Ask the Accountant: Public vs Private Accounting

For many accountants the big question after getting their accounting degree is; why didn’t I choose a different major? Additionally, they may wonder whether they should go into public or private accounting upon graduating from college. This, coincidentally, is the subject of this month’s edition of Ask the Accountant because I can’t explain why a person didn’t choose a major other than accounting. As a reminder these questions were submitted by many loyal readers inside my mind so their names have been omitted in order to prevent myself from having to type more words.


What are the pros of working in public accounting?

There are a lot of pros working in public accounting but none of whom you have heard of.


I wasn’t asking about people I was asking what would be the reason someone would choose working in public accounting rather than private?

You should be clearer next time.


What are the cons of working in public accounting?

Unfortunately there have been a lot of cons that have worked in public accounting, most of which you have heard of.


Will I be more succesful if I go into public or private accounting?

Success is a difficult thing to determine, but if I had to guess I would say probably not.


Why would you say that?

Just a hunch.


What is your experience with working in private and/or public accounting?

I have not worked in public accounting because I have never had the desire to work that hard. However, my experience with private accounting has been especially good on pay days; I really enjoy getting paid.


So what you’re saying is that the only thing you like about private accounting is getting paid?

Yes. That and the satisfaction of being able to pay my bills on time (more or less); an achievement which I could not accomplish without getting paid.


Is it true that most companies look for people with public accounting experience to fill their Controller and executive positions in the finance departments?

Yes but only because they have no idea what public accountants or CPA’s are. Mystery always creates allure.


I recently read that a very smart venture capitalist came up with the idea of assigning one vote for every dollar in taxes paid while also comparing poor people to Nazis; do you think I he would do better in public or private accounting?

Damn you Mr. Perkins! Why must you continue to rear your bad-romance-novel-writing-and-particulalry-ugly head in my blog posts? Wasn’t it enough that I insulted your intelligence in the last edition of Ask the Accountant? Anyway, to answer your question I belive that you would excel in public accounting if for no other reason than you are irritating, power-hungry and devoid of emotion; traits in which all of the most succesful public accountants (i.e. auditors) possess.


I have worked in public accounting for some time now and I take offense to what you just wrote about public accountants.

I’m sorry to hear that you have worked in public accounting for some time now, and I understand why you my might be offended by my statement. It was a blanket statement towards public accountants and I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for saying that all public accountants are power-hungry.


I plan on working in the private accounting world and I was wondering if you had any recommendations as to what industry I should work in?

Of course!


Can you be more specific?

Of course I have recommendations as to what industry, or industries, one should work in when entering the private accounting world.


I’m currently in the process of transitioning from partner in one of the Big 2 1/2 CPA firms to CFO of a prestigious Fortune 500 3/4 companies and was wondering if you could give me any advice on making this change go smoother?

There are a lot of variables in this situation, not least of which are which CPA firm did you work for and what company are you going to. Despite not knowing the details I think the top three things to know when going from public to private accounting are:

  1. Shredding is Shredding – Whether you are working at a CPA firm or as a CFO for a company, if something is documented that you would rather not be documented, the procedure is the same: Gather documents; give to assistant to shred; cross fingers that assistant isn’t still upset about the 1% raise you gave them last month despite the fact that they work 115 hours a week and make less than most panhandlers.
  2. Following GAAP – Again, whether you are a partner at a CPA form or CFO for a company, you need to make sure that you follow the strict rules and regulations set out by GAAP to insure that your financial statements and processes are in compliance. For those of you not familiar with GAAP (Generally Acceptable Accounting Persons), this is a group of people, who, in general, have been found to be acceptable to the general public and have, therefore, been tasked with keeping the other, less acceptable, accountants in line.
  3. Meetings – It is important, when working for a company, that you schedule and attend as many meetings as possible. These meetings should be mandatory for everyone that has actual work to do so that they are more motivated to complete their necessary tasks within the five minutes of each working day that was left available between meetings. This is not only a real morale booster but, when coupled with eight hours of meetings wherein they are told what they are doing wrong, leads to a strong cohesive team – in that they all will hate you.



Categories: Accounting, Humor

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