Here are some of the best benefits to working at one of the Big 4 accounting and consulting firms:
– Exponential learning curve.
Very few careers, if any, will expose you to so much so fast. You will have the opportunity to learn something new every single day and you will constantly be presented with new challenges. It is no secret why people from the Big 4 firms are so highly coveted by virtually every other company. By working at a Big 4 firm you will rapidly develop skills and expertise that simply cannot be learned anywhere else. If you were to look at the career trajectories of an employee at a Big 4 firm and one of their peers in corporate, they would barely be comparable. The results would be so skewed in favor of the Big 4 employee in terms of the importance and complexity of tasks they are able to handle and the speed with which they acquire certain skills that it quickly becomes difficult to believe the two people could have started from the same place. Simply put a career at the Big 4 allows you to acquire knowledge and expertise at an unmatched rate.
– Opportunity to take on large amounts of responsibility very early in your career.
Before you have worked your second full year at a Big 4 firm you will become directly responsible for overseeing employees. We are not referring to jobs where people assign tasks from time to time to incoming personnel, or train new hires for a few weeks. We mean that every single day you will have one or more people who you are responsible for. You will have to manage their workload, find ways to make sure they succeed, and report to your boss on their progress. There are very few careers that allow you to start obtaining direct managerial experience by age 24. For example, if you chose to leave your Big 4 firm after four years you will be able to tell an interviewer that not only do you have experience managing people, but for that last two and half years you have directly overseen one to three people every single day. Translation: it will make you very unique.
– You will work with incredibly smart and successful people every single day.
These people can serve as examples and mentors for the rest of your career. When you start your career you are essentially a blank slate. Many of the habits and ways of doing business you will pick up will stay with you for the rest of your life. The benefits of apprenticing under highly successful and intelligent people are difficult to quantify, especially for someone early in their career. Another benefit to working with very motivated and smart individuals is the enjoyment and satisfaction that comes from a job well done. Though the work can be very challenging at times, most people at Big 4 firms have a lot of personal pride and enjoyment when they look back on projects they successfully completed through collaboration with a team full of stand-out individuals. In fact, one of the biggest reasons cited by people who return to the Big 4 after previously leaving for another job is the quality of the people they get work with on a daily basis. Not everyone in Corporate America is young, energetic, and motivated. These qualities can be difficult to appreciate when they are all you have known your entire career. However when you come in contact with someone who has done the same job for the last 15 years, wants to punch out of work as early as possible every day, and could not care less about improving the way things are done or thinking ambitiously or creatively then the importance of the type of people you work with becomes much clearer.
– You will have every opportunity to prove yourself and succeed.
At a Big 4 firm you will be able to take on as much work and responsibility as you are capable of. You will not have some horrible boss that holds you back or forces you to work within the confines of the corporate structure. You will not have one or two people above you who are a bottleneck for all opportunities within the Company, and who decide your fate and where your talents and skills will be used (or not used) based on the tasks you are assigned. At the Big 4 you will be working within the hierarchy of a team. Partner through staff you will all have the same ultimate goal which is usually the completion of a project or engagement for your client. Certain tasks are absolutely expected of people at each level, however if you are able to complete your assignments adequately you will be welcomed and encouraged to go above and beyond your current level. If you have the ability and skills the sky is the limit.
– Annual promotion.
At the Big 4 you either rise up or you move elsewhere. There is no dwelling at the same level for years on end. If you continue to work for the Big 4 year after year it is basically a guarantee that you are advancing your career year after year. After just three or four years at the Big 4 you will begin to get job solicitations from other companies that will offer you substantially more money than your current salary. One of the biggest reasons people turn down these offers and stay with the Big 4 is because of the rapid advancement they know they will enjoy in the coming years. A real life example from one of the members of our team is a perfect illustration of this: As a second year staff our team member watched his Associate/Senior leave the firm for a 30% pay increase with the client. Four years later our staff member was half-way to becoming a Senior Manager (professional with 9+ years of experience who is one step away from Partner) while her former boss was still an Associate/Senior with her previous client. The business model of Big 4 firms is built so that there is always room for high performers to continue advancing. There are no such guarantees at many companies on the corporate side.
– World-class experiences.
The Big 4 accounting and consulting firms work with the best companies in the world. Their clients include every company in the Fortune 500 as well as most every notable company not in the Fortune 500. This in turn means that the Big 4 are actively involved in nearly every event of significance with these companies. The following experiences are things that become hidden gems on resumes; they are very rare and very valuable experiences. However at the Big 4 firms, opportunities like those listed below are commonplace.
- Debt offering
- Major M&A transaction
- Advising a client on a major implementation project or change in business strategy
- Advising a client on tax advantageous structures for their organization
– International opportunities.
The Big 4 firms have operations and offices in nearly every country in the world. These companies literally span the globe. They work with the most successful multi-national corporations in the world, and are able to offer their services in any location that their clients do business. As a result, the Big 4 have developed an incredibly integrated structure that provides many international opportunities for those seeking them. For example, a multi-billion dollar oil company that has revenues greater than the GDP of most countries is not interested in receiving primary services in the US, with some auxiliary services in Great Britain and some sparse offerings in Japan. No, companies like these demand the same great service whether they are operating in Nigeria, Mongolia, Canada, Brazil, or any other place on Earth. This means that the Big 4 ultimately provide fairly similar and comparable services throughout the world, which gives their employees fantastic opportunities to take the skills they have developed in one place and use them in another. As another example, someone who worked in New York during the height of the financial crisis to help banking clients overcome their balance sheet issues could now go to almost any country in Europe and provide similar expertise. In addition to the multitude of ways that skills learned at the Big 4 are transferable to other countries, these firms have all developed programs specifically for providing great international experiences. These things are like the study abroad programs of the corporate world. Big 4 firms will giving you housing abroad, they will have someone prepare your taxes for you so you don’t have to think about the complexities of international law, they will create a plan for you to integrate you back into the city of your choice in your home country when you return. In a world that becomes smaller every day, where global integration and experience become ever more important, the Big 4 offer some of the best professional international opportunities out there.
– Exposure to high ranking client personnel, including executives.
If you take a job at a large corporation you might get the chance to work with the Controller after 10 or 15 years. It may be more than 5 years before they even know your name. If that same corporation is the client of your Big 4 firm, you may be interacting with that individual in as little as three years. If you work on a smaller client you could work closely with the controller during your first month there, and you may even have opportunities to work with the CFO as well. There is no faster way to experience working with high-level people at a company than to join a Big 4 firm and work with their clients.
– Stamp of approval on your resume.
The Big 4 firms command a massive amount of respect in every industry and every country in the world. If you decide to leave a Big 4 firm you can take your resume to prospective employers and have confidence that you will immediately be respected. Once you have that Big 4 name on your resume it is an immediate signal to people in your future endeavors that you are an intelligent and hard-working individual. You will not have to go to 15 interviews to try and convince people that your previous jobs really were challenging and prepared you well for the future. When prospective employers see that name on your resume it is an instant credibility indicator.
Working at a Big 4 firm is not all sunshine and roses. There are challenges and difficulties involved as well.
– Long hours.
The single biggest complaint that comes from employees at Big 4 firms is the large amount of hours that are required over the course of the year. If this one issue could be resolved up to 90% of the negative aspects of the job would vanish for most people. However, we are not living in a fantasy land, in the real world the long hours at the Big 4 are a fact of life. It can be countered that the long hours are a requirement for some of the leading benefits of a Big 4 career. For example, it is difficult to learn and gain experience faster than everyone else when you are only working 9 – 5. Likewise, experiences like IPOs, significant acquisitions, and large implementation projects do not get done over the course of a 40 hour work week. Regardless, this section of the website is about cons and the long hours take their toll on everyone at some point. Big 4 careers require a commitment to the job that will undoubtedly require sacrifices in your personal life at different points in time. During very busy periods such as auditing year-end financials, tax season, or the weeks leading up to the go-live date of a consulting project, it would not be uncommon for an employee to wake up, go work all day, and come home and go straight to bed. The time commitments within the Big 4 are very demanding and need to be considered before deciding you want to start your career there.
– Stressful workloads.
At times your workloads at the Big 4 will be quite intense and even overwhelming. In fact you will likely be pushed past what you thought were your limits at some point. Success at a Big 4 firm requires the ability to handle a multitude of tasks and responsibilities at the same time, much more than what a normal person would usually face. While this can be exciting and interesting at times, it can also be very frustrating and difficult to cope with. The phrase “there just are not enough hours in the day” can come to have new meaning on an especially difficult project with a tight timeline or a shortage of capable personnel.
– Client demands.
While working at the Big 4 can provide access to some of the greatest and most respected companies, these companies are also some of the most demanding. Many of your client contacts are expected to put their personal lives and agendas on hold for the company when necessary, and their expectations of you will be no different. Deadlines are deadlines, it does not matter if they fall on a weekend you had big plans. If a project is running behind schedule some clients will expect you to clear your own schedule to fix to fix this inconvenient fact. Client demands are the primary reason behind the first two cons we have discussed.
– Pay discrepancy (after several years).
Starting pay at the Big 4 is actually quite good. It compares very favorably with almost all of the jobs you will consider as you start your career. However after about three years there becomes a noticeable discrepancy between a person’s Big 4 salary and what they could earn if they made a lateral move to a client (took a position equivalent to their experience and skill set at the Big 4). Part of this reason is because of the rapid career progression enjoyed at Big 4 firms. For example after four years at a Big 4 firm you might have acquired the skills and knowledge to be able to work in a position at the client that normally takes six or seven years to get to. However this can be a small consolation when you have mortgage payments to make or want a new car. The simple fact of the matter is that people with more than three or four years experience at a Big 4 firm can usually find a lateral move that will increase their salary by up to 30%. There are obviously additional benefits to continuing to work at a Big 4 firm or else everyone would leave at this point. Therefore it really becomes a personal decision of when is the best time to leave. However as long as you are with the Big 4, you can plan on having to realize that some incompetent person at the client is somehow making more than you.
The cons of the Big 4 really come down to the type of lifestyle you need. From a professional career standpoint, there are very few careers that offer you the opportunity to learn as fast or as much as you will at the Big 4. A quick glance at our article on the pros of a job with the Big 4 will make it obvious that there are some unbelievable professional benefits to careers with the Big 4. The tradeoff for this is that you put in a lot of hours, and will likely face some stressful and frustrating situations along the way. Everyone is different, so the impact of the cons really comes down to personal preference. Some people want to get out of work every single day when the sun is still up and have several hours to pursue their own personal interests. While this lifestyle is certainly achievable some, if not a majority, of the time at a Big 4 firm, we can guarantee it won’t always be the case. Conversely, some people have a very specific vision for the quality of life they want to have and a target salary they one day hope to earn. While others simply want to start out on the best career track possible so that they have the best possible options (career-wise) later in life. For these people, the long hours or stressful workloads may be necessary evils that they are willing to deal with to get where they are going. The cons listed above are the things that Big 4 employees universally find difficult or annoying about the job. They need to be considered in conjunction with the pros of the job, as well with individual life goals and lifestyle objectives to determine whether a career with the Big 4 is a good option.