Accounting professionals have many significant career options, making it one of the most practical and somewhat versatile applications of a business degree. Accountants provide organizations with valuable financial information so that executives can make informed and effective decisions. They also help to ensure that a business is running ethically and efficiently.
When it comes to careers, there are two main areas in accounting: public and private. Which one is a better fit for you?
Public vs. private:
Public accountants provide auditing, tax, advisory, and consulting services with larger tax firms. The Big Four (Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG, and PWC) are the world’s largest accounting firms. If you work in public accounting, you interact with a wide variety of clients and will generally be a licensed, certified public accountant (CPA). Whereas, in private accounting, the concern is primarily with businesses, governments, and agencies’ inner workings. Private accountants work for specific companies and are an essential part of the success of that organization.
Deeper dive into public accounting:
Public accountants are trained to analyze accounting systems, collect evidence, and test to see if a business runs effectively. A public accounting professional must have a keen understanding of accounting standards for financial statements; they work to verify important financial documents, reports, and disclosures from an outside perspective.
Also, a public accountant may have experience in multiple industries, depending on specific clients’ needs, meaning they won’t work in a niche field, but instead with a wide range of clients. A public accountant’s career path is straightforward. They will either advance through working as an auditor and audit manager to eventually holding a position as an audit partner, or they will work in tax accounting. Audit partners manage audit relations and work to bring in new business, while tax accountants work with tax returns and other forms of tax record keeping.
Deeper dive into private accounting:
Private accountants are trained in processing a variety of accounting transactions, such as accounts payable and billings. The knowledge of private accountants may be limited to the work they are responsible for, and more often than not, they will probably have knowledge that applies to a single industry. For private accounts, career paths are more likely to vary. They can begin in one of several specialty areas and then advance to an assistant controller position. This may lead to becoming a controller or chief financial officer (CFOs). CFOs are responsible for all internal accounting functions as well as treasury, risk management, and investor relations. So, the growth potential is enticing and varied.
Work environment may play a role in which one you choose:
Public accountants may experience a somewhat stressful work environment that involves travel, long hours, tight deadlines, and may not always be predictable. The work environment for private accountants usually features no travel and a fixed work schedule and location, however, both areas have their busy times or seasons.
What it comes down to:
In public accounting, your role or duties will be varied, you may work with many different “walks of life” when it comes to clients, and job advancement may come sooner. However, the hours are long, there is a fair amount of travel, and the work environment can be considered high stress. In private accounting, the work is more stable, there is little to no travel, and you can reach management level without a CPA license. However, there is a lack of variety in job duties, and fewer opportunities to specialize. It really comes down to what you feel is a better fit for the work culture and work/life balance you are looking for in your career and goals.
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