Regrets? Ten Colleagues Look Back
By Daniel Tschopp, CPA, assistant professor of accounting, Daemen College, Amherst, N.Y.
The accounting profession has taken some hits recently. Scandals have generated negative publicity. Enrollment in accounting programs has declined. Accountants remain stereotyped as boring and deficient in social skills.
The early years of my career in public accounting, at a Big Six firm, were demanding yet rewarding. I left in 1998 to pursue a career in higher education. I recently contacted a group of 10 former coworkers to discuss our decisions to become accountants. I began with the simple question posed by this column last year: “If you could do it over again, would you still have chosen a career in accounting?” Each of their answers was unique; some surprised me.
Manager, public accounting firm: Yes. I’ve developed terrific relationships with both coworkers and clients and I can’t imagine learning more in any other profession. From that standpoint, my career has been extremely rewarding. The stress level, however, escalates each year, and the time required to perform at a high level is more than I’d like. Although I think I’d make the same decision, I’d certainly spend more time evaluating my options.
Senior consultant, technology services: No. I’d probably focus on information technology (IT), which is where I’m moving my career. But I also believe my auditing experience will benefit me in the long term, because I’d like to move into a management position, where all decisions would have to be framed in an understanding of the underlying IT business environment.
Director of internal audit department: Yes. Being a CPA allows you to get into more than just accounting. Public accounting gives you a wide range of experience.
Director of healthcare studies program/instructor: Yes. An accounting position in a large national firm was a good place to begin a career, giving me a broad set of skills. It’s also given me the ability and confidence to manage my personal finances. I would do it again, but I would not stay as long as I did. At a certain point the exchange between the employee and the company is inequitable. When the learning curve slows down, justifying the stress and constant pressure of unreasonable expectations becomes difficult. One risk of beginning your career in accounting is the tendency to feel pigeonholed; you may be reluctant to leave your comfort zone to try anything new.
Senior treasury analyst, banking officer: No. I probably would have benefited more from concentrating in corporate finance and economics—something that would have developed more creative thinking as opposed to just ensuring compliance with stated principles. The nature of my region’s client base meant limited opportunities for consulting and planning. A major benefit of a career in public accounting was the relationships with peers working in local businesses. This network will always be invaluable.
Senior credit analyst: Yes. It’s a great basis for any career in business.
Manager, public accounting firm: Yes. But I would add a second degree in something like marketing that would open up nonaccounting doors more easily. While the salary growth over the last few years wasn’t in line with what my classmates who went to Wall Street got, most of them are now looking for jobs.
Vice president (owner), hotel and banquet facility: Yes. Although I haven’t remained in public accounting, and in my current capacity I have been inclined to focus on marketing and law, I think the experience and knowledge were invaluable.
Group program cost supervisor: Yes. The basic understanding of financial systems benefits my personal life (i.e., financial planning), and in the corporate environment I have a perspective that individuals with different skill sets lack. Public accounting gave me opportunities to grow more quickly than I could have in the private sector. I don’t believe I would have achieved the same level of professional success with only a general degree in business management.
Manager, public accounting firm: Yes. But I would have taken more finance-related courses as well. A strong accounting/finance background is more marketable.
Positives and Negatives
After receiving written responses from the 10 individuals, I held an informal group discussion with seven of them, allowing them to elaborate on their answers. The most common theme was the vast experience achieved at a very young age in a short period of time. Straight out of college we were given enormous responsibility, working with high-level individuals and meeting experts in every field imaginable. The audit and attestation functions in particular let us observe a variety of industries, and experience more than just accounting. This comprehensive base of knowledge proved to be the most marketable aspect of our job experiences.
The most common negative aspect of our career choice was the stress level. Expectations continued to rise. There was little room for individual achievement. This lack of recognition caused some to pursue alternative careers. Others used their accounting background to open doors in finance and banking. Some were motivated by the pressure, and became managers.
I have no regrets about my decision to pursue a career in accounting.
As an accounting professor, my job now is to get my students as excited about
the profession as I am. My students have no doubt about my love for teaching
and accounting. They see the passion in my eyes, hear it in my voice, and see
it in my actions. A profession is defined by the character of the people in
it. Accounting is dull only if the accountant is dull.
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