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Accounting Industry Guide

PricewaterhouseCoopers

Intern Class Size 2,100 per year
Average Intern Salary $4,924
Average Starting Salary $53,000

Unlike the rest of the Big 4, PricewaterhouseCoopers’s employees are relatively unconcerned with the company’s potential to pile on the work. They enjoy working at the company, with each other and with management, and are confident in the company’s stability and its values. Everybody there knows that signing up with one of the Big 4 means signing away your life during the busy season, and the company does its best to make sure that you’re taken care of year round.

An internship with PwC is going to be one of the most tiring and stressful periods of your life (with the possible exception of the annual busy season should you decide to accept a full-time career with an accounting firm). You are going to be working long hours for industry-standard pay. But you are going to learn enough in that time to make the stress and competition worth it, not to mention make valuable connections in the industry. PwC is a great place to start your career and, should you choose to go elsewhere, having it on your resume will turn heads wherever you go.

Bottom Line:
PricewaterhouseCoopers is the best in the industry for making sure that the heavy workload doesn’t destroy the overall experience had by its employees. Its internships are chalked full of great learning experiences, and its name carries some serious weight in the industry.


Deloitte

Intern Class Size 500+ per year
Average Intern Salary $3,850
Average Starting Salary $52,076
Specialties Audit, consulting, and tax services

Coming in second on Vault.com’s 2013 list of top accounting firms, Deloitte resides in the echelon of Big 4 accounting firms that includes powerhouses Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Deloitte is the number one accounting firm in the nation in terms of annual revenue. Separating into multiple subsidiaries to cover all its specialties, Deloitte LLP is a great name to have on your resume, but it might not be the best place to stay if you want a life outside of the office.

Internships during the busy season will be long and toiling, with no overtime pay and hours that can extend past midnight. Internships in the off-season have the potential to be busy work with very little responsibility. That said, you will learn a lot about the industry, and your coworkers will be smart, dedicated people.

Bottom Line:
Deloitte is a great place to work and build your knowledge of the industry, but starting a family while working there will be very difficult, as there is very little work-life balance.


Grant Thornton

Intern Class Size +/-350 per year
Average Intern Salary $3,495
Average Starting Salary $50,000
Specialties Audit, tax, and advisory services

Recently breaking the top four in Vault.com’s list of the best accounting firms, Grant Thornton LLP is not one of the famous Big 4 accounting firms. However, in recent years it has been doing its best to join the ranks of Ernst & Young, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and KPMG. Like accounting firms across the nation, the biggest issue when working at Grant Thornton is the long hours expected of you. Such is the price you pay in the accounting industry.

The internship program has been described as a great introduction to the industry—but without any formal training. Many past interns mentioned the sink or swim mentality at Grant Thornton as a con to an otherwise great experience with helpful team members and great devotion to client relations. It is also noted that the salary is not as high as the Big 4’s and that Grant Thornton does not receive the same recognition or prestige, although this is changing.

The Bottom Line
Grant Thornton has a lot of potential as a company. It’s high ranking on Vault.com (beating out Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and KPMG) indicates that it is a force to be reckoned with in the accounting industry. Working at Grant Thornton will give you a lot of experience and is generally considered to be a good career move.


Ernst & Young

Intern Class Size 2,300 per year
Average Intern Salary $4,234
Average Starting Salary $55,000
Specialties Assurance, Tax, and Advisory services

Rounding this year’s top four on the list of the best accounting firms, Ernst & Young LLP has long since held the reputation as one of the big dogs. Despite being beat out by Deloitte and Grant Thornton in the Vault standings, EY holds one of the coveted spots as a Big 4 accounting firm and is internationally known and respected. The company makes a big deal of its work/home life balance options, and encourages relationships in the company so that employees feel included and supported.

EY’s internships are jam-packed with valuable experiences for any accounting major. You are going to be worked to the bone, no doubt about it, but it will be worth it, especially to get that Big 4 name on your resume. The only downside to working for this accounting legend is the feeling of insignificance. You are only a small piece of the overall business, and it can be a little overwhelming.

Bottom Line
If you can handle the workload, you will excel at Ernst & Young. You might not always get recognized for your efforts, but you’ll have supportive co-workers to commiserate with and a prestigious name on your resume.


BDO USA

Average Intern Salary $3,520
Average Starting Salary $55,000
Specialties Assurance, Tax, and Transaction Advisory services

Unlike the Big 4, BDO USA is a smaller firm with smaller clients and less prestige than Deloitte or EY can boast of. However, in a shocking turn of events, BDO jumped in Vault.com ratings from 29th to 5th, indicating that, not only has the firm been endeavoring to play with the big kids, it’s actually succeeding at doing so. The offices are all about the small firm feel, and their employees think of each other like family. There are opportunities for growth and advancement, with less of the corporate cutthroats that reside in the Big 4. But like all accounting firms, the busy season is, you guessed it, busy, and the workload can reach peak stressfulness.

BDO offers internships in tax, assurance, and information. You get assigned a mentor to help you acclimate and learn. Constant feedback will keep you in the know about how you’re performing in your internship, and you’ll receive a final evaluation at the end. On top of that, you get invited to all of the firm’s events for fantastic networking opportunities.

Bottom Line:
BDO doesn’t have the recognition of the Big 4, but it also doesn’t have the elitist atmosphere or competitive culture either. This is where you learn a lot and gain valuable relationships with hardworking, friendly members of the accounting industry.


KPMG

Intern Class Size 500+ per year
Average Intern Salary $3,400
Average Starting Salary $57,604
Specialties Audit, tax, and advisory services

The last of the Big 4 accounting firms ranks sixth overall, with many of the same benefits as the rest of its cronies but suffering somewhat in reputation since one of its partners pled guilty to providing tips on the company’s clients to a friend. But bad press aside, employees are relatively happy at KPMG, citing the great people and experiences as the best reasons to work for the Big 4 firm. But like accounting firms all over the country, the busy season requires a greater commitment than most people would consider reasonable, and the lack of work-life balance drags down an otherwise high opinion of the company.

KPMG internships are well-structured and designed to grow your knowledge of the industry. You’ll be given enough responsibility to aid in your education without putting too much stress on you, but internships during the busy season will require long hours. KPMG hosts lots of events to encourage networking, and each intern gets a mentor for one-on-one


McGladrey

Intern Class Size 300+ per year
Average Intern Salary $3,619
Average Starting Salary $54,401
Specialties Assurance, Tax, and Consulting services

Confined to the Midwest, McGladrey is a great firm, praised for its dedication to work-life balance and keeping their employees happy. While hours do lengthen during the busy season, McGladrey does not expect such stressful commitment year round, unlike the Big 4. Unfortunately, their brand does not have the recognition nor the prestige associated with the Big 4 firms, making its name on your resume less effective.

Internships with McGladrey are educational and less stressful than Big 4 internships. You won’t get overtime, but you will get a decent salary, on par with the rest of the industry. The company has many opportunities for advancement, and the employees are far more laid back and nowhere near as competitive as those at the Big 4.

Bottom Line:
You’re going to get as much experience interning at McGladrey as you would at a Big 4, without the prestige associated with an international brand. The work-life balance is much better at this tax firm than any of the top six in this list, though, so all in all it may be worth it, depending on your priorities.


Rothstein Kass

Average Intern Salary $3,520
Average Starting Salary $53,750
Specialties Tax, Audit, and Advisory services

Despite laying off 10% of its employees across the board earlier in 2013, Rothstein Kass is still held in high esteem by both its employees and its competitors. Recent rankings by Hedge Funds Review indicate that RK is the top accounting and auditing firm in the country, causing some in the industry to consider the “Big 4” to be an incorrect moniker when ratings show that RK rounds out the number of top prestigious international accounting firms to five.

Rothstein Kass offers opportunities from the beginning, from the freshman externship program to the summer leadership program for sophomores and juniors as well as the summer and winter internship and externship opportunities for juniors and masters students. Throughout the internship program, students get to work with and shadow multiple members of the company to learn as much as they can about the industry and different departments.

Bottom Line:
Rothstein Kass is proving itself capable of running with the big dogs. It’s on its way to the top, and it’s taking its employees with it. If you can handle the stress of a job with a Big 5 firm, you’d do well to hop on this train before it leaves the station.


Moss Adams

Average Intern Salary $3,360
Average Starting Salary $51,513
Specialties Tax and Assurance services

Moss Adams has all the problems and perks of a Big 4 firm, without the instant respect that comes from seeing a Big 4 on a resume. You’ll work with great employees who are smart and engaging, deal with some office politics, sell your soul during the busy season, and try (in vain) to salvage some work-life balance.

An internship at Moss Adams will have you assimilated into a team to work on projects that first years work on, to give you a good picture of the industry and lots of support. Employees get mentored and offered advice by their personal career advisors, as well as perks to make up for the long hours of the accounting industry.

Bottom Line:
If you can live and breath accounting and the company, it will give back to you, just not in time off.


Plante Moran

Intern Class Size 100+ per year
Average Intern Salary $3,313
Average Starting Salary $53,313
Specialties Audit, Tax, and Consulting services

Plante Moran is not a Big 4 firm. Despite this constant refrain in the accounting industry, it’s really starting to show at this firm, where its employees begrudge its less-than-Big-4 benefits. Plante Moran is also very proud of its work-life balance, but its employees are saying that its all talk and no walk on the company’s part. It’s a great place to start, but its long-time employees encourage the younger generation to consider leaving after a couple of years. More than one person mentions that being from Michigan might help your advancement in the company, so... welcome, Michiganders!

Interns have very few bad things to say about the internship program, however, and are happy with the support and guidance they get from their coworkers and managers. There will be some long hours, not to mention more than a little travel involved, but all in all it will be a good experience that you’ll learn a lot from, even if the company name doesn’t inspire international respect.

Bottom Line:
You’ll get as much out of the opportunities at Plante Moran as you put into them, so work hard and learn a lot, but accept that this might not be the last accounting firm you work for.


Baker Tilly Virchow Krause

Intern Class Size 100+ per year
Average Intern Salary $2,661
Average Starting Salary $53,062
Specialties Tax, Audit, and Financial services

Baker Tilly will give you a great experience, as long as you don’t expect too much work-life balance and can deal with not having a Big 4 firm on your resume... So, the majority of the accounting industry. The people are nice and great to work with, even if management is known for its poor communication.

Interns at Baker Tilly don’t get paid as much as the bigger, more prestigious firms, but BT is committed to giving their interns as much as they can, with the understanding that the accounting industry is a demanding place and isn’t for everyone.

Bottom Line:
There’s little to say on either side of the spectrum, tending to a very average view of the company as a whole.


Dixon Hughes Goodman

Average Intern Salary $3,024
Average Starting Salary $49,858
Specialties Tax, Audit, and Advisory services

DHG employees are very proud of their company, citing the management’s open door policy and openness to subordinate opinions as one of the best parts of working for the firm. That said, the busy season is still busy, and Dixon Hughes Goodman wants just as much commitment from its employees as the Big 4 want from theirs, without the prestige and international recognition.

Internships at DHG offer you the chance to work in a big office without falling through the cracks. Managers are invested in your career development and your coworkers will be relatively helpful. The pay isn’t as great as some of their competitors,’ and you won’t get overtime, but you will get experience and a good learning experience.
Bottom Line:
DHG isn’t a Big 4 firm, but they are good at what they do and they’re the largest public accounting firm headquartered in the southern U.S.


WithumSmith+Brown

Intern Class Size 21-50
Average Intern Salary $3,216
Average Starting Salary $44,000
Specialties Audit, Advisory, and Tax services

This firm is a steady presence in the accounting industry, respected for its calm in the storm of the Big 4’s hectic work and long hours. Now, that’s not saying that WS+B doesn’t have its fair share of long work days during the busy season, but you won’t find the cutthroat competition here that you often find in large accounting firms.

WS+B interns get a great experience. There is plenty to do without the stressful atmosphere that the Big 4 boast of. Coworkers are helpful and supportive, and managers keep their doors and minds open. There will be fun events to keep employees happy and encourage networking.

Bottom Line:
It will be worth it, even without that Big 4 prestige.


Friedman

Average Starting Salary $54,000
Specialties Audit and Assurance services

Friedman is a small company with a big heart, dedicated to its employees. You won’t be working with Fortune 500 clients, nor will you have a well-known name on your resume, but the experience with a smaller firm will be both beneficial and enjoyable. You even get Fridays off in the summer.

Friedman offers a spring accounting externship where you visit the New York office for a day to get a feel for the people and the atmosphere and interview for a fall entry-level accountant position.


Eide Bailly

Average Intern Salary $2,736
Average Starting Salary $47,641
Specialties Audit, tax, and advisory services

Eide Bailly is a great place to work, good work-life balance, fun people, but the benefits suck and you won’t get paid as much as a similarly-sized competing firm (like Rothstein Kass). But EB truly cares about its employees, and they are grateful for it. There are tuition reimbursement perks and financial help to encourage studying for and achieving CPA certification.

EB’s internships promise good times for all, with work-life perks to keep the busy season’s long hours from getting to you. There are lots of events to rub shoulders with the industry’s best, gym memberships, and more to make up for the subpar pay.

Bottom Line:
You won’t make as much at Eide Bailly as you would at a Big 4 firm, obviously, or even other competing firms, unfortunately, but the atmosphere and camaraderie at EB will make it worthwhile.


Berdon

Average Intern Salary $2,413
Average Starting Salary $51,000
Specialties Audit, tax, and advisory services

Berdon is a small, respectable firm with no pomp and circumstance. They have good work-life balance and a fun office atmosphere. Casual Fridays are year round and during the summer the office closes at 3 p.m. on Fridays. The firm also offers up-to-date technical training and hosts mixers to keep everybody happy and relaxed.

The internships at Berdon are designed to be as beneficial to the interns as possible, with an open door policy for managers and helpful coworkers, but sometimes there is very little to be done and the occasional busy work is assigned.

Bottom Line:
This is a slower-paced firm for the type of person who is less inclined to sacrifice their social life for the accounting industry.


Armanino

Intern Class Size 10
Average Starting Salary $52,842
Specialties Audit, Tax, and Consulting services

Armanino McKenna is the largest privately-owned accounting firm in California, but they don’t let that get to their heads. Armanino has great benefits and competitive pay, and likes its employees to be passionate and curious people.

Summer internships with Armanino are offered in audit and in tax. To give college students the most well-rounded experience, each intern is assigned to a small team of 3-5 people and essentially given the same tasks as a first year associate.


Watkins Meegan

Intern Class Size 10
Average Starting Salary $54,750
Specialties Audit and Advisory services

A relatively small firm of 240+ employees, Watkins Meegan doesn’t bother trying to compete with the Big 4. With 35 years of experience and business in 12 different industries, Watkins Meegan stays out of the drama of the accounting industry and focuses instead on its employees and its diverse clientele. And seeing as it’s ranked 18th in the standings, that seems to be working out well for the firm.

Internships at Watkins Meegan are all about you. With open door policies, networking and social events, and wellness programs and fitness facilities, Watkins Meegan takes good care of its employees and interns.


Frank, Rimerman + Co

Intern Class Size 10-20
Average Starting Salary $54,787
Specialties Business tax, assurance and advisory, and consulting services

The employees of Frank, Rimerman + Co are friendly, hard-working, and down to earth. There is no Big 4 cutthroat competition here, just support and boundless opportunity for the people who seek it out. This is the type of firm you settle down with after being worked to the bone by one of the elitist top accounting firms.

An internship at Frank, Rimerman + Co will be diverse and challenging, as every intern spends at least one week in each different department of the firm. All summer, there are social and networking events where the interns can meet and connect with professionals in the industry of all paygrades.


Elliott Davis

Intern Class Size 21-50
Average Intern Salary $3,520
Average Starting Salary $53,592
Specialties Tax, assurance, and consulting services

Elliott Davis is one of the largest accounting firms in the Southeast, and they are all about the long haul. They’re looking for employees that want to settle down, and they have no intention of burning you out, as the Big 4 have a tendency to do to even the best of employees. Your coworkers will be supportive and friendly, and the firm has a long-term stability that feels less volatile than the hustle and bustle of the top tier accounting firms.

Elliott Davis offers an internship experience designed to allow students to apply their knowledge in a work setting, with all the responsibility but without undue stress. The first week of the internship is comprised of formal training, and each intern is assigned a current staff associate as their buddy to help them around the office, take them to lunch, and be available for questions or concerns. Firm-wide intern gatherings are also planned and paid for by the company, to encourage comaraderie.

Bottom Line:
Elliott Davis is the slow-and-steady winner of the race, and you would do well for yourself earning a position among its ranks.


SS&G

Average Starting Salary $49,000
Specialties Assurance and consulting services

SS&G is a smaller firm, and it has a friendly, familial atmosphere that is attractive to those looking to avoid the chaos of a Big 4 firm—over half of SS&G’s partners used to work at one. They operate under a work hard, play hard attitude, but offer family-friendly schedules and first-name basis with the higher ups.

SS&G’s interns get the same opportunities as entry-level staff, to get a good feel for both the company and the industry. Interns participate in technical training, work on client projects, and network and establish relationships with the firm’s employees, from associates on up to partners.


ParenteBeard

Average Intern Salary $4,000
Average Starting Salary $48,125
Specialties Audit, tax, and advisory services

ParenteBeard is full of great employees, competitive salary and benefits, and tough love from management. The work-life balance and hours are more manageable than a Big 4 firm, but being a mid-size, regional accounting firm, ParenteBeard has little to offer in advancement or relocation. There are murmurs that the firm hasn’t been the same since the Parente Randolph / Beard Miller merger, but for the most part, employees are relatively satisfied with their treatment by and communication with management.

The internship program is 10-12 weeks long. You’ll get assigned a buddy and work hands-on with client engagements, side by side with professionals in the industry.


Rehmann

Average Intern Salary $3,040
Average Starting Salary $45,000
Specialties Consulting, corporate investigation, and advisory services

Rehmann is praised for its ability to provide both the small-firm feel and the Big 4 atmosphere, depending on where you end up and how much stress you desire. The company is ethically strong and committed to its employees, offering good benefits and company culture.

Internships are 40-50 hours per week and offered during every season, exposing you to clients and the industry. Rehmann fully believes in giving their employees full control over their career destiny, and encourage exploration of the different career paths the company has to offer.


Morrison Brown Argiz & Farra

Average Intern Salary $2,814
Average Starting Salary $44,641
Specialties Assurance, Tax, and Advisory services

MBAF talks quite a bit about its dedication to its employees, its flexibility, benefits offered, and work-life balance. Its employees have little to say, either good or bad, about the firm, calling it fair and a good place to work but bemoaning the lack of work and up-to-date technology.

Internships in MBAF are offered in multiple areas, all with open-door policies and assigned mentors to keep students engaged and comfortable asking questions. According to MBAF, a large majority of their interns become full-time employees.


Crowe Horwath

Average Intern Salary $3,573
Average Starting Salary $51,221
Specialties Audit, tax, and advisory services

Crowe is a good place to work. You’ll have good coworkers and understanding management. The salary will be a little lower than other firms, but the paid time and other benefits make up for it. You work with a wide variety of clients and will have an all-around good experience, even if work-life balance isn’t quite as good as the firm says it is.

The internships at Crowe Horwath are exceptional, despite the constant refrain of the accounting industry that cites the stressfulness of the busy season as the worst part of the job. You work in a nice office on a team of people willing to help and answer questions if you have them, and you don’t have to worry as much about competition.