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Government accounting vs. Big 4
Old 10-11-2007, 05:03 AM   #1
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Government accounting vs. Big 4

Currently 21 and an accounting major. Will be graduating in 2 more years.

Everyone is going for Big 4 jobs, however friends who've worked there (and moved on) tell tales of 80 hour work weeks for 45 grand, coming home Saturday and Sunday at 1am, telling me outright I'm going to hate my job but hey, the exit opportunities are worth it. i.e. headhunters calling on a weekly basis.

However, Canada Revenue Agency also has an auditor apprenticeship program. Start off at 41 grand, after a year of probation move to 50k. No overtime, or if there is, it's paid. Flexible work hours. Paid studies (MBA, law degree).

I'll be severely limiting my choices and while the starting salary is higher, the ceiling is much lower.

Just looking to retire as soon as possible with as painless a journey as possible. Gov't accounting sounds like a dream right now and the only concern is losing my job due to budget cuts and being screwed. Otherwise, I'd rather just stay in the government until I retire.

Which would you guys choose?
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Old 10-11-2007, 05:35 AM   #2
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Suggest IRS (Canadian Revenue) - Public. Have a Son who is a CPA and he just could not muster the public sector -- as you say long hours, jerks and unrealistic deadlines. Went with IRS, not much travel, lots of paid training, usually a 40 hour work week, realistic goals and little pressure. He took the training, probation, and is now an 11 in a pretty short time. He is US IRS but it is probably the same "up there".

Personally I did the public sector for a while -- and liked it.

To each his own, I guess. The Private Sector has lots of opportunities, both good and bad, that the Govt does not offer. If I had to do it all over again I would go the Public route; to answer your question directly.

ER comes from LBYM and limiting your expenses.
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Old 10-11-2007, 12:17 PM   #3
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Sounds like you've already made up your mind. I'm a CPA in the US and I am occasionally jealous of the IRS agents I come across for their limited work hours and great pension and benefits. I'm not sure I could really take all the bureaucracy that comes along with a government job - but to each his own.

Certainly, government jobs generally enable early retirement due to their superior pension plans, but you are likely to earn less while you are actually working. Don't forget that there are alternatives to the Big 4 in public accounting. I started out with a Big 4 firm, didn't like it, and am much happier in a "Second Tier" regional firm (bigger fish in a smaller pond). I am aiming to retire at 50.
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Old 10-11-2007, 02:14 PM   #4
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Welcome! I am a retired Canadian Fed (techie not accounting) but my thought would be to get into Revenue Canada and take all the training you can get for a few years then if you are tired of auditing your MBA would qualify you for commerce officer positions in other departments (Industry Canada, Indian Affairs ect). There are oppertunities for cross training in other departments where your current position is protected while you try out the new position. Don't get too specialized.

If you can and want to work toward a law degree that is good too.

If you happen to live or are willing to move to Ottawa so much the better
Good luck
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Old 10-11-2007, 04:59 PM   #5
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Doesn't it depend a bit on your goals? If you want to call yourself CA, don't you have to article for a public practice firm (although not necessarily the big 4)?

If you're after the bucks, there are probably two ways to go. Aim either for partnership in big public practice firm or upper management with Maxi/Mega-Corp. CRA is probably good experience for corporate life.

FWIW, my brother did the CRA aduit thing for about 10 years after graduation. Next he went on his own as a tax consultant and is now CFO of a western resource company.
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Old 10-11-2007, 08:09 PM   #6
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Are you working towards a designation? If not, why even consider a Big 4 firm....it won't be worth it. If you are, then read on. I'm a CA and I know that you can now article in industry pretty much anywhere. I articled at a non Big 4 national firm and the hours there weren't too bad, but you are definitely not going to be working a standard 40 hour week anywhere in public practice. I think getting experience at a Big 4 firm will open lots of doors down the road...future employers WILL toss your resume in the trash when they see you are coming from government...this is a fact. The perception is that you worked for the gov't to be on easy street and companies want to hire people who have demonstrated hard work which working at a Big 4 will prove. If retiring early is a priority, go Big 4 for the bigger future paydays down the road. With gov't it will be very hard to crack 100K a year if you choose to stay there long term, whereas at Big 4 you should be near 100K after 5 or so years assuming you become a manager.
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Old 10-11-2007, 08:12 PM   #7
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Doesn't it depend a bit on your goals? If you want to call yourself CA, don't you have to article for a public practice firm (although not necessarily the big 4)?

If you're after the bucks, there are probably two ways to go. Aim either for partnership in big public practice firm or upper management with Maxi/Mega-Corp. CRA is probably good experience for corporate life.

FWIW, my brother did the CRA aduit thing for about 10 years after graduation. Next he went on his own as a tax consultant and is now CFO of a western resource company.
Starting this year, you do not have to article in public practice. You can article pretty much anywhere now. If you decide to go the non public practice route, then you can never perform audits in the future unless you meet the audit hour requirements which I believe are around 2000 hours. Personally I think it's a bad move for the profession. The number of students in CGA, CMA or CA programs is huge and there will be a huge glut of accountants in about 10 years similar to the problems computer science students 10 years ago had.
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Old 10-12-2007, 05:12 AM   #8
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Thanks for all the replies! Its so rare to hear about anything other than big 4 at my school.

I have a friend who was a manager at PwC making 80 grand. He's moved to industry and is making 90 grand now. He's working his ass off and I can't even imagine slaving through the long hours, UFE process, and having all the associates hate me for making them work 80 hours a week.

If I were as burnt out as he is I'd take any job that paid 60-70 grand as long as the hours were reasonable. However, he has massive student loans to take care of and he's much more ambitious than I plan to be (eventually becoming CEO one day.)

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I think getting experience at a Big 4 firm will open lots of doors down the road...future employers WILL toss your resume in the trash when they see you are coming from government...this is a fact.
This is my main concern about government accounting.

If I take CRA I'd be taking a bet that I'd stay within the government forever. If I can get home a 5pm every night and not work weekends I wouldn't mind putting in more years and retiring at 45 or 50.

My only concern is if for whatever reason I get laid off and won't be able to find another job. Anyone know the chances of being fired from a government position in Canada?
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Old 10-12-2007, 07:00 AM   #9
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If you happen to live or are willing to move to Ottawa so much the better
Good luck
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I have a friend who's in love with Ottawa. Cleaner, better atmosphere, everyone walks a little slower, etc
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Old 10-12-2007, 09:13 AM   #10
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My only concern is if for whatever reason I get laid off and won't be able to find another job. Anyone know the chances of being fired from a government position in Canada?
From a position of tax auditor? Near zero is my quess.
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Old 10-12-2007, 10:50 AM   #11
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Hi idoru! Congrats on making it through school, and on your way to a good paying profession. Just a few words of advice from someone that was sitting where you are right now. I have an engineering degree, and like yourself wanted to get into the w*rking world and start making some real money. I saw lots of my friends become what I termed "engineer mercenaries". They truly did not care what the job was, or where it was, they went to the highest bidder. The only problem was they did not read the fine print about 80+ hours a week, and weekends too. While making the salary you need is very important, make sure you do not pick a place that is going to burn you out in just a few years. I cannot begin to tell you how important that job/life balance is to achieve.
As I have gotten older, the thing I realize the most is that for me anyway, I need interesting challenging work to keep me happy. If you wanted to pay me $200,000 a year but I had to be bored to tears there would come a point in time I would have to go. Yes... for me there are things more important than money. Some people are not like that... some might consider that situation their dream job. Just some things for you to consider....
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Old 10-12-2007, 08:44 PM   #12
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Go get the Public Accounting Experience - I found that when I moved into Corporate role later, the work ethic I developed in Public allowed me to shine over Corporate counterparts. Found it to be very profitable in the long run.
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Old 10-14-2007, 01:11 PM   #13
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I was facing this same decision 2 years ago when i graduated. I decided it was more important for me to have a work life balance, and currently work in the Non-profit industry making $50k and working 35-40 hours a week. Yes, A Big 4 is good on your resume, but when my friends from work were telling me about working till 1 am and having to be back at the office at 6 am, I was glad I made the decision I did.
YOU should make the BEST descision for YOU. What do you want? big bucks (Maybe, in the future after you leave big 4) or a life?
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Old 10-14-2007, 03:18 PM   #14
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There are options other than Big 4 or government. I've been working for two years since graduation and I'm with a midsize firm. The work life balance is much more reasonable and the pay not much different.
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Old 10-14-2007, 04:52 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by idoru View Post
Currently 21 and an accounting major. Will be graduating in 2 more years.

Everyone is going for Big 4 jobs, however friends who've worked there (and moved on) tell tales of 80 hour work weeks for 45 grand, coming home Saturday and Sunday at 1am, telling me outright I'm going to hate my job but hey, the exit opportunities are worth it. i.e. headhunters calling on a weekly basis.

However, Canada Revenue Agency also has an auditor apprenticeship program. Start off at 41 grand, after a year of probation move to 50k. No overtime, or if there is, it's paid. Flexible work hours. Paid studies (MBA, law degree).

I'll be severely limiting my choices and while the starting salary is higher, the ceiling is much lower.

Just looking to retire as soon as possible with as painless a journey as possible. Gov't accounting sounds like a dream right now and the only concern is losing my job due to budget cuts and being screwed. Otherwise, I'd rather just stay in the government until I retire.

Which would you guys choose?
Does the Canadian Revenue Agency offer a good retirement pension? If so, it might be more reliable than pensions offered by most companies, (which frequently seem to be dropping their pensions in recent years).

I work as a scientist for the U.S. federal government, and although my pension will be small, it's nice to feel confident that it will be there when I retire. Pension and other benefits mean that while my salary would be larger in industry, my overall compensation package is better in government. Maybe the same would be true for you with the Canadian government job.
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Old 10-16-2007, 11:27 AM   #16
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My quick two cents. Go with the Canadian Federal Government. The training you'll receive will be extremely valuable to private employers -- far more valuable than your friends will get during their first few years in a Big 4 firm. Although I'm not an accountant, the legal profession in the U.S. often works the same way as the accounting profession. Young law school graduates are tempted to take the $135k+ (some up to $160k) that big law firms are offering, while others go immediately into public service with the IRS, SEC, DOJ, US Attorney's Office, etc... They won't earn as much as their private practice counterparts, but they will be far more valuable to those same law firms after being with the government for 3-4 years. If you climb the ladder within the government, many big law firms will roll out the red carpet for you.

The experience aside, don't make the mistake of sacrificing the best years of your life (your 20s) just for money. You'll be working so hard and for so many hours that your 20s will go by in the blink of an eye. You'll wake up at 32 years old (if you last that long) and wonder where they went. Enjoy your life. You'll have plenty of time to make lots of money if that's what you truly want.
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Old 10-22-2007, 12:10 PM   #17
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Go get the Public Accounting Experience - I found that when I moved into Corporate role later, the work ethic I developed in Public allowed me to shine over Corporate counterparts. Found it to be very profitable in the long run.
This article is saying the same thing.
Life, Personal Finance and Debt-Free Living: A Career in Accounting - Big 4 or Bust?
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Old 10-22-2007, 12:31 PM   #18
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My DD is a CPA. She was a finance major in a highly regarded program, went to work for EY in the Silicon Valley. She accepted a position with an investment firm and is doing very well. Her in-law family includes CPAs, one is a CFO the other teaches in a local college.

The path you choose should consider where you want to live and the types of clients you would audit in public accounting. She wouldn't have had the same opportunities if she wanted to live in even a medium sized city. EY has a group focused on high tech which is where the opportunities are in her community. That exposure was valuable to her current employer. The other thing to consider is what human resources call 'fit'. This can include your personal lifestyle values and behaviors.

Yes, as a junior in public accounting you work long hours, as do medical interns. Consider it an extension of your education if you go that route.
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Old 10-22-2007, 06:40 PM   #19
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I graduated in 2002 with an accounting degree so needless to say the big 4 weren't hiring that many people. The class before mine, each firm hired about 10-15 people, but in my year they were only taking 2-3 each. So I stayed and got my MS in Accounting. When I got out, my friend who did go with a big firm wasn't loving it. Yes they got a nice big salary, but he was also in Chicago so cost of living was factored in, but he was bottlenecked into auditing and only receivables for large clients.

I work at a small firm and I love it. I get to work on everything from audits, municipal audits, tax planning, corp & personal tax, and bookkeeping for small businesses. I think it makes me more marketable once I do decide to move on as I'm not just an auditor or a tax preparer - I can do it all.

But it comes down to what will make you happy.
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Old 10-30-2007, 07:12 PM   #20
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I've been a CPA in the US for about 20 years and I can tell you that the best thing I ever did for myself was to stumble into a Big 4 job. I had no idea what I was doing at the time, but since that seemed to be the aspiration of all the other accounting majors, I just followed the crowd.

As a result, doors are wide open to me that just aren't to many of the accountants I work with. Anytime I apply for a job, I'm automatically considered a superior candidate to anyone who is not a CPA from the Big 4 regardless of their background. Mind you, I'm not saying this is right, I'm just saying that it is true. I currently do accounting consulting work for all kinds of companies, large and small, public and private, and I can tell you that pretty much all the time, the first thing clients ask is "Is she a CPA?", and the second thing they ask is "Is she Big 4?". So, unless you can predict right now that you will want to stay in a gov't job until you get your pension, my advice is to take a Big 4 job if you can get one, stick it out for a few years, get your certification, then move on.
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