Chances are, you’ll start your accounting career in the area of public accounting. From there, what happens is anyone’s guess. It all hinges on where your strengths and interests lie and where you want to take your life.

Those sound like some pretty big choices, right? They are. But it all starts to fall into place once you dive into your work in the public sector. The key is to take things one step at a time. And the first step is to be aware of all your options, so that you can choose the right ones when the time comes. Which is probably why you’re here, so let's get started.

Big v. Small

The first major question most aspiring CPAs struggle with is whether to start with a large global firm – in many cases a so-called “Big Four” firm – or to go with a smaller regional or local firm. And that's a good question. Because there can be a world of difference between them. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It all depends on your personal goals and interests. But here are some general guidelines to help you get started.

Working for a large firm can take you anywhere in the world you want to go. If you’re looking to get a bird’s-eye view of the biggest challenges facing some of the world’s largest and most well-known companies, and you want to add a lot of pins to your “places I’ve visited” app on Facebook, a large firm might be for you. You can also expect to join a group of coworkers who are your age and share a lot of your interests. Many of them will go on to become friends and valuable contacts you’ll know for the rest of your life. Plus, some people like having a big name on their resume, wherever they end up taking their career.

On the other hand, working for a smaller firm can give you greater responsibility earlier in your career. Not to mention more access to the senior people who can make a big difference in your career growth and professional development. Many CPAs choose to work for smaller firms because they find it easier to maintain the work/life balance they’re looking for.

These are only a few of the things to think about as you choose whether to work in a large or small firm. Unless you already know exactly what you want, do some personal research. Go for informational interviews at both types of firms. Talk to people who have done both. And then make the call.

Which specialty?

Public accounting is essentially as big and far-ranging as the field of accounting itself. Which is pretty big. Sooner or later, you’ll want to determine which path is right for you.

The truth is, no website is going to help you make that choice. It all comes down to the experiences you build as your career unfolds. But the least we can do is show you what options you’re likely to have in a public accounting career. A zillion career options open up after choosing any one of these paths.

Here goes:

  • Auditing: Make sure financial statements are fact, not fiction.
  • Assurance Services: Give executives one version of the truth by improving the quality of information.
  • Environmental Accounting: Help companies go green to make green.
  • Forensic Accounting: Track down – and help avoid – accounting crime.
  • Information Technology: Translate accounting into technology.
  • International Accounting: Help businesses navigate global waters.
  • Consulting: Make businesses better.
  • Personal Financial Planning: Improve lives through hands-on accounting help.
  • Tax Advisory Services: Help companies stay a step ahead of the ever-changing world of tax laws.

And that’s just the big stuff.

As with any career, there are a lot more choices you’ll have to make in your journey as a public accountant. But choice is good, right? And public accounting can help you lay the groundwork for whatever career you want to have as a CPA – even if it’s not in public accounting.

To learn more about some of the opportunities in public accounting, hop over to CPA profiles.