Working at a Big 4 Accounting Firm is the goal of a lot of accountants. It’s probably why you’re reading this blog. While most aspire to be a Big 4 partner when they start, the reality is that most Big 4 employees don’t last until that level. Usually most leave by choice, but the difficult part can be determining when the right time to leave is.
It’s something to consider when you first start at the Big 4 and also while you work your way through your career. Having a certain level of experience in big time public accounting has great benefits, but for some though, these benefits are not worth staying long-term.
Right away, I believe it is best to stay at Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, or EY for at least two years. This gives you a solid level of experience and looks great on your resume. After you have completed two years, you have been exposed to quite a few different areas of audit or tax and should have been given some leadership responsibilities. Lastly, this amount of time also gives you a solid understanding of whether or not public accounting is for you.
Now I am not saying that you have to stay for at least two years. If you’re miserable at your job after only a few months, I certainly recommend looking into leaving. I knew people who did this and were happy they did. Their careers were largely unaffected.
But before making the leap, I caution you to think about your long-term career goals. Staying until at least the two year mark can be a great benefit for your career well down the road.
After the two year point, each year you stay is only going to help you. Becoming a senior is a great feather in your cap. This level really allows you to come into your own as an accountant as well as a leader. Companies love individuals that have been seniors because it means they were able to lead a team through the long and difficult process of an audit or tax busy season.
Those who make it to senior set themselves up for senior accountant or financial analyst positions should you choose to leave the firm.
For those looking for more of a boost, then stick it out until manager. Managers do more of what the title indicates, they manage audit or tax teams. No longer solely focused on one engagement, managers often juggle multiple clients at a time. This can be a big adjustment from senior.
In addition, you’re now expected to be active in your industry and community. Selling the firm and promoting the brand are part of your duties. Some can handle this, some can’t. Either way, it’s a great challenge, and you will learn a lot.
Once you make manager or senior manager, you can expect to find quite a few opportunities outside of the Big 4. Smaller to mid-size companies will offer you Controller or even CFO positions. Big companies will want to hire your for Assistant controller and high-level finance positions. With any of these positions, you’re looking at a great salary and more than likely fewer hours.
Reaching partner at a Big 4 Accounting Firm is great, but for most, this is not a reality. At some point in your career, you will find yourself asking: is it time to go? should I take this position? These can be tough to answer, but in the end, your experience at the Big 4 will prove beneficial to your career no matter if or when you decide to leave. Just remember to leave gracefully and not during the middle of busy season.