If you are an accounting major, you probably talk a lot with your friends about working at a Big 4 accounting firm. How it’s your dream to land a job at KPMG, PwC, EY, or Deloitte. But often you may wonder if this is really the path for you. Would you be better off working at a smaller accounting firm or working as an accountant for a company right out of school? Sometimes its hard to decide. Having worked for a few years for a Big 4 firm, I thought I would lay out for you the pros and cons for working at one of these firms. Hopefully it helps you come to a decision as to what path is best for you.
- You work with the brightest individuals in accounting. These companies only hire the best so that means you will be working with the best. As such, you are challenged on a daily basis and learn a lot.
- Most of the people you work with will be a similar age. This helps build team chemistry since you likely have a lot in common. You enjoy the people you see at work everyday. If you work for a company, you may not have a lot of people your age you are working with.
- Vacation Time is Substantial. Depending on the firm you work for, you could have as much as 25 vacation days a year as soon as you start. That is unheard of in other industries.
- Ability to lead early. After only two years as a staffer, you will find yourself leading audit or tax teams. This is valuable experience that will be hard to find elsewhere.
- Constant Training. If you want to be a great accountant, you will need to be constantly expanding your expertise and skillset. The Big 4 firms have yearly trainings for their employees and have constant webinars to help them stay abreast of the current accounting industry.
- Discounts. Because the Big 4 accounting firms are worldwide organizations, they have lots of partnerships with other companies. This results in lots of discounts on things like cell phone service, flowers, clothes, tickets, and more.
- Points. If you are in consulting or are on a team that has to travel, you can rack up a lot of frequent flyer points and hotel points. Just pay with the company credit card and then use the points on your personal vacation.
- Tickets. One of my favorite parts about being a tax consultant was that we were always receiving free tickets to local professional sporting events. Either the firm or partners have season tickets to the local teams. When they couldn’t use them, they passed them down to us.
- Looks great on your resume. Being able to have Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, or EY on your resume is a huge boost for you for your entire accounting career. It will get your foot in the door in a lot of accounting interviews. Sometimes companies won’t even interview you unless you have Big 4 experience.
- Participating in Big 4 recruiting. Once you start at the firm full-time, you now get to be a part of the recruiting team. It’s nice to have the roles reversed. You get to travel back to your school and other schools and enjoy the event instead of sweating it out like you did when you were in school.
- Parties. The firms know how to throw some parties for their employees. Whether it is the end of busy season party or the Christmas party, it’s always a good time. There is usually an open bar, so things can get crazy. One year the Christmas party was held at the Ritz. Talk about nice.
- Long hours. This one is obvious. From January through April, you are going to be working tons of hours per week. 60 hours at the minimum up to 80 hours. Not fun. The rest of the year the hours fluctuate depending on the projects you are on. If you’re an auditor, your hours will increase during quarterly review. Tax season also picks up again in the fall. It is rare to have a consecutive stretch of 40 hours per week for more than a few weeks out of the year. If you work at a smaller firm, your hours would be less throughout the year.
- Blackout dates. During busy season, you are not allowed to take PTO. Ski trip in February your friends are going on, forget about it. Spring break in the Caribbean with your family, no way. This can be pretty frustrating at times.
- Rigid Promotion Structure. When you are promoted is largely tied to your years of experience. You can be promoted to senior only after you have been there two years, you can only make manager after five years, and so forth. This can be frustrating for the strong performers who could possibly be promoted earlier just based on merit. But this never happens.
- Self Evaluations. This is more of a dislike than a con. For every project you work on for over 40 hours, you have to create a self evaluation for yourself. These are a pain in the ass and not fun to write.
- Office politics. This one is hard to avoid in any corporate structure and the Big 4 accounting firms are no exception.
- Hours staring at a computer screen. It is probably not healthy to be staring at a computer screen for 14 hours a day but this is what happens during busy season.
- Your commute. This was a negative for me when I was an auditor. Rarely was my commute less than 45 minutes each way. This will wear you down when you are working past 10 pm every night during busy season. The lucky ones are those that have client close to where they live.
Overall, I believe the benefits of working at a Big 4 accounting firm far outweigh the negatives. Having a name like Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, or EY on your resume is such a boost for your career. But working at one of these companies is not for everyone. I understand that. I encourage you to look through this list and apply it to what you want for your career. See if you can add anything else to it. Accounting is a great career choice no matter what.