Pros and cons of working in private industry vs. public accounting
Many accountants begin their careers in public accounting. Public accounting is a solid path to starting your accounting career and provides a strong foundation of accounting principles and critical thinking skills. While working in public accounting can be a prestigious way to start your career, there are some downsides that can make the idea of transitioning to a job in private industry appealing once you get some experience under your belt.
After working at a Big Four public accounting firm for nearly five years, I decided it was time to make the jump to private industry. I have now worked in private industry for four years and am confident that I made the right decision for my long-term career goals.
In this article, I’ll explain what I consider the pros and cons of working in private industry compared with working in public accounting. But keep this in mind: all jobs and experiences vary, and it’s important to do your due diligence during the interview process.
Pros of working in private industry
1. Fewer hours and more flexibility.
When I started in private industry, it took me six months to get used to working only 40 hours a week. One day my boss asked me, “You know you can leave whenever you want to, right?” Up to that point, I never left the office before my boss because I had been “trained” not to in public accounting. However, in private industry, my experience has been that you can show up and leave when you want to — so long as you’re getting your work done, no one actually cares.
2. Consistent schedule.
One reason I left my public accounting firm is because the last-minute travel and fire drills became too much. I had to cancel plans with friends all the time when work issues came up at the last minute. Since moving into private industry, I work a consistent 9 to 5 schedule, and my job never impacts my social life or my ability to see my family. I can plan trips and use my paid time off whenever I want. The only items I have to plan around are month-end close and budgeting, but I can manage my workload myself to get ahead of tasks whenever needed.
3. Different career path options.
If you stay in public accounting, your future is typically limited to becoming either a partner or a director. Many people stay in public accounting until reaching senior manager only to discover they didn’t make the cut for partner.
There are many more career path options in private industry. You can go the controller route or specialize in financial planning and analysis, internal audit, tax, etc. All these roles could lead to a vice president position or even a CFO role. Plus, there’s always the option of going back to public accounting if you want to.
Cons of working in private industry
1. No structured promotion schedule.
One benefit of public accounting is the structured promotion track: After three years you become a senior, after five years you become a manager, after eight years you become a senior manager, and after 12 years you may be eligible to become a partner. There is something nice about having an almost guaranteed timeline for promotions in public accounting.
In industry, there’s no guaranteed promotion track based on years of experience. Instead, you get promoted when you earn it. You may have to wait for a position to open up above you or move to a different company to get a promotion.
2. Generally smaller raises and bonuses.
As a top performer at a Big Four firm, I got 10%-15% raises each year. This became exponential over the years. In private industry, raises are usually lower—around 3%-5% each year. However, when you move from public accounting to industry, you can generally negotiate up to a 25% raise just from leaving public accounting.
3. Less access to accounting resources.
When I joined private industry, I struggled at first with doing technical accounting research because I didn’t have access to the same research portals I had when I was at my old firm. After a few months in private industry, I realized the best solution is to Google the topic I’m researching with any of the Big Four firm names in the search box. For example, if I wanted to find guidance about the new lease standard, I would search something like “ASC 842 Lease Standard Deloitte” and look for their guidance roadmap.
While it’s not impossible to perform technical accounting research in private industry, it is a little bit harder to find what I am looking for because private industry firms don’t have access to the same resources public accounting firms do.
4. Maintaining CPE credits on your own.
At my Big Four firm, we had required trainings throughout the year that would keep me up to date on my CPE credits. I never had to worry about getting enough hours to maintain my CPA license, and my firm would track my credits and certificates for me in the firm’s portal.
Now that I work in private industry, I have to find CPE courses and track my credits on my own. One trick I learned is that all public accounting firms offer free courses. However, you have to tune in live and keep up to date with your credits.
I personally signed up for Becker’s CPE courses because I can watch on-demand CPE classes at a time that works well with my schedule. I also love that Becker tracks all my certificates in their portal!
While there are pros and cons to working in private industry, I definitely prefer it for my personal long-term goals. However, I never would have gotten the career I have in private industry without having gained a strong accounting foundation at a public accounting firm!
I would love this series to be a dialogue, so if you have additional advice or questions, send me a message on Instagram.