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Accounting: big 4 vs. midsize firms

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
Seems to be a lot of good career advice given on these forums I'm going into 4th year accounting at a University in BC and I will be going through the recruiting process this coming fall. I am trying to decide between working for a Big 4 firm or going to a National 6/midsize. I don't really know what I want to do long-term after I get my designation. I was thinking about switching to industry and becoming a controller/CFO or possibly staying at a firm and getting into a consulting role (corporate restructuring, business valuations possibly). These are obviously subject to change once I start my career. So does "losing my soul" to the big 4 as they would put it really worth the potential long-term career opportunities? Is the big 4 name on your resume really worth that much more over a midsize firm? Any advice would be appreciated. Sorry that was so was long.
post #2 of 15
Mid-tier national firms like GT, MNP, and BDO Dunwoody can offer pretty comparable experiences to Big4 firms. People switch back and forth between these firms all the time, and I wouldn't say anyone is any better/worse off with them. During recruiting I had an office tour of MNP, and at least half the staff I met there must have been ex-Deloitte employees. I've heard alot of people say small firms treat you better, big4 firms know you're working their for the prestige and future value of it, so they may work you harder and not pay as well.
post #3 of 15
[quote=enjoiii;3286975]
I was thinking about switching to industry and becoming a controller/CFO or possibly staying at a firm and getting into a consulting role (corporate restructuring, business valuations possibly). QUOTE]

This is what everyone wants to do and it doesn't happen much especially on the audit side. I work in a midsize that FCF mentioned and it's really hard to switch into the advisory practice. I only know of 2 people that made the switch in my 4 years of audit. One was in internal/IT audit and switched to valuations because we didn't have anyone and he was free while the other was an audit associate whose uncle was an office managing partner of another Texas City.

Also most people don't leave to a controller/CFO position since you usually need to at least be a manager to be considered for a controller spot. For CFO depending on the company size, you'll probably need 10+ years experience which puts you in the senior manager area.
post #4 of 15
Going from audit to advisory is tricky, but it can be done, you just have to be an especially well rounded candidate. Maybe 10% of people who come into the program make this transition successfully.

I know people who landed controller or assistant controller jobs at mid-size companies after being a senior associate at a firm. CFO is harder though.
post #5 of 15
Thread Starter 
[quote=Texasmade;3287344]
Quote:
Originally Posted by enjoiii View Post
I was thinking about switching to industry and becoming a controller/CFO or possibly staying at a firm and getting into a consulting role (corporate restructuring, business valuations possibly). QUOTE]

This is what everyone wants to do and it doesn't happen much especially on the audit side. I work in a midsize that FCF mentioned and it's really hard to switch into the advisory practice. I only know of 2 people that made the switch in my 4 years of audit. One was in internal/IT audit and switched to valuations because we didn't have anyone and he was free while the other was an audit associate whose uncle was an office managing partner of another Texas City.

Also most people don't leave to a controller/CFO position since you usually need to at least be a manager to be considered for a controller spot. For CFO depending on the company size, you'll probably need 10+ years experience which puts you in the senior manager area.


I definitely don't expect to be switching directly to controller/CFO position right away or into consulting, those are both potential long term career goals or I could go want to do something altogether.

How do you find working for the midsize your at? Do you plan to be there long-term or are you looking at switching to industry? How are the career opportunities being at a midsize?
post #6 of 15
I like my coworkers and we go out all the time. I know my friend that went to KPMG doesn't know anyone in his office since he works out of town all the time. That's not a problem with me. I've been here almost 4 years (already did 4 busy seasons plus an internship here) and now I'm getting to the point of deciding whether I should stay or go. A large part of the decision will depend on my raise and bonus this year.

The career opportunities for industry are good but obviously better if you went to big 4. Every senior associate that got laid off or quit had no problem finding a job within a month but I can't say that for staff. I know several staff spent about 6 months looking for a job.

Most of the senior managers and partners are ex big 4/5 (mainly ex Andersen) people with only 1/3 being real home grown that came up through the ranks. For awhile, we didn't have any managers that were home grown and every single one was a staff or senior at a big 4. Manager spots (in audit in my office at least) are so competiteve that most people leave before then. We might promote only 30% of third year seniors while big 4 the number is abou 2/3. This really makes it hard staying here long-term.
post #7 of 15
Texasmade, FCF,

I have a potential decision to make as well, and want your feedback. I started in computers but went to distribution operations and was moved to accounting as our company grew - I have a spotty accounting background but it's enough to make things work (long story). I have an MBA and am working to flesh out my CPA requirements. I'm considering going to an accounting firm as a way of specializing and gaining focus, which is probably better for my mental health / career progression than my current situation. But, I don't know what I don't know - is it a step backwards, and how would I be viewed as a potential candidate?

And - yes - I am typing this at the office. On another Saturday morning. Appreciate any advice or comments, and I can get more specific via PM.
post #8 of 15

..


Edited by merkur - 7/30/11 at 1:42am
post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by merkur View Post
Can anyone else offer any insight into what it's like working at a Big 4 accounting firm? Thanks.
Make sure it's exactly what you want to do. I worked some internships at a Big 4 before getting out, I found it took a very specific personality, if you don't enjoy looking through financial statements, comparing checks to statements, adding up numbers, making worksheets, etc, you won't enjoy your time at all. The additional perks like the corporate events, the people you'll be working with, etc are great and a huge selling point for them, but keep in mind that's one piece of the puzzle (I went to recruiting events and made up these bullshit lines about why it was so awesome, all of us did, but not a lot of people did). Try and talk to more people and strip away their biases, just get down to 1) Are these people you can work with, and 2) Is that the kind of work you want to do? And btw, to the original poster if you're looking for more feedback, if you are 100% set, go for big 4 instead of mid tier. The work is the same, the status of a big 4 would give you an advantage though. In Vancouver I know that's exactly how it is, the group of people starting at the same time get super close, and a few of my friends have actaully made that exact transition into Advisory as well.
post #10 of 15
My best friend left a mid-tier firm (Plante & Moran) to go to Arthur Anderson (this was before Enron) and after about a year decided he was better off before the switch. His main complaint was that it was just too many levels of management and too impersonal. He ended up leaving AA after about 18 months to go to law school. After law school he went back to work, but this time at Deloitte where he stayed for about 6 months before going to KPMG. At each post, he always said he wished he were back at Plante & Moran but they never had an opening for the type of work he wanted to do. He eventually left KPMG and took a very good job at another mid-tier firm (BDO Seidman which I think is the largest firm not in the Big 4) and he enjoyed that immensely. Unfortunately, the auto industry crashed (which made up most of his work) and his position was eliminated and at the time he wasn't interested in moving to one of the other offices that were offered to him (didn't like the locations). He ended up starting with the IRS last year in DC and absolutely loves it but still says that the smaller mid-tier firm (Plante & Moran) was the best place he ever worked. My wife is a CPA as well and currently works in auditing at Plante & Moran and she absolutely hates it. She doesn't like the constantly going to new clients and never being in the same place for more than a couple of weeks (I think that sounds like a pretty cool thing, but maybe I'm weird). She also doesn't like the culture at the firm and how friendly everybody wants to be all the time (we are both of the ilk that don't really want to associate with our co-workers outside of the office so networking and moving up in a culture like that can be difficult). Before coming to public accounting she worked in cash management in industry and really enjoyed that but wanted to get the hours in for her CPA so that she can move up to controller/CFO type positions. She got the hours last year, took the exams and passed and plans to go back to industry. The only reason she hasn't done so already is because we are having a child in August and she wanted to stick around at the mid-tier accounting firm through maternity leave and a few months afterwards because they have awesome benefits. I also have a couple of friends who work for the tiny single office firms with only 3 or 4 CPAs and maybe 10 accountants total and absolutely love these types of places. They like that they personally know everybody from the president on down and get a much larger role in finding clients and building those relationships, even as a pretty junior staff member. To me it seems to depend on what type of culture you like at the offices you work in because each level of firm will have its positives and negatives. I imagine that auditing at a tiny firm isn't really that much different than auditing with a Big 4 firm (sure the clients may be smaller, but auditing is auditing, right?) and the same probably holds true whether you are in the tax department or reporting or whatever other departments accounting firms have.
post #11 of 15
I worked in Tax at a Big 4 accounting firm for 5 years. I would never consider working in public at any lesser tier. The opportunities available to big 4 alumni are not available to the rest.
post #12 of 15
My wife is an accountant. This is her advice to people who ask her:
Tax >>>>>> Audit
Big 4 >>>>>> Non-Big 4
post #13 of 15
Anyone I know at the Big 4 hated their lives all year, not just busy season. You will be overworked and underpaid. All you get is some "prestige" from the name. A smaller firm will usually pay you your overtime, or give time in lieu. You will usually get a more well rounded experience in the first couple years and be given a greater amount of responsibility on the jobs that you do work.
post #14 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Raoul Duke View Post
Anyone I know at the Big 4 hated their lives all year, not just busy season. You will be overworked and underpaid. All you get is some "prestige" from the name. A smaller firm will usually pay you your overtime, or give time in lieu. You will usually get a more well rounded experience in the first couple years and be given a greater amount of responsibility on the jobs that you do work.

Yes, you will work like a dog. But then you can remove the leash and go elsewhere for big bucks and decent hours. The lower tier firm will pay you for overtime perhaps and other great stuff, but after 10 years you still be only able to work for other accounting firms at that level.
post #15 of 15
To the original poster: http://goingconcern.com/ I've found this to be a very good blog. I'm just starting college at age 24. I'll be a freshman this fall studying accounting. Does anyone else have some good industry-related links? How competitive is it to get into a Big-4 firm?
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