Why Not Midsize Firms?
It’s been about a year-and-a-half, and more importantly two busy seasons, since I began my journey into public accounting. Suffice to say, my knowledge of what it’s like to work in the accounting field has come a considerable way since I walked into Yeshiva University. This is knowledge I am eager to share with you, my reader, in the hopes that it will help you navigate the recruitment chaos. FIrst, though, a little context is necessary.
Being fortunate enough to enjoy both strong academic and extracurricular success meant I could conceive starting my career at nearly any accounting or even finance firm. Nonetheless, I went accounting and much to the shock of many, I went smaller midsize. I scorned the big, shiny name firms in favor of Brand Sonnenschine, a smaller midsize accounting firm located in downtown Manhattan. This is significant because there is a prevalent belief that the top accounting students go to the shiny name firms, the good students go to very large midsize firms like Grant Thornton and RSM and the rest of the students fight it out over the rest of the “inferior” firms. Yeah, I interviewed at the shiny name firms, but they were always a backup. You read that right; the EYs and PwCs of the world - the essence of holiness themselves - were a backup, interviewed at to cover my bases. There is certainly not anything wrong per se with shiny name firms, just they were not and are not for me and moreover, are not for many students.
After reading this piece, I encourage my reader to pivot to a more comprehensive article I wrote for this paper last winter covering the inaccuracies portrayed amongst the shiny-named firms and the underappreciated benefits of midsize firms titled: Are The Big Four Accounting Firms and Grant Thornton as Great as They Seem?
However, that piece was written before I worked a full-time day in public accounting. Presented below are some of the experiences I’ve had along the past year-and-a-half which I feel could be helpful to an accounting or really any business student weighing midsize firms vs. larger firms.
1) I’ve actually learned
Rather than being handcuffed to one or a couple clients working on a singular aspect of a tax return or balance sheet, I’ve had incredible exposure. I’ve prepared and understood the entire process of the tax return for individuals, partnerships, corporations, trusts, estates, and even some private foundations. I’ve constructed everything from a cash analysis to accruals to depreciation schedules to adjusting journal entries to financial statements. I’ve supported far too many audits, reviews, and periodic compilations to count. I’ve learned.
If one is looking to coast for a year or two and not be intellectually stimulated all while putting in extreme hours, firms like Grant Thornton and KPMG beckon. However, smaller firms - whether consisting of about 30 members like mine or a couple hundred like Anchin, Block, & Anchin - allow for true growth.
2) I’ve done it in less time
Firms such as Deloitte and EY understand that entry-level hires are more and more looking to stay for a quick stint, then get anywhere but there. While two years used to be considered the minimum stay, that is gradually becoming one year.
Acknowledging this reality and not wishing to lose money on the expensive recruitment process, the shiny name firms work their new hires hard. Very hard. 15 hour days are commonplace during busy season and the “busy season” time of year is ever stretching. A friend of mine at Grant Thornton reported in February that he expected to more or less be in busy season until October.
On the other end of the spectrum, firms like mine, Citrin Cooperman, CohnReznick and many more midsize firms remain in line with true midsize firm standards of having not much longer than a twelve hour busy season day and not much more than two and a half to three months worth of the busy season schedule. Best yet, non-busy season days actually are eight to eight-and-a-half hour days.
3) I haven’t done it alone
“Nobody is going to get ahead here at the expense of someone else.” Those words from a Brand Sonnenschine Senior Partner echo perhaps the biggest advantage found at midsize firms. It's a true team. The sheer eagerness, not just willingness but eagerness, of the more experienced associates and managers to help me refine my abilities since day one has been stunning. My colleagues have my back and I have theirs. Maybe my most impressionable experience came on the cusp of being assigned a tricky project the night before a busy season deadline. Without thinking twice, a couple of my fellow Junior Associates stopped packing up to go home and jumped to my aid. They recognized I was in a difficult situation and didn't hesitate to work with me to knock out this project, a project which was ultimately only my responsibility to complete.
It's hard not to contrast that experience with what would be expected at a shiny name firm, where having those incredible relationships would be closer to dream than actuality. Maybe one does not get to build those relationships due to the hectic pool seating model at larger firms, which has staff constantly changing seats from one day to the next depending on generic cubicle availability. Perhaps the trend of shiny name firms automating or sending jobs overseas fosters an understandable fear that it may soon be either my job or my colleague's job, making fostering close relationships a near impossibility.
Students, you have worked too hard and too long to simply follow the herd to the shiny name firms. You have earned the right to make an informed, pressure-free decision about where it makes sense to begin your professional life. Let's halt this damaging trend of not giving the proper consideration to the benefits offered at all firms. Maybe the shiny name firms will happen to be the fit for you, but what if they're not? You deserve to start at the firm which will set you up for success. Why can’t that be a midsize firm?
Etan Neiman graduated from Sy Syms in January of 2017 and is a former Commentator Business Editor. He has worked at Brand Sonnenschine LLP since graduation.