Big and Small Accounting Firms: Which One Is Right For You?

Once you’ve chosen your accounting career, deciding where you want to work is the first step in any job search. Within this career field, you can work at any one of thousands of different companies and firms. Which one is right for you, a larger or smaller accounting firm?

Network at Small and Large Firms

Big and Small Accounting Firms: Which One Is Right For You?

Image via Flickr by Alan Cleaver

Another question you might ask about a future accounting career is whether opportunities exist for networking and career advancement. Both small and large firms have advantages when it comes to getting recognition.

The name of a large firm, especially one of the Big 4, is definitely more prestigious on your resume. Large firms can give you the chance to get connected with a few very high-profile clients. Smaller firms have the advantage of exposure to a higher number of clients, however. So if you want to spread your influence far and wide, you may want to consider a smaller firm.

Larger Firms Can Offer Higher Salaries

The first question many people want to know about where they’re going to work is what the salary will be like. By all accounts, awards in this category go to the larger firms.

According to Payscale.com, the median salary for an accountant in the U.S. is about $47,000 a year. The median for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the largest accounting firms in the U.S., is almost $53,000 a year. On top of this fact, larger firms will often subsidize employees who study for exams like the CPA exam, and some even pay for the exam itself. Salaries and benefits aren’t just handed out, though. You’ll have to work extra hard for them.

Less Stress at a Smaller Firm

To keep your position at a larger firm, you may have to work overtime and compete with other employees for attention. As a result, many accountants find the experience of working at a larger firm to be more stressful.

Smaller firms, however, can offer a more relaxed work environment. Employees at smaller firms tend to work more cooperatively, since there are much fewer employees to handle the workload. A good metaphor for comparing a large and a small firm work environment might be the large firm having one big, expensive party at the end of the year and the small firm having casual get-togethers throughout the year.

Get Smarter at Either Size Firm

Whether smaller or larger firms are better with education is a matter of personal preference. Larger firms tend to invest more in education, giving presentations and encouraging group work to inspire learning. At a smaller firm, you’re more likely to get one-on-one attention from a mentor. Smaller firms often encourage you to learn on the job. If you work for a smaller firm, you’ll most likely have more free time to pursue higher education in accounting and study for certification exams. Accountants who are more independent might enjoy these benefits of a smaller firm.

While some accountants may flounder after a short time working at a larger firm, these firms are the best choice if you want a high salary and high-profile clients. But A job at a smaller firm often means a friendlier work environment and a better work-life balance. When deciding which is right for you, keep in mind that it’s never too late to switch to a different sized firm.