Why A Big 4 Career Isn’t Right For You And That’s Okay

You’ve heard it before from your Professors, recruiters, coworkers, friends, and if you’re like me, probably your mother…

“It’s a great name to have on your resume!”

“You’ll learn so much!”

“Joe’s sister is a partner and says they have great benefits!”

While there are countless benefits to starting your career with a Big 4 firm, have you actually read the job description and considered if this is the right career for you?

Let me get one thing straight here – my experience working at a Big 4 firm has been everything I hoped it would be and more. I wouldn’t trade the lessons I’ve learned for anything, and unlike some of my peers, a Big 4 career was the right choice for me. For anyone on the fence about a Big 4 career, let’s go over some topics that you might have never considered in deciding your career:

Do you want your career to define who you are?

To state the obvious, working long hours is a big part of the job. Being so attached to work for long hours can cut into personal time. You start to notice that when someone asks what you do for fun after work your only response is “more work?” There’s nothing wrong with your work being a defining part of who you are as a person, but if you think you’re going to have time for a lot of hobbies and extra-curricular activities you may have been fooled.

Do you want to be making the numbers or checking the numbers?

This summer I was talking shop with a friend’s dad who spent years in public accounting. He divulged the reason why he wanted to move into industry: “I wanted to be the one making the numbers, not the one checking the numbers.” I never really thought about it this way before. Working in the audit practice, I comb over countless sets of financial statements. You need to be prepared that your job as an auditor means that you have little influence on the bottom line and performance of your client.

Where do you see your career in 5 years?

The classic interview question that makes all millennials cringe. There are two types of people that work at Big 4 firms:

  1. The person counting down the days until they make partner;
  2. And the person counting down the days until they qualify

Typically, these two types of people don’t really see eye to eye on most issues when it comes to quality of work and hours. The future partners can really make your experience quite difficult if you’re only there to do the bare minimum. At the end of the day, the future partners are the face of the firm and therefore their interests and ideas will be put ahead of yours.

Needless to say if you’re planning on flying under the radar, you will be quickly forgotten by anyone who can make your life less miserable. They want good people to stay and they want more people to aspire to be partners. If you don’t see yourself one day becoming a partner at some of the largest professional service firms in the world, maybe you should question whether you should even start down this path.

At the end of the day…

it’s all about your fit with the culture.

Big 4 firms promote work life balance and a fun environment, and while things are getting better, you are more likely to achieve a better balance working in industry or at a smaller firm. Think about what makes you happy and what kind of experience you want. Most importantly, don’t set yourself up to be miserable for three years in order to add to your resume.

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