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When I started in public accounting, a die Audit partnerI worked with shared the elevator metaphor: working in public accounting is like riding an elevator: the longer you stay, the higher you will go.

When should you leave?

The direct response from all associates of each company (stay up to director) is probably the biggest load of dung they or they will be already try sell you—although”one year here equals two or three in industryand “I had to, so you should too” are close competitors. The real answer (and the favorite answer of all accountants around the world): it depends.

Take the elevator metaphorthe elevator can go up, but where is it really take you? AAre you even in the right building? Consider auditing. The audit building is quite large, but what will you find on the upper floors? Audit partners? Aabsolutely. BUT You must beware of PCAOB inspectorsinternal inspectors, and the peer inspectors surrounding the ever-growing number mounds of FASB, SEC, PCAOB and firm “tips” haunting these floors. This makes the ride to the top of the building less and less appealing every year.

How about leaving for industry somewhere on or after the director’s floor? The Accounting Manager is probably the pinnacle here. VScontrollerboatfinancial reporting, technical accounting, internal audit, revenue accountingand some specific types of advice will all still be available along the waybut with every floor you go up you have to know what you choose to leave behind.

You wanted financial planning and analysis? Sorry you should have got out the elevator to the second floor and used the skybridge walk to the nearby FP&A building. Treasury? Same thing. Capital investment ? Same. Morchards and acquisitions? You should have transitioned to transaction advice at or before the time you made you have to audit Senior. You wanted a lot of work experience on business strategy and IPOs? You should have pressed the down button on the elevator, left the building and walked at the consulting firm down the street. You want to be a fund manager or a private wealth advisor? You need to be in another part of town (aka “Finance MBA”). Want to be a CFO? These days, your chances of becoming a CFO to 5,000 worldwide company get exponentially worse the longer you stay in basic accountingyou only needed two to three years maximum at an accounting close and then you should have movementD on more than one financingadvice, or a private equity role.

As you consider these facts, the big business saying of “just give it back to the manager and then explore your options” is no longer a good boilerplate answer (in fact, he never has been). The truth hurts (and then it sets you free). In a world full of specializations, the need to make career choices is felts sooner than ever.

The time to start thinking about your future is the day you sign an offer to start in public accounting (or maybe even before)not the day you become a manager. The problem? JThe goal of every large company (and most midsize companies too) seems to be to keep you so busy as staff and seniors that you don’t have time to step back and think about what you want. A few years go by quickly if you just go from one fire drill to another. It’s something that the pandemic inadvertently altered and is part of the staffing problem in public accounting todaywwork from home while the media shouted “the sky is falling on us” gave people time to pause and think about their current choices and their coming (that’s to say, the great resignation and the real reason why I think many companies are pushing force a return to the office, but it’s a subject for another day).

So what are you doing now? What if you’re in the elevator and you realize you never wanted to be there? Or worse, what if you’re only in the elevator because you haven’t figured out what you want? Inaction is one more choice because by doing nothing, you are still get on the elevator. (Remark: this is how about half of the partners of public accounting became the partners.)

Spie understand where you go TODAY! Talk to people in any field that MIGHT interest you. Learn about their experiences and the path they took (or currently recommend) to get there. A name on your CV and the professional network you develop in public accountancy are the two greatest assets your firm gives you in exchange for perma-high season. Use this network, figure out what you really want and live your dreams! It could mean staying with the company for another year, two, five or the rest of your career. Alternatively, IIt could mean you should have left last year or never started in the first place. No matter whatyou deserve to understand and you’re the only one to stop you from thisno matter what it is.

About the Author:

CP Aiden is a former Big 4 insurance executive who has bounced between public accounting and the industry three times over the past 15+ years. After leaving public accounting for good, he wrote and self-published an office comedy series, “Waive further examination”, about a first year audit mission and subsequent restatement of financial statements that pokes fun at the work, life and culture within today’s top accounting firms.

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