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Differences between Public Practice and Industry

I'm back with another post on career! It has been 6 or 7 years since I first started in public practice and I have seen a lot of my peers leave from my firm. I've gotten to the stage in my career where I'm getting offers for industry positions, so it got me thinking - what's the difference between public practice and industry? Fortunately, I have some experience working in industry, as I'm currently on a client secondment. For those unfamiliar with a client secondment, it's when you work for a client in industry as part of your employment at a public practice firm on a contract position. It's been quite an different experience and it got me comparing the two types of jobs. So here it goes:

Public Practice

For those who want to pursue their CPA designation, public practice is most often the sought after work experience. This is because public practice is made up of CPAs! They specialize in providing accounting services (ie. audit, tax, etc.) to their clients in industry. Here are some key differentiating factors working in public practice:

  1. Amazing support for obtaining your CPA and peers that you start study/work with for the next few years

  2. Chance to explore the specialization you want to pursue (PCS, Tech, Mining, US, Transfer Pricing etc.)

  3. Get a diverse range of experiences working for clients in different industries

  4. Focus on billables (every hour accountable, which impacts your performance evaluation)

  5. Working hours based on client needs (ie. work over time during busy season and take it easy during down season)

  6. Flexibility in hours as you are responsible for your own time (ie. when you start and when you end in the day)

  7. You may experience some jumps in your salary for the first 5 to 8 years of your career at the firm. Given your performance, you can even make it to partner in 12 to 15 years!


Certain industries also have very good programs that support grads wanting to pursue their CPA. That being said, what would be some reason for and against starting off your career in industry or making the transition later in your career:

  1. You may not have as good of a support system considering, depending on the size of the finance department. You might not have as many peers, as there are probably only a handful of people (or even just you) pursuing/with a CPA.

  2. Get to focus on one company/industry and learn in detail about the operations of the specific company you work for

  3. Less diverse nature of work (could be repetitive, less engaging or less chance to work on interesting/unique projects)

  4. Slower paced work (longer time in getting feedback/review from superiors, so not as much pressure as public practice which has very quick turnaround for review)

  5. Better work life balance (fixed hours from 9 to 5, OT usually paid for)

  6. Better pay (since only one role for tax manager, company is willing to pay more than public practice, where there are multiple tax managers)

  7. Getting promoted within industry can be slow and your salary bumps will not be too significant year to year (or there might not even be any chance). The highest position as a VP of Finance or CFO can take 15 to 20 years.


#careerinaccounting #publicpracticevsindustry #big4

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