Public vs. Private Accounting
Go public or private?
According to many professors and career services counsellors, students should look first at public accounting. Apart from padding your CV with the name of a prestigious employer, this route carries a number of benefits, including more interesting and diverse work, and exposure to many different industries.
One senior manager at a Big Four firm captures the general opinion of the majority of people we spoke with: "For someone just out of college, public accounting is really the only way to go," he says. "You gain experience and get up the learning curve much more quickly. A public accountant will perform three or four audits of entire companies in a year, whereas a private accountant could be stuck monitoring cash ledgers (one account) for a year. Even in the long term, there are benefits. You have more control over your career progression. In private, you'll often see highly productive and talented individuals mired in their jobs or limited to lateral career moves because they have to wait for the people above them to retire or otherwise leave the company. Public accounting is much more of a meritocracy -- you'll advance as fast and as high as you want to."
However, public accounting life is not for everyone. Private accountants generally don't travel nearly as much as public accountants, and their work schedules are much more stable -- they rarely have to pack a briefcase and go to a client at a moment's notice. Furthermore, private accountants generally don't have to deal with the chargeability issue -- the pressure that public accountants are under to work on billable projects as much of the time as possible.