Feeling Pigeon-holed as a ‘Grinder’ CPA? Here’s how to break out of the mould

by | Oct 24, 2022 | Leadership

It takes a lot of effort, time, and resiliency for someone to earn their CPA. A candidate needs to have a four-year degree, complete a long list of accounting classes, have two years of approved work experience, get through the CPA Professional Education Program, and pass the Common Final Examination. Getting through these hurdles over six to eight years requires tremendous effort, determination, and a strong desire to earn a CPA. What motivates CPA candidates through these hurdles is the thought of a well-paying accounting job at a large accounting firm working in an area that they enjoy.

Now three to five years into their accounting career, they have worked late nights and 50+ hour weeks. Their effort has earned them one or two advancements with new titles and a modest increase in compensation. However, they now seem to be doing the same type of work repeatedly, with limited to no interaction with the client. Their leaders don’t seem inclined to move them into roles they are interested in. How did this CPA specialize in an area of accounting they did not want to practice? 

Let’s talk about why big accounting firms often keep CPAs pigeon-holed in ‘grinder’ roles and how you can break free. 

Why Are CPAs Put Into ‘Grinder Roles’ in Big Accounting Firms?

When a recent accounting graduate is hired at a large accounting firm, most know what they are getting into. The initial years of work experience will have long workdays and difficult accounting files to work on. What gets these aspiring accountants through these days, months, and years is the thought they just need to put in their time, learn the technical aspects of accounting, and then they can move into an area they’re interested in and enjoy. However, their career interests and wants are not aligned with the large accounting firm they work for.

These firms will make a large percentage of their service revenue from large, difficult accounting engagements. These engagements include complex auditing and assurance work, which require a lot of CPAs and CPA candidates, ‘grinders’, to grind out the technical accounting work. Accountants who do well and enjoy this type of accounting will have long successful careers. 

Finding and retaining accountants to complete grinding technical accounting engagements is critical for large accounting firms. The firms are motivated to pigeonhole and keep as many new and experienced CPAs in these ‘grinding’ accounting roles for as long as possible.

So, what should an accountant do to break free from the accounting box they’ve been put in and find more meaningful accounting work?

Break free to bigger and better growth opportunities with smaller, specialized accounting firms.

Accountants and CPAs can start the process of breaking free from their pigeonholes by exploring other career options with Senior Accountants and Partners at their firm. Having a career conversation will give CPAs a sense of how willing their leaders are to move them into other accounting practice areas. If their leaders continue to make the pitch that their current role and practice area is an excellent place to be for now and for the mid-term, it will be clear they have designated a ‘grinder,’ and the big accounting firm wants them to stay in that role permanently or for as long as possible. 

The next step is to research smaller and specialized accounting firms to see what their employees and clients are saying about them online. With this information, a CPA can shortlist specialized accounting firms they’re interested in learning more about. Using LinkedIn and their professional network, they can reach out to accountants and leaders within these firms to learn more about current opportunities. At this point in the ‘breaking free’ process, a CPA will have a refined list of smaller and boutique accounting firms that are aligned with their career aspirations – but taking the leap is difficult.

Working for a large accounting firm offers job security, and accountants can proudly display the firm’s name and brand on their resume and LinkedIn profile. Frankly, a CPA needs to decide where they want to be in five years and what type of accounting they want to do. If it isn’t the grinding technical accounting role that they currently have, they need to pull up their socks and decide what is best for them. 

Provision CPA – An Entrepreneurial Accounting Firm

Provision CPA is a small accounting firm that provides unsurpassed value to entrepreneurs. We encourage our CPAs and CPA candidates to explore other career opportunities within our firm, and we will never pigeonhole them into a specific role. 

At Provision CPA, we are dedicated to mentorship and professional development, so we offer our staff training opportunities and personalized coaching. Beyond the work, we see you as a person and care about getting to know your goals and aspirations. What can we do to make that happen? Whether it’s supporting your education initiatives or passing you more challenging and rewarding cases, or anything in between, we want to see our accountants and managers grow themselves alongside growing our firm. Our team members can transition from more technical roles to more client-facing advisory roles, if that’s what you wish, and achieve their full potential at Provision CPA.

If you’re interested in learning more about Provision CPA, Contact us today to learn about current career opportunities.  


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