Many people dream of working for one of the Big 4 accounting firms (Deloitte, PwC, EY, KPMG), but is it right for you? As with any decision you make in your life, there are benefits and disadvantages that should be weighed up to determine whether it is the right path.
In this blog, I’ll go over some of the Pros and Cons of the Big 4 experience, as with anything, there is a lot of misinformation and preconceptions of what life is like working in a corporate giant. This list is by no means exhaustive, but if you are struggling with the decision hopefully these pointers might help you make up your mind to if the Big 4 life would suit you. I’m also always happy to hear from people that have either worked in previously or are currently working for one of the Big 4 to hear about their experiences.
- Work with the best
The Big 4 only hire the best and brightest, so you will be working with some of the most talented and motivated individuals in the industry every day. You will also collaborate with individuals from different departments throughout the business, both locally and internationally, meaning you will be exposed to a lot of new areas fast and will learn something new every day. This makes sometimes very long workdays (we’ll get to that later) much more enjoyable.
- Amazing Clients
In your first year as an Associate/Assistant, you will be exposed to processes and controls with some of the largest and most prestigious businesses in the world. The simple breadth and quality of the clients at a Big 4 is unrivalled, so no matter where you go your experience will be completely unique.
Outside of busy season and when you are not engaged with a client, you will have a large amount of flexibility to work where and when you want. This means outside commitments, like family responsibilities, can be met much of the year. It also means those who like to work at home or at their local coffee shop will be quite happy much of the year. The most important thing is that when there is work to do, it gets done and to a high degree of quality.
As early as your second year, you will become directly responsible for overseeing junior staff, meaning that every day you will have one (or more) people that you are managing to a degree. This will involve managing and supervising their workload, helping them with their career development and reporting to your Manager on their progress. Very few careers offer direct managerial experience this early, and you will be able to take this experience into your next role, whether you remain with the firm or move on.
- Growth Opportunities
A huge pro of working with a Big 4 firm is the significant development and growth opportunities that will be available to you. Not only will you receive hands-on training from top professionals and be able to lead your own audit/tax teams early in your career, but you will also have various opportunities to move within the business into different specialisms or departments, such as Corporate Finance, Data Analytics or Forensic Accounting. Additionally, you will have a structured career path that will allow you to achieve regular promotions, take part in international secondments or move to different offices around the world.
- Job Security
Job security has especially been brought into sharp focus in the last 12 months due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and many people in accounting and finance teams in businesses across the country have found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own. The Big 4 has remained relatively unscathed and business has continued to grow, even in the event of an economic downturn or financial crisis. In most cases, a position within these businesses can be considered a secure one.
- A huge CV boost
Working for Deloitte, PwC, EY or KPMG will allow you to get the foot in the door at almost any accounting firm or financial institution you want, if you decided to move on. Experience at a Big 4 is a seal of approval and will garner a high level of respect over the course of your career.
- Long Hours
Ah yes, the dreaded busy season. It’s no exaggeration to say that you can work very long hours during this time to ensure that a deadline is met. This can mean working up to 11hrs every day, and occasionally at weekends. It’s rare to do this more than a few weeks out of the whole year, but it can (and does) happen.
Working for a Big 4 means that you are servicing some of the biggest corporate entities every day. This often means that client demands are bigger, and expectations are higher than you would find at mid-tier or independent accounting firms. Sometimes this means that you’ll have to work extremely hard to deliver the high quality of work expected.
Outside of the current pandemic, you will normally spend a lot time out of the office visiting clients that can be a long way from home. This can often mean significant commutes or days and nights away from home. This can be exhausting after a certain amount of time.
- Promotion Policies
Within Big 4 firms, organisational structure is very hierarchical and promotion policies are rigid. In a lot of cases, you can’t stay at one level and moving up is not a career choice, whereas on the other hand, if the business is currently top heavy and there are many people vying for a position as well as yourself, you can find your career stifled.
- Lack of Variety
It’s entirely possible that you will spend the vast majority of your time on a single client, especially when they are very large and high-profile. This can limit the amount of industry experience you gain but can mean excellent career progression. Many people find this tedious after a few years. You can also sometimes find that the role you are performing is extremely niche, and this can limit where you can take your experience if you do decide to move on.
- Annual Leave Blackout
During the busy season, you will not be allowed any annual leave or personal time off, so there is a large chunk of the year where you will be working continuously. This can mean your work/life balance potentially suffers.
- Low Salaries Compared to Industry & Commerce
Your basic salary can be low when compared to other industries (such as within a large financial services institutions). Whilst the additional benefits package can be excellent – better than you will find at many other businesses – it’s not uncommon to find better base salary packages in other industry accounting jobs.
Having never worked in one of these firms myself, the information presented has been gathered from people I have worked with over the years, but is in no way complete. If you are reading this and have experience within a Big 4 firm, is there anything I have mentioned here that you disagree with? What pros/cons have I missed? It would be great to hear from current Big 4 professionals at any level or those who have completed their training with one of these firms and have since moved on to a different role.
At the end of the day, the Big 4 firms have their own ups and downs just as in mid-tier and independent firms, but are certainly worth considering as the next step in your career – you just need to find the right firm for you.
If you are thinking about your next move, the team at Iconic Resourcing will be glad to help. You can message me here on LinkedIn or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org