What are the differences between Public Accounting and Private Accounting and what’s right for you?

Now that you have made a choice to become an accountant, you have several decisions to make, especially within your academic path. What kind of accounting would you like to do? Would a B.A. or B.S. degree be most beneficial to you?

What sort of certifications will you need? And then, perhaps you need to consider which sector of accounting you would like, public or private. The best way to decide which sector to pursue would be to educate yourself on the differences and then think ahead about the career you see yourself doing in the future.

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differences between public accounting and private accounting

Public Accounting

The Public Accountant works for a variety of different clients, for example, individuals, corporations, or small businesses. They typically work for a public accounting firm performing accounting services such as preparing taxes, financial documents, and consulting.

Public Accountants often work 40 hours per week or more depending on workload, with an emphasis on “billable” hours; however, some regional and international travel may be involved, as well, especially if you are employed by a larger firm. You may want to choose a smaller firm to work for if you would like to keep travel at a minimum.

A bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance and a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification are required in the public accounting sector. You must have strong analytic skills and be familiar with business systems.

What is your long-term goal within the public sector? While beginning as an entry-level accountant, you may then advance, within a few years, to a position as a senior accountant and then on to management. Becoming a partner in the firm should be your ultimate goal. Most accountants complete this goal, on average, after about 13 years of service, depending on the age and positions of other partners or candidates.

The career outlook in the public accounting sector is very strong, with an average salary ranging from $50,000 to $73,500 annually for the general accountant. Also, due to the various clients you will work with, if you decide to work in the private sector later, then you have diverse experiences to share.

It is easier to transfer to the private sector than it is to start in the private sector and transfer later to the public sector because beginning in private accounting limits your client exposure, and you won’t be as marketable to other employers.

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differences between public accounting and private accounting

Private Accounting

Now let’s review the other side of the coin…the private sector of accounting. In Private Accounting, sometimes called Corporate Accounting, accountants are primarily employed by one corporation or industry. They become experts in accounting issues dealing specifically with their particular corporation.

Private accountants must have extensive knowledge of the business process and requirements pertaining to the type of business they are in and be familiar with reporting manufacturing costs, billing, cash flow reports, payroll, account payables, and account receivables.

The work environment in the private sector is usually a typical 40-hour week, with no need to track hours. Travel is kept at a minimum, if any.

Unlike the public sector, private accountants are not typically required to own a CPA certification, although it is helpful and impressive to have in regard to future job searches, and employers will be impressed by your effort, not to mention a potential increase in salary.

As with any position, you will need to climb the corporate ladder, beginning with entry-level positions and serving in a management capacity before achieving your ultimate career goal as a Chief Financial Officer in the private sector of accounting.

The career outlook for private accounting is very strong, and the salary ranges from $44,250 to $59,500 annually for the general accountant, depending on the location and size of the company.

differences between public accounting and private accounting

In Conclusion

  • As you can see, the differences are subtle; however, they are important when thinking of your future career accomplishments.
  • Generally, the public sector is going to provide you with a variety of client types and give you a wider range of valuable experience to help you build your career.
  • Most accountants, at some point, work in both the public and private sectors.
  • Identifying your long-term professional goal will allow you to choose an educational path that is right for you.

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Rowan Jones
Chief Editor