Making the jump from public accounting to private industry rounds out your resume and makes you more marketable. If your long-term goal is to land a senior level finance or accounting position, having a background in both public accounting and private industry can be the difference maker.
In the past year, three out of every four of our placements for a Controller/VP of Finance role had a background in both public accounting and private industry. If you have only public or private experience we can still find you a suitable position, but the combination of both makes it that much easier. Here are five reasons organizations in the private sector consider this background preferable:
1. Greater Operational Experience
In public accounting, you focus on auditing and reviewing past results – analyzing accounting systems and testing to ensure they are effective and compliant. Accounting professionals in private industry, on the other hand, focus on financial strategies that support the business. Budgeting, tax planning, forecasting and benefits management are all key functions for private sector professionals. Public accountants are often not involved in these operational details which are crucial tasks in private industry.
2. Better Systems Skills
If you work for a Big Four firm no doubt you’ve only skimmed the surface of client IT systems. Individuals with private company experience tend to have a much deeper working knowledge of ERP applications and basic office tools like Microsoft Excel. As a private accounting manager you might need to get hands-on at the operational level developing a pivot table or reviewing a complicated MRP run from an ERP system. Those scenarios don’t often crop up in public accounting.
3. Deeper Industry Specific Knowledge
Public accountants are typically exposed to a variety of industries as they handle a portfolio of clients. Because of the nature of their interactions, they only get to a certain level of exposure to the business. If you have experience as a Controller in a private supply chain company, for example, you’ll likely have intimate knowledge of the issues surrounding the supply chain industry. Much of that knowledge – eCommerce, inventory management, personnel – although specific to supply chain, can be easily transferred to other industries. Private industry hiring managers look for that operational experience.
4. Expanded People Management Skills
In the public accounting you tend to work with teams of auditors who have similar educational and professional backgrounds as yours. While being able to deal with these individuals is critical, private companies look for executives who have experience dealing with employees at all levels of the organization. Working in a private company gives you the chance to interact with employees from entry level to senior managers, not only in the accounting group, but also in other departments like manufacturing, HR and supply chain.
5. Well-Timed Transition Experience
The timing of your transition out of public accounting is key. I recommend moving into private industry with three to six years of public accounting on your resume. When a company in private industry is looking to bring on a senior level accounting professional, they want someone who has already made that transition. Private industry is a different world, and if you make that transition during your three to six year public accounting mark, your move will be well-timed; you’ll have the chance to acclimate to private industry while gaining the experience you need for a senior level role. Check out my recent blog on this topic to learn more: Top reasons to consider moving from public accounting to private industry.
Public accounting is a tremendous training ground and serves as an important component of your career, but if you’re seeking a senior level position with a private company, it might not be enough. Consider moving into private industry when you have three to six years’ public accounting experience. It will help you get to the top in an extremely competitive market. And, if you have eight or more years of public accounting, don’t despair. They may be a little trickier to land, but there are opportunities for you, too.
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