Should You Pursue Public Or Private Accounting? A Guide

As you prepare for your accounting career, you will eventually have to make the decision between pursuing private accounting and public accounting. What is the difference between the two? And which is the right path for you? Here's what you need to know.

Who Makes a Good Private Accountant?

Private accounting involves working for one company or an owner group. The accountant generally is hired as an employee and works as part of an accounting team. It's often a supervisory position, but some elements of the accounting department are independent and don't oversee other employees. Travel is usually limited. 

The job of a private accountant is to analyze company transactions and financial reports to find weaknesses, improve internal methods, ensure accuracy and compliance, and provide guidance for management. 

So, the ideal candidate for this work is someone who wants the stability of a regular schedule — albeit a busy one at times — and enjoys working with peers as part of a group. Because the role is very analytical but also forward-thinking, it can be satisfying as you see the fruits of your labors in one company's bottom line. 

Who Makes a Good Public Accountant?

Public accountants serve a variety of clients, usually as an independent business person. The public accountant advises both individual and corporate clients about things like tax issues, business entity selection, business plans, and mergers or acquisitions. Because a public accountant operates as a business, they choose which clients to work with and how to price their services. They may also travel a lot.  

Do these aspects appeal to you? If so, you may be right as a public accountant. If you like to work on different types of accounting tasks and with a broad range of disparate individuals or businesses, the variety of public accounting can be stimulating. You would also have more control. However, you may not feel as personally involved in the success of businesses or be able to develop deeper business relationships.  

How Can You Choose?

So, how can you choose the accounting path that fits you? The best way is to absorb all you can during your education with a view to what elements you enjoy and what you don't. Also, take the time to speak with instructors, mentors, and others who already work in the accounting industry. Start by making an appointment with an experienced counselor at an accounting school near you.