This is the time of year when the latest cohort of new accountants has graduated from their undergraduate programs and begins plotting the journey to a long and meaningful career. It’s also when we’re often approached by young professionals—including some of our future interns and hires—curious about what comes next and how best to steer their services. Many will join one of the Big Four accounting and consulting firms, assuming that a large corporate environment is the right one for them.
Others will opt for medium-sized firms such as KRP LLP, and be thankful for their choice. Why? Because a mid-sized accounting firm offers certain advantages over our hulking enterprise-level competitors. To be clear, many accountants join larger professional services firms and enjoy long and fruitful careers. The Big Four have a lot to offer, but we would argue that mid-sized firms deliver an entirely unique and rewarding work experience.
In our case, we work almost exclusively with entrepreneurs. Our firm was built on a passion for helping business owners found, manage and grow their organizations by delivering comprehensive assurance and accounting services and effective strategic management consulting. Many of our clients have been with us for more than a decade—some for more than three. We’ve maintained those relationships because we’ve always focused on building a strong connection to them and their businesses. We become their trusted advisor. We understand every aspect of their operations, their personal and professional aspirations and assist them with everything from tax and estate planning to acquisitions and succession plans (and everything in between). We are an extension of their business, and that’s how we like it.
That close collaboration not only offers our accountants the opportunity to build a meaningful professional foundation, but to share in the pride and satisfaction that comes with helping a client succeed, troubleshooting challenges and capitalizing on opportunities that emerge along the way.
Put simply, no two days at a mid-sized firm are the same. That translates into extraordinarily interesting work and the chance for individual employees to take a certain degree of ownership over their files. In effect, our people are expected to think like entrepreneurs, whether they’re junior accountants, senior managers or partners. Our people are excited to deal with the real-world realities of helping businesses grow, and it shows in their attitude and the way they address new challenges.
Which brings me to workplace engagement. Countless studies point to widespread disengagement across organizations, which results in diminished productivity, lessened innovation and a generally poor morale that tends to spur increased employee turnover and a diminished employer brand—best defined as an organization’s reputation among top talent in its industry. Progressive, mid-sized firms such as ours encourage employees to bring fresh, new ideas to the table at all times. Staff have the chance to make a real difference. This fosters greater inclusion, a diversity of thought and leads to service improvements being developed all the time. In short, it makes the job fun and engaging.
Another important aspect of life at a mid-sized firm is the opportunity for advancement. Now, there’s no doubt that the international professional services firms offer a path to partnership for top performers. But mid-sized firms often identify and nurture top talent sooner (partly because if they want to grow, they need to constantly replenish their managerial pipeline) and in some cases provide an expedited path to leadership. They also tend to embrace accountants who might prefer to cap their career progress without attaining partnership.
Of course, building a successful career requires professional development and training. This is another area where mid-sized firms tend to excel. Not only do they provide newer accountants with challenging, exciting work, they typically provide robust, on-the-job training to help them gain the experience and expertise they need to succeed long term. In this sense, everybody wins. The firm delivers outstanding service to its clients and the accountant builds the crucial skills that he or she needs to thrive.
One thing is sure: every budding accountant will choose a career path that best suits their professional goals. The best advice I can give is to think carefully about the kind of career you hope to build and what you want your professional legacy to be. Then do your research. Speak to a variety of firms, boutique, mid- and large-sized, and ask questions. What are their values? How would they best define their culture? What are your opportunities for advancement? Compensation across the industry will be largely the same, so often your choice of employer won’t be about salary, but other intangibles that money can’t buy.
Ultimately, the decision comes down to your personal and professional happiness, now and in the future. It pays to take the time to carefully consider how best to shape yours.
George Grignano, Partner