Public vs. Private Accounting – Are You Ready for a Shift?


While the basic background may be the same, there is a huge difference between a career in public accounting and private accounting. If you’ve been committed to one path or the other so far in your career, are you thinking about making the switch? What do you need to know about the other career path to effectively, and successfully, make the change? Let’s take a look at public versus private accounting so you can make the right choice for your future.

What is the work environment?

Both accounting positions will be very busy, but there are aspects of the environment that will be quite different. In fact, the biggest difference is likely to be travel. A private accountant will work for one employer while a public accountant may have to spend time traveling between clients all across the country. For some, this can be a benefit if they want to use their career as a platform to explore. But for others, the routine of one workplace may be more valuable.

What does an average day entail?

While the basics of accounting remain the same, some of the specifics will be quite different. A public accountant, for instance, will travel to each client to ensure there are no errors in the information the client has prepared for them. Often, a public accountant will choose a specialization such as tax accounting or forensic accounting, which all come with additional duties. A private accountant will work with their company for management, reporting, or both.

What kind of education do you need?

Either opportunity starts with a bachelor degree. But from there, things diverge. Many accountants then go on to get their license as a CPA. This may be more valuable for those interested in public accounting, but some private accountants also hold the license. There are a number of other certifications that may also be beneficial to you in private or public accounting, so be sure to evaluate all possible options.

The pros and cons of public and private.

So now that you know some of the key basics between the two accounting paths, what are some of the pros and cons between them? The pros in public accounting include faster access to growth opportunities, exposure to more types of business, and the ability to specialize. But you may have to deal with high-pressure deadlines, travel, and an inflexible schedule. In a private accounting career you might expect less stress and steady, flexible work. However, there will be a lack of variety in the day to day job duties and there may not be frequent opportunities to advance.

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