The traditional accounting career path is becoming a dead end. Half of the accountants say they’re unhappy at work. What’s gone wrong… and what can be done about it?
According to a recent CV-Library survey:
- 50% of accountancy professionals are unhappy in their current role
- 42% of those say their unhappiness is because of a lack of development opportunities
- 96% of unhappy accountants are looking for a new job
The industry has failed to achieve what today’s new starters want. The era of a job for life is over: young employees want purpose, meaning, flexibility, and personal development. They won’t find that in the traditional accounting career.
Practice vs industry
The roots of this dissatisfaction lie at the beginning of your career when you choose between going into practice or industry. This choice will shape your path and skillset from then on–yet there’s little informed debate or advice for young accountants on which choice will suit them best. In general, the most ambitious start at a Big Four firm because it seems to be the done thing, and many find it’s wrong for them and end up burning out.
Big firm = narrow exposure
Working in practice gives you a narrow view. You’ll likely be working for large corporations and specializing in a single narrow field like audit, tax, or M&A, rather than getting an overview of how the whole business works or a chance to work with startups or scale-ups. For intelligent young accountants, making rich companies richer leaves them feeling deprived of purpose.
What’s more, the old incentives have become negligible. Inflation has driven pay down in the last decade, and the traditional pay structure in large accounting firms means you don’t see the big money until you make partners–which most never do. Those who do make it to the partner stage take an average of fifteen years to get there–a long time to put up with excessively long hours and comparatively low pay, especially for a generation that prioritizes work-life balance.
And there’s a third factor: boredom. In practice, the work is repetitive and mundane: journal entries, reconciliation, month-end, close, repeat. People want more variety. Here’s how two participants in a recent online survey described why they were unhappy:
“The reason so many people hate audit is that it is extremely boring after the first 3-4 months because you do the same exact procedures over and over for different clients… you do a boring job with a bad work-life balance for fairly mediocre compensation.”
“Part of it is how boring the work is. The other part is the crushing realization that 99% of the time your work kind of just…doesn’t matter.”
Is there a better option?
Becoming a consultant in the industry used to be the inferior option. The balance has now shifted. Consulting roles today offer all the work-life balance and development opportunities that the traditional career path lacks.
Whether you’re just starting your career or you’re already in a career as a CPA and dissatisfied with it, consider dual certification. Institute of Management Accountants and/or Certified Management Accountant certification covers more of the issues facing accounting today and will make you more employable than a CPA alone.
At GC Partners, we’re experts at helping CPAs move into the industry, so get in touch today if you’d like to discover a better way.