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Big-time clients and big-name accounts: the prestige of working for one of the world's big four firms can leave a starry-eyed, 20-something-year-old eager to get their degree and start their accounting careers. But before the stars lead you to the front lobby of a big four firm, it's important to look at your options.

Going small

Small- to mid-sized firms can offer the best of both worlds for an entry-level career. We have small firm relationships, large firm resources, says Lindsay Grigor-Tiberia, senior director of human capital in the Ontario region at MNP, a mid-sized Canadian accounting firm. That's typically a tagline we've been using most frequently.

Having worked for a big four accounting firm in addition to over six years of experience at MNP, Grigor-Tiberia suggests that students take advantage of the opportunities with mid-sized firms. You have the opportunities to work in a variety of different areas. Oftentimes you get exposure to tax, as well as assurance, which oftentimes is not the case in a larger firm at one of the big four.

For Paul Peterson, national talent resource manager at Grant Thornton, team members are required to work in different industries and with a broad range of clients. We want people that want to be much broader in outlook and approach, he says. We offer people greater variety in terms of clients and the size of the clients in the industries. And with a mid-size firm, teams are generally smaller and client engagement is usually much shorter than at a big four.

Room for growth

Your first day on the job can have you looking like a fish out of water: lost, uncomfortable, but admittedly, a little thrilled. But rest assured, you're not alone and your company won't leave you on your own either.

The firm spends a colossal amount of money on training and development, says Peterson, adding that the learning doesn't end after your first month on the job, but it's covered throughout all levels of your accounting career. We're working hard on really developing a strong coaching culture, so that people are coached on a personal level. One kind of training doesn't work for everybody in every situation; your goals and aspirations can be different and you might be really good at something, but want to get better in a different area.

At MNP, Grigor-Tiberia highlights the company's very own program, the MNP University. There are internal courses through MNP that can actually cover off the professional requirements for professional designation hours, she explains. People who specialize in different niches take courses that are specific to that niche. There's a whole series of management courses on how to become better team managers and we also have a series of courses that align to business development.

The decision

So what will it be? Where you start your accounting career can't be decided by a flip of a coin, but rather a personal evaluation of your interests and aspirations. We're not a fit for every single person and I'm okay with that, so I'd rather someone find that out right now than a year in, says Peterson of Grant Thornton's campus recruiting hook. We just try to say: here's who we are, here's what we have to offer, and you decide if this really works for you.

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