Which Industry Should I Choose When Working In Public Accounting?

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From the mailbag:

Hi Andrew,

I love your website and have referred to it many times during the past year so thank you very much for sharing your knowledge. I will be starting my public accounting career in Audit this coming January and have been asked if I want to specialize in any industry right away or experience a variety during my first year. My plan is to only be in public accounting for about 2-3 years and then exit out so I am thinking that it’s best to specialize right away.

Do you have any pros and cons to share on SEC clients, Private Equity, Real Estate, Health Care, Financial Institutions, Entertainment, and/or Software? I am interested in all of them in general but want to know typical pros and cons between them.

Any advice is appreciated.

Bean Counter Fan

Great question!

The truth is that most people won’t have this problem.

This dilemma really only applies at the largest public accounting firms and when you work in a large office.

For example, I started at the PwC Tampa office.

Because the office was relatively small, I worked in:

  • Healthcare
  • Technology
  • Manufacturing
  • Distribution
  • Hedge Fund
  • And other industries

And that was just my first year.

But a friend of mine work started in the Deloitte office worked 90% on one client and 100% in the hedge fund industry.

Some of the major cities like New York, Boston, Chicago have huge offices and major clients.

The way I think of it:

Small firm or office = choose your line of service: audit, tax, or advisory

Large firm & large office = choose your line of service: audit, tax, or advisory AND choose the industry you want to work in.

I am honestly a little biased because my experience working across industries was amazing.

Who knew I would have been so interested in manufacturing vs. healthcare?

Who knew I would like non-public vs. PCAOB audits?

How can you know before you start?

I don’t think you can.

The truth is that I would try to work on a few different industries if you can.

But if you can’t, there are two things I would consider:

  1. What industry “runs the office”? The largest industry will typically have the most control over staffing, company politics, pay, etc. After all, they bring in most of the sales. If you are interested in that industry, choose that one.
  2. What industry appeals to you based on any experience or general interest you have? For most of us, this is hard to know. Not many people have experience with healthcare, hedge funds, and governmental entities or any other mix of industry. But if I told you to pick one industry – what is the very first one that comes to mind? I’d probably choose that, go with your gut.

While many people within the firm will tell you that you won’t be able to change, that’s not true.

If you are a hard working, high performer, you can almost always change.

They want to keep you and they want to keep you happy.

Even if you’ve only been there 6 months or a year.

So use the guidelines I mentioned above to pick an industry if you have to and ask yourself along the way:

Am I liking this? Could I see myself doing this for 5 years?

If the answer is no, slowly start to plant the seed with your mentors and HR that you are interested in changing industries.