The right way to leave public accounting
Every year a new class of graduates convinces themselves that their experience in Public Accounting will be different. Manageable. Maybe exhilarating.
Five years ago, I was one of them.
Like many, my initial plan was to stay until Manager. But after two years, the sleepless nights, no weekends, and a quickly developing anxiety disorder were catching up with me. That, coupled with the most stressful Busy Season of my life, had me considering my options.
I wanted my work to mean something more, and I wanted my ‘off the clock’ time to be…existent. Can you relate?
Finding a new job was surprisingly easy. The hard part came after – when I realized how little I actually knew of life outside of Public Accounting. If you’re considering leaving Public, make sure you have all the facts:
1. You need to retrain your brain
Consider this: you have an AP Specialist asking for help in resolving a certain issue – say, what to do when an invoice is entered wrong. The answer, while supposedly straight forward, has to take into account the impact on inventory, cash, etc. It was at this point that I realized that the world in which I was operating no longer existed in a fixed framework. All the variables are not only interconnected, but they’re also continually changing.
Thinking operationally and problem solving in real time – vs. looking back on historical data – didn’t come naturally at first. Coming off almost four years in Public Accounting, I was shocked to feel like a fresh out of school first-year associate again, not knowing what I was doing and worrying that all of the knowledge I gained from college was useless in the real world. Developing these completely different brain muscles takes time and practice, and the process left me feeling totally disoriented.
2. Not all skills are transferable
My goal upon leaving Public Accounting was to become an Accounting Manager; it seemed like the logical next step since I was already managing a team at the time.
My recruiter had a different idea. She explained that most professionals need an adjustment period after Public before they’re ready to lead a team of their own, and she directed my search toward a Senior Accountant role.
Looking back now, I’m grateful for her guidance. I didn’t have the right mindset, the right operational skills, and the right brain muscles to be an effective Manager right off the bat. The skills I had developed were definitely useful, but many needed to be tweaked or built upon before they could be effectively applied to a new environment.
Coming out of Public, it’s easy to think you’re qualified to manage a team – but I guarantee going into industry is like nothing you’ve done before. It was an uncomfortable realization, but I knew that I had to check my ego and do what was best for my career in the long run.
3. ‘Normal’ isn’t part of your vocabulary – you need to relearn it
The first few weeks after leaving Public Accounting I’d stay at the office until 6:00pm even if I had no tasks to complete, and I’d come in early even though no one else was around. I would even offer to work on the weekends if I didn’t finish a task during that week. I didn’t know how to function in this more relaxed world.
To be clear, I don’t regret my time in Public Accounting. It was an excellent opportunity to learn the ins and outs of technical accounting, develop my management skills both up and down, and hone my communication and presentation skills in speaking with controllers, CFOs, and executives. But it’s important to acknowledge that the life you learn to lead in Public Accounting is not natural, and you shouldn’t take it with you when you leave.
Go home when your work is done – even if that’s at 4:00pm. Enjoy your weekends. See your friends and family. Say goodbye to your stress dreams.
No level of success or hardship can perfectly prepare you for the world ‘outside.’ That’s not to scare you; this new world is fun, creative, demanding, and challenging! But it is definitely not the same as Public Accounting.
And while I don’t regret getting into Public Accounting, I definitely celebrate the fact that I left. Since making the change my work has felt more meaningful and my time has felt like my own.
Are you ready to leave public accounting? Shoot us an email, we can help.