Which is right for me, private vs public accounting? Whether you’ve recently graduated or you’re looking to change course mid-career, it’s likely that you’ve wondered at some point. There is no hard and fast answer to this question. It all depends on the type of work you’d like to be doing, your unique personality traits, and the goals you have for your career.
What type of work environment most appeals to you?
Public accountants typically focus on billable hours and it’s not unusual for them to work 40+ hours a week. They generally work with many different types of clients, which allows them diverse experience, and there’s often regional travel involved. On the other hand, private accountants work for one company and generally have a more typical 9 to 5 workday and rarely travel.
What’s your educational background?
Both private and public accounting positions require a degree in either finance or accounting. Public accountants must go a step further to earn their CPA license. Private accountants don’t have to hold any particular certifications but those who do have a CPA or other license can see higher salaries and are generally more appealing to potential employers.
What’s your top strength?
Private accountants must have a much deeper understanding of the accounting principles within the industry they work. That generally includes accountants payable, billing, payroll, and reporting. On the other hand, public accountants work with numerous clients and must be familiar with and able to analyze many types of business functions and accounting systems.
What are your long-term career goals?
For most public accountants, there’s a pretty straightforward career path: they start as entry-level staff accountants, advance to senior accountant after a number of years, and then assume a management or partnership role. Those who choose to work as private accountants may have a similar career path, beginning as an entry-level accountant and rising to manager or CFO roles. The main difference between private vs public accounting as far as careers go is that private accountants are likely to get a high level of industry specific skills as they move through their career path.
What are your salary requirements?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, accounting jobs across all sectors are expected to grow about 11% in the next ten years, which is significantly higher than the average growth projection for most jobs. Companies are actively recruiting accountants with at least three years of experience but they’re also hiring newly graduated accountants who are ready to begin their career.
Generally speaking, you can expect a higher salary if you choose public accounting but private accounting positions often have additional benefits like stock options, pensions, and yearly bonuses. The average starting salary for a public accounting professional ranges from just over $48,000 to just over $70,000, depending on the size of the company, the area in which you live, and other factors. For private accounting professionals, entry-level salaries range from $42,500 to $57,750.
Private vs public accounting: What’s the best choice for a new graduate?
There is no hard and fast rule but for those who can’t seem to choose between private vs public accounting, it may make more sense to begin in public accounting. This can help build a strong foundation and get the training and career development necessary. After working in the public accounting field for a few years, you can decide if there’s an industry-specific private accounting option that most appeals to you.
No matter which option you choose, there’s no question that this is a growing field that’s likely to have plenty of jobs for the foreseeable future. Remember you need to prepare for continuing education exams for your CPA licence.