How to Minimize Travel in Your Public Accounting Career

business travel
From the mailbag:
Hi Andrew,
I’m starting my public accounting career at an internship at one of the big four over the summer and I’m a little concerned about the travel. While I might not travel much during the internship, when I actually start full-time I imagine there will be plenty of travel. The service line I’m going into is Risk Advisory and everything I’ve read online says that they’re almost 90% travel. I’m a little curious about how to survive at the big four when you’re almost never home. They claim that some of the projects can be as long as months away from home. If the traveling is between Monday and Friday I really don’t mind as long as I can have my weekends to get my stuff done. At least one day a week to do something. What I’m asking is for your experience when it comes to travel and even if the travel is crazy how do you survive? Thanks again.
Bean Contador!
I get this questions all the time. Based on your life experience, family, and personal preferences, the amount of traveling can be a big part of what job you take.
First things first, accounting firms are typically made up of Audit, Tax, and Advisory (consulting).
Advisory = most travel
Audit = some travel
Tax = very little travel
While these rules aren’t set in stone, this is certainly the trend. However, within each of the categories there are exception based on two general factors:
  1. Client demands
  2. How much the firm likes your

The surest way to get what you want out of any job is to get management to like you. SHOCKER, I know. If you build relationships with key members of management (your coach, HR, scheduling, partners), you can be the exception to ANY of the rules above.

So how do you do that?

The first step is to work hard in your first 3-6 months. Learn the company, trade, technology, and relationship in the firm. As I was once told:

“Keep your effin’ head down!”.

Before you ask for special treatment, you need to put the firm in a position where they feel like they owe you something. On day 1, and heck even month three they don’t owe you ANYTHING and you should approach any conversation about special treatment accordingly.

Don’t make demands. just politely ask. Here is what I would say to HR after a few months of being a ROCKSTAR on my clients, meeting every deadline, and exceeding expectations:

Jeanine (HR),

[part 1] I just want to say that I am very grateful for everything you’ve done for me. This is a great firm, I’ve had a tremendous experience, I’m very happy with my decision to work here, and I’m excited for the next year. Based on what you’ve heard or seen, what do you think I could do better at the firm?

(see what they say and respond with grace, poise, and appreciation for their honesty NO MATTER WHAY THEY SAY. If they bring up a problem area, do not continue. Take 2-3 months and work on that issue, then bring up the next paragraph.)

[part 2] I’m glad you guys are happy. Let me know if there is anyway I can help you out with recruiting or planning/promoting upcoming events. Oh by the way, there is something I wanted to mention. While I’ve really enjoyed my clients, I would prefer if I didn’t travel quite as much. I’m at a point in my life where (insert family or personal reason) and I’d like to spend more time at home. Again, this isn’t a huge issue and I love working here, but it is something that could increase my happiness here even farther! I don’t need an answer or a change today, I did just want to let you know that is one of my goals here and I’m willing to do anything I can to work towards that.

Leave it at that. Changes like this don’t occur overnight. You need to give this person time to let other people know, and hopefully, by the next few scheduling cycles, this will be part of their consideration.

I would have this same coversation with your coach/mentor, partners you work closely with, and someone in scheduling if you have a good relationship. Don’t tell everyone in one day. Space it out over a few weeks. You career is a marathon, not a race. Seldom to firms accommodate your needs in a day, but with a few months of persistent hard work, success with your client and teams, and stating your preference to the right people, you will be surprised at how much they pay attention.