By George Violette and Charlotte Pryor
MARCH 2005 – There is a sentiment among some public accountants that if they could do it all over again, they would not enter the accounting profession. Some say the hours are too long, and the resulting strain on family and personal health is more than they wish to bear.
A survey was conducted to explore job satisfaction in public accounting as perceived by partners and principals in accounting firms, a group that has enjoyed success in accountancy. The goal was to gain insights from these individuals that could be shared in an open discussion with accounting students and faculty about how experienced and successful CPAs rose to partner level, how they initially decided to enter the profession, why they have chosen to remain in it, and whether or not they would “do it all again.”
More than 25 public accounting firms in Maine, ranging from sole proprietorships to firms with more than 100 professionals, contributed partners and principals to respond to a series of questions, presented in Exhibit 1. Respondents included 28 partner and principal respondents, nearly half of whom were managing partners or principals. They averaged 27 (median 28) years of experience in public accounting, with a range from 9 to 42 years (see Exhibit 2).
The responses to the first question were quite varied. When choosing to become a CPA, many took the advice of mentors, including parents, teachers, and friends. Some were good with numbers or math, while a couple took aptitude tests. Several others took accounting classes that they greatly enjoyed, and some respondents had successful internships in college.
When asked if a career as a CPA was their “first choice,” 50% indicated that it was. The other half started out in, or expected to be in, such diverse careers as banking, nursing, management, teaching, medicine, and the military.
Responses to questions three and four tended to overlap. Almost half of the respondents were motivated to join the profession by a high school teacher or college professor, while several others pointed to a particular course. A few were inspired by family and friends working in the profession.
When asked why they “remain in the profession,” several responses were similar. The two most frequent replies were enjoyment of the challenges of the work, and the opportunity of working with and helping clients. Several indicated that their work was “never boring,” and was financially rewarding. Many also expressed a joy of working with intelligent and talented coworkers.
In response to the sixth question, 72% of respondents said yes, they would go into the profession again, 14 % said maybe, and 14% said no (see Exhibit 3). Those who said they would not do it again indicated that they would likely pursue careers in teaching, law, medicine, or finance.
Finally, an overwhelming 86% of respondents indicated that they would recommend the profession to undecided students because the profession is challenging yet rewarding, and a great place to start to learn about business in general, even if they decide not to remain in accounting.
The majority of respondents cited inspirational faculty and interesting courses as key reasons why they decided to enter the accounting profession. Perhaps the most important course in establishing accounting as an interesting subject, and a possible career choice, is the first accounting course taken by students. Accounting programs should use their “best” teachers in the first accounting course, those that can make the course interesting, challenging, and stimulating for the students. Furthermore, it is imperative that students in their first course meet and interact with dynamic and successful members of the profession. Students should be encouraged to learn from current professionals, ranging from recent hires to senior partners. They should also hear directly from CPAs that are challenged and energized by their work. In addition, internships should be developed and promoted, so students can experience the work firsthand.
While this survey is limited in scope, the results reinforce the importance of inspirational faculty and intriguing accounting courses in persuading students to enter public accounting careers. By involving highly motivated members of the profession in each accounting class, students can understand more clearly the opportunities and diversity of the profession. This will allow students to make informed career choices and lead to increased interest in the profession.
George Violette, CPA, PhD, is a professor of accounting, and Charlotte Pryor, CPA, PhD, is an assistant professor of accounting, both at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine.