job satisfaction.
As already mentioned, make sure to think about your own career goals. What do you want out of a job working for an accounting firm? Ask questions about some of the topics we discussed above when you’re interviewing and deciding where you want to work.
If you are new to the field of public accounting or are an experienced veteran and are looking for new job, we would love to hear from you. We are currently looking to hire some more key people who are a good fit to join our team as we serve clients throughout the Greater Grand Rapids region and in central Michigan from our two office locations. Visit our Careers page for more information.
By: Joe Turnes