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It's up to you to make it work.

By: Robert Half

Robert Half, CPA and founder of Robert Half International Inc., a financial and data processing recruitment firm with offices on three continents.

With the proliferation of small businesses in America, the chances of a graduating accounting major working for one are pretty good. By extension, it also means that the possibility of being hired by a family-owned business is enhanced. Dun & Bradstreet Information Services estimates that more than 95 percent of American businesses are privately held.

The advantages and disadvantages of working for a smaller company, versus a larger one, are a constant source of debate. Either situation for a recently graduated accountant can provide a rich opportunity to put newly acquired skills and knowledge into play, and to begin making a contribution to both an employer and the accounting profession.

But, there are obvious differences between launching an accounting career with a large, publicly held company and a smaller one.

A few decades ago, larger companies provided more time for new employees to slip into the swing of things. Because new hires became a part of a large group of professionals, aided by substantial support staffs, there was less pressure to produce right away.

That's no longer the case. In today's belt-tightening business climate, companies, from the smallest to the largest, are competing with fewer employees. Everyone, veteran employees and beginners alike, need to pull their weight every day. New hires are expected to hit the ground running, as that cliche goes.

Launching an accounting career with a small or mid-sized firm is likely to provide a greater breadth of experience than offered by a larger counterpart. Smaller companies demand that their employees wear many hats. A recent accounting graduate might not only work on accounting projects, but could also be drawn into the company's marketing, sales, public relations, and technology-driven activities. That can give a new accountant a valuable breadth of business experience upon which to build a productive and fulfilling career.

Conversely, large corporations are likely to offer new accounting hires the opportunity to focus upon a more specific set of accounting tasks.

In either case, the salient point is: no matter how recent accounting graduates choose to launch their careers, it is the attitude they bring to their first jobs that will determine their future professional successes.
As with virtually every other aspect of life, it is the quality of the people, with whom we associate early in our careers, that takes center-stage. Hopefully, every new accountant will benefit from the wisdom and knowledge of caring mentors. And those mentors are to be found in every company, no matter what its size.
Part of the debate, concerning the virtues of beginning an accounting career in a large or small company, has to do with which experience best prepares one for career growth.

Do the diverse responsibilities, gained by working in a smaller company, transfer easily to future employment with a larger firm?

Does the exposure to a larger corporate world better prepare an accountant to progress to a position of responsibility with a smaller company, perhaps even a startup?

The answer to both questions is a predictable yes, and no.

To me, what really matters is that each person make the most of his or her opportunity: big or small; public or private; east or west; or jeans and T-shirts or corporate gray.

There will be those who flourish under a smaller company's introduction to the workplace.

Others will benefit from beginning their accounting careers in the nation's largest corporations.

The key for every new accountant is the attitude he or she brings to that important first job, no what the business setting.

Ultimately, it's up to you to make it work.

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