CPA with 3 years of audit experience at Big4. Now wanting to switch to Strategy consulting with an MBA in Strategy/Consulting.

Hi everyone! I'm a CPA and have 3 years of experience working with a Big 4 firm as an Audit Associate and eventually Senior Associate in the past year. I'm now looking to get into an elite B school and get an MBA specialising in Strategy/Consulting and eventually get into a Strategy consulting role post my MBA. (I've got a 720+ GMAT and hoping to improve a bit more by taking it a second time)

I was wondering if anyone here has experience following this particular path of CPA+Strategy consulting or can tell me if they know strategy consultants with accounting backgrounds in general. I'm aware that normally CPAs opt for corporate finance/ Accounting Consulting roles pre or post MBA but I'd really like to switch into something lighter on accounting, and strategy consulting seems to be an interesting route to follow. I'm wondering if my accounting background experience will infact help me in this career or be counter productive and get me stuck with monotonous accounting heavy projects?

I've done some research and found that Strategy majors at B schools are encouraged to have a technical specialisation before opting for Strategy as their major so it seemed that an accounting professional degree would come in handy.

Also, my second dilemma is if opting for Strategy + Finance specialisation may be more helpful than just Strategy/Consulting in an MBA? This keeping in mind ofcourse the CPA degree I already hold.

Thank you all in advance, I'd appreciate all the help I can get right now :)

Comments (9)

Sep 5, 2017

Top MBA + consulting is a tried-and-true path for career-changers. As a Big 4 auditor / CPA, you already know how to speak the language of business, and that's a plus.

Your planning and talking with people (just like you're doing here) will pay dividends.

Another way to look at it - if teachers, literature majors, and engineers can make the switch, you can too.

Sep 5, 2017

CPA > Top Bschool > Strategy Consulting is a proven career path.

You can do a linkedin search and filter who currently works at strategy firms, previously Big 4 accountants, and went to bschool and find that there are literally hundreds of folks who have taken this path.

To be completely honest, your concentration/major doesn't really matter in bschool. Employers just care about the MBA itself, your pre-MBA work experience, and the extracurriculars/leadership positions you take on during bschool. The concentration is more of a structured way to take your classes you're interested in. If you want to pick up the Finance concentration it wouldn't hurt in addition to the Strategy one, but a Strategy concentration alone will be fine.

Strategy firms are more receptive to non-traditional and non-technical backgrounds. Plenty of former teachers, military, performing artists who have gone into strategy consulting through bschool. A technical background will never hurt you, but I wouldn't say it's a detriment to have it.

Sep 5, 2017

***wouldn't say it's a detriment to NOT have it

Sorry typo, won't let me edit my post right now.

Sep 5, 2017

Wouldn't they maybe look down on a CPA because it doesn't exactly highlight "strategic thinking" or "leadership" etc.? I'm not saying I agree with this logic, but it doesn't seem like the CPA would even be kept on the resume if one were to move over to strategy consulting.

Sep 5, 2017

I'd say that since there's a decent amount of MBB folks and alumni who were former accountants it's not looked down upon.

There aren't a lot of fields (besides strategy consulting/corp strategy) where one can flex strategic thinking. By that logic that means engineers, programmers, teachers are looked down upon by these firms which certainly isn't the case.

Leadership is broad and can be demonstrated through EC's in and outside of work, or even in small teams. Leadership doesn't necessarily mean managing a multi-million dollar strategy engagement or a platoon of soldiers. It can be managing an audit with a team of fresh college grads or leading a new internal initiative at your company.

CPAs do have value in consulting. It's definitely something I'd keep on the resume. Some cases may have a component related to accounting and managers may actually staff someone because they have a CPA and their knowledge will come in handy. I've seen this happen in one of my past projects where the engagement lead told my colleague your CPA can be useful on the project and I want to make sure the client knows you have one (granted this wasn't a strategy case but still a consulting project).

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Sep 6, 2017

As stated - this is a very normal path, and a top MBA is a well trod bridge for accountants breaking in to strategy. I even know CPA's who were back interviewing at their old firms for consulting roles. Also know CPA's who broke in to MBB on this path.

Also as stated - but I want to emphasize - it doesn't matter AT ALL what classes you take as long as you are enrolled at a top ranked program. Generally, M7>Top 15>Top School Part Time>Rest. Go to the best program you can get in to, and if it is a top school go full time. You can literally concentrate in entrepreneurship, finance, anything you want and the firms care fuck all. All they care about is your GMAT, what school you are at, whether you check the box on prior experience (you do), whether you follow your schools directions regarding networking and how you perform in fit/case interviews. Some schools even have grade nondisclosure so your GPA doesn't matter either.

Tl:dr - go the best school you get in to and take whatever classes you want.

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Sep 5, 2017

I know you mentioned it doesn't exactly matter, but in a vacuum, would a CPA have more of a competitive advantage for Investment Banking recruiting over Management Consulting?

Best Response
Sep 6, 2017

I wouldn't say you'd be advantaged in either one. MBA recruiting at a top schools for IB/Consulting is much different than what they look for in experienced or industry hires.

Consultancies really don't care about your background - they're looking for certain qualities (leadership, teamwork, analytical capability and initiative, namely) and if the CPA helps you tell that story for yourself, than it is an asset in your recruiting. In a vacuum, it means little, but can help check that "technical" box.

IB might skew a little more towards people with finance/accounting backgrounds from a statistical standpoint, but I think that's mostly due to self selection. Same thing in that they're looking more for qualities than a specific background The interview process for IB is more finance oriented, so a CPA/CFA can likely better articulate a lot of the technical questions - though the standard will be higher as well. In general, more people who seek banking offers get them than in consulting, but this is because hiring needs for banks are still considerable and fewer people now recruit for IB than 10 years ago.

Make your decision based on the career that better interests you, not where you think you'll recruit better. Your success on either track is going to be better served through your people skills, case/technical prep and ability to tell a compelling story about yourself.

The only tracks where the CPA would give you a leg up in recruiting while at a top MBA are corp finance roles and perhaps some IM opportunities (these do usually require former finance experience, military aside).

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Sep 7, 2017