Jack Causa

Public Accounting: Thinking About a Switch to the Private Side?

Are the long work weeks causing you to feel like you've burned out on your public accounting position? If so, you may want to explore some alternative career options in private accounting.

May 15, 2008
Sponsored by The Mergis Group

by Jack Causa, senior vice president and group executive, The Mergis Group

This time of year, many public accountants are suffering from a phenomenon called "Post Busy Season Stress Disorder" — but you might be familiar with its more common name: Burnout.

Just think what most public accountants went through in the last few months; early morning appointments, 10-minute lunch breaks, late night appointments, weekend marathon sessions at the office, cranky clients, looming deadlines and an empty chair at the dinner table at home. Burnout in public accounting is so common that many of us in the recruiting profession now hear about it from candidates in the majority of our private conversations.

If you're suffering from public accounting burnout, you've probably started thinking about alternative career options available to you. The most obvious move, of course, is to take your skills to a private company. But how do you know if a move to the private side is right for you? Public accounting firms range from one-person operations to large multinational organizations that employ thousands of professionals. They provide a variety of services to their clients, who are usually individuals or other businesses. Most often, career paths in public accounting are either in audit, consulting or tax.

There are a lot of wonderful things about building a career in public accounting. For example, you will find yourself surrounded by the best and brightest in your profession on a daily basis. Also, you will see a very clear career progression because the ladder of promotions and corresponding pay raises will be laid out right in front of you during your annual reviews. In addition, the truth is that working for a public accounting firm provides you with a wide range of experience for clients in diverse industries and unique circumstances.

Private accounting refers to the internal accounting function of companies. Private or corporate accountants perform the same types of tasks of public accountants, yet these tasks are specific to the companies for which they work. Private accounting can be distinguished from public accounting in one important way. Whereas public accounting is more involved in the collecting and external reporting of financial information, private accounting is more involved in the internal use of financial information to help managers within the company make more effective business decisions.

The private side of accounting offers some unique career development benefits. For example, private accountants get to know a business more intimately than their colleagues are able to obtain from the high-level view of public accounting. This intimate knowledge of a business from inside the organization itself enables private accountants to really make a difference in the way the business operates. In addition, working full-time for a company opens up career paths outside of the specific disciplines of audit and tax; private accountants are afforded the opportunity to pursue careers in the treasury, operations, business development and other areas of the organization.

In the end, though, the biggest benefit of making the move from public to private accounting is most often expressed as the improvement of work/life balance. While your colleagues in the public accounting firms are working exhausting schedules every spring, you can walk your kids to the park on Saturdays. When public accountants are accruing frequent flier miles to visit their numerous clients around the country, you'll be more likely thinking about your commute to get home in time for dinner.

It's true that the average compensation is more lucrative in public accounting, but lifestyle benefits always come at a price. And if your burnout has driven you to make the move to the private side, don't worry about burning bridges with your firm — they'll see you as a strong connection to a possible future client.

For more information, visit The Mergis Group.

Jack Causa, CPA, is Senior Vice President and Group Executive at The Mergis Group. Causa is responsible for the management and operations of the Mergis Group, a division of Spherion that provides specialty professional recruiting and placement services across a range of professional disciplines, including finance and accounting, information technology, engineering, sales and marketing, legal and human resources. Causa has more than 25 years of experience in the professional recruiting industry and joins Spherion from Callaway Partners, a professional services firm, where he served as the partner responsible for the company's staff augmentation business. Prior to that position, Causa held leadership roles at Jefferson Wells, where he was a managing director and Kforce, where he was president of finance and accounting. He began his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers.