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Graduating accounting students are bombarded with potential career options early on, and knowing what route to take can be tough. Do you pursue the challenges of public accounting for the future career rewards that path could yield, or do you start working in the industry and attempt to climb through the ranks by gaining institutional knowledge?
Recruiting talent can sometimes feel like the classic matchup of David vs. Goliath. Larger firms seem to have a significant step up on the competition: more extensive recruiting networks, name recognition, and a public track record with testimonials from current and former employees. But there is much more to public accounting than what goes on at the top 10 firms–it is equally possible to forge a successful, rewarding career path at a smaller firm.
Where Small-er Firms Excel
Small-er public accounting firms offer experiences that large firms struggle to produce – quicker organic growth opportunities, improved workload management, and a more robust company culture. A small firm is truly the sum of its parts, as each employee plays a vital role – from partners to managers, associates, administrative staff, and marketing. Each person’s contribution is critical to the growth and success of the firm, leading to more focused mentorship opportunities with experienced partners and managers.
Working at a smaller firm gives employees more control of their schedules, empowering them to communicate when they are at peak capacity and unable to take on additional work. Partners and managers can see these limits personally. It may be difficult for younger employees to say “no” to new work, so having partners who help their staff in those uncomfortable situations is meaningful.
At JLK Rosenberger, Staff Spend Generous Time with Experts
Smaller like JLK Rosenberger often provide better mentorship opportunities for staff. Instead of one partner managing five to ten teams, JLK Rosenberger partners typically manage two smaller teams. This enables team members to seek quicker, more direct feedback while also being able to bounce questions off people with decades of accounting experience. This level of mentorship helps each individual guide their path in the accounting profession. Simply put, partners spend more time and focus helping staff achieve their career goals.
Robert Gabon, Partner in JLK Rosenberger’s Glendale, California office, recently reaffirmed this sentiment during an interview where he explained, “One of the things that recruits should know about our firm is that we are actively involved in their careers and what they want to do. We want to help them succeed on all fronts. Sometimes that means not just staying at our firm but moving on to other opportunities. I value that our firm does that and provides that type of leadership and guidance.”
Not everyone in a large firm is on the partner track, and your path affects the opportunities, training, and mentorship you’ll have during your time with the firm. At JLK Rosenberger, all associates are considered future partners and provided with a road map describing the partnership path. The partners focus on growing and mentoring all associates by offering career advice, one-on-one training, and helping staff build close relationships with the firm’s clients. Young staff are also involved with potential client proposals and help the firm’s marketing efforts.
Because of this level of mentorship, young staff participates in an audit or tax return from beginning to end, providing a better picture of the entire process. Large firms tend to segment staff accountants, making them specialists in one area, such as auditing loss reserves or tax return preparation for individuals. When asked about his experience starting at JLK Rosenberger, Nikolas Tan, Audit Supervisor, shared, “The complete experience of really understanding the entire audit process is extremely thorough right off the bat.”
Less Churn Means Happier Clients and Employees
Large firms struggle with turnover among lower staff levels, leading to constantly changing client-facing teams. Associates are often staffed on jobs with people they have not worked with previously. And, worst of all, client knowledge and service suffer when the service team lacks cohesiveness. This is less of an issue at a smaller specialty firm like JLK Rosenberger. The staff is more consistent, allowing the team to focus on providing clients with the best service possible, minimizing the time spent covering vacancies and leading to better workload management for everyone.
Consistent staffing of jobs also benefits clients and allows staff to build stronger working relationships with their clients. Building stronger relationships with clients eases the stresses of engagements for both sides, leading to more efficient audits and can even create better exit opportunities for staff looking to move into the industry side of accounting. In the end, public accounting is all about relationships, and building stronger relationships with the people you work with and the clients you serve benefits everyone involved.
David vs. Goliath: Who is the Winner?
You don’t have to go to a top 10 firm to be successful in your public accounting career. Small firms offer different, and often better, training, advancement opportunities, and benefits. It can be scary to turn down an offer at a large, big-name firm for a smaller, specialty firm, but it can be the best way to maximize your potential and ignite your passion for the public accounting profession.