Public and private sector accounting offers great career prospects. Only, like most things, there are points for and against.
In this update, I’ll explain public and private accounting, provide details on requirements in public and private accounting, while also making recommendations on which of the two I think should give the most job satisfaction based on certain individual characteristics and expectations.
What is Private Sector Accounting?
Private sector accounting involves the creation of internal systems for the recording and reporting of an organization’s or a company’s business transactions. The conservative nature of work in private accounting means less stress. On the downside, exposure is limited to the employer’s line of business.
What is Public Sector Accounting?
Public sector accounting is where documents, reports, and disclosures made by a private accountant are vetted and validated for fairness and compliance with reporting standards. The work of a public accountant may also include auditing, tax advisory, and consulting services. Public accountants work for companies that provide third-party accounting services (Deloitte, E&Y, KPMG, PWC, etc.). This ensures exposure to many clients, businesses, and industries.
What are the Differences Between Public and Private Sector Accounting?
Training requirements in public and private accounting
Training for public accountants involves the analysis of accounting systems, evidence collection, and assertion testing. Private accountants, on the other hand, receive training on how to process business transactions such as billings and accounts payable.
Experience requirements in public and private accounting
Knowledge of multiple industries is required of a public accountant. Expertise in the application of certain accounting systems to specific industries is also an added advantage.
For private accountants, prior experience in multiple industries or with certain systems/frameworks counts for less, since the scope of work is limited to the employer’ business or organization.
Social skill requirements in public and private accounting
Social skill is a requirement for public or private accountants. While public accounting demands meeting/interviewing business owners/clients, a private accountant will need to collaborate with other members of their company.
Certifications requirements in public and private accounting
Certification is a requirement for public accountants (certified public accountants) since examination and finality are a huge part of their job. The job of a private accountant may be subject to further review by a public accountant. Also, no knowledge of accounting standards is required. Hence, certification isn’t a requirement for a private accountant although certain certifications can help, and are in order.
Work environments in public and private accounting
Work is fast-paced in public accounting with increased workloads, tight deadlines, travels, and irregular schedules. The workload is minimized when working in private accounting. Not only that, the work schedule is fixed, and there’s little to no travel.
Resume impacts in public and private accounting
Because of the experience, skills, and expertise required to successfully carry out the job of a public accountant, a resume with big-name accounting firms is a big deal; not so much in private accounting.
Job satisfaction in public and private accounting
Job satisfaction in public accounting boils down to having a broad base of experience in multiple industries and with several clients. Job satisfaction in private accounting comes from in-depth knowledge derived from a business or industry–without the pressure of constantly passing judgment on other accountants’ work.
Career path in public and private accounting
The career path in public or private accounting typically begins with entry-level positions such as staff accountants. After several years, there could be a promotion to the positions of a senior accountant, account manager, assistant controller, controller, and then partner or Chief Financial Officer.
Who Should Consider Public Sector Accounting?
Consider a career in public accounting if:
- You are certified with past working experience in a top accounting firm.
- You don’t mind traveling or meeting new people.
- You don’t mind passing judgments on other people’s work.
- You want to expand your knowledge and network.
Who should Consider Private Sector Accounting?
Consider a career in private accounting if:
- You’re just starting a career in accounting.
- You don’t like traveling or meeting people.
- You aren’t comfortable passing judgments on other people’s work.
- You prioritize a fixed work schedule, minimized workload, or if you can’t work under pressure.