What to do in accounting apart from the Big Four?

By Yahya Khan, Peers for Careers/SCDC Correspondent
(As originally published in the Ticker: http://ticker.baruchconnect.com/article/career-corner-what-to-do-in-accounting-apart-from-the-big-four/)

Baruch College is widely renowned for its accounting program and  one of the most popular majors for students. Many students desire to work at one of the Big Four accounting firms: Ernst and Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte.

These positions are seen as a prestigious start to a career and an ideal training ground for a bright future. However, the Big Four are very selective and scores of well-qualified candidates are turned away due to a limited need for new employees.

Despite this reality, students should not be discouraged. A multitude of other opportunities are available for talented accounting majors. Apart from the Big Four, there are a large number of mid-sized firms that provide audit, tax, advisory and consultancy services to corporate clients. Prominent mid-sized firms include ParenteBeard, McGladrey, Crowe Horwath and Grant Thorton.

Although students may not recognize these brands as quickly as they would the Big Four, there are many similarities between the type of work a junior employee would encounter at a mid-sized firm and a Big Four firm.

In addition to the clients and the nature of the work being very similar, the compensation levels are comparable, especially in New York City.

One opportunity the mid-sized firms present is a greater sense of belonging for junior employees. Also, staff members are empowered to make a difference in a smaller firm. Many of these firms provide rotational experiences, so graduates who are unsure of what practice they want to focus on can gain broad exposure before specializing.

Occasionally, for top performers, promotions can come at a faster pace. Lastly, these mid-sized firms tend to place a greater emphasis on the balance between work and life, due to the fact that they are looking to hire someone long term.

Another career opportunity available to accounting majors is to join the internal audit department of a company.

After Sarbanes Oxley, most large companies, especially publicly traded ones, have focused a lot on their internal audit practices and on making sure that there are controls and procedures in place to correctly monitor business processes.

New York, being one of the financial capitals of the world, has an outsize proportion of large banks and financial institutions who recruit for internal audit at the undergraduate level and several at Baruch.

This path allows accounting students to immerse themselves in the way an institution operates, gaining in-depth knowledge of product and service lines, and an opportunity to build a career.

Outside of internal audit, there are many opportunities to work in a variety of corporate roles. The adage goes, “accounting is the language of business,” and as a result, many roles in business will benefit from an employee  who has a strong understanding of accounting. For example, many of the finance roles that report to a company’s Chief Financial Officer actually require a significant amount of accounting analysis. Consequently, working in the financial reporting and controlling group of a corporation is another career option.

In the tri-state area, there are many companies ranging from Colgate-Palmolive to Pfizer that need junior-level employees with accounting knowledge. Interestingly, most of these roles will not actually require someone to secure their Certified Public Accountant (CPA) to be qualified to work.

Students should also consider opportunities with government agencies. Forensic accounting and litigation consulting are growing roles in which accounting skills are valued.

An accounting degree provides a student with a strong base in the field of business with the option to join a vast variety of professions. Accounting students have and been successful in professions that cover a wide spectrum; from financial analysts to leaders of non profit organizations.

Apart from that, many accounting majors go on to law schools, business schools or set up their own businesses and practices and generally have a stable and successful life.

The point is that while an entry level position at the Big Four represents a huge achievement by an accounting graduate, it is by no means the only path to success or even the best one.