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Big 4 Aspirant Wants Help Choosing a City

Welcome to the way-to-double-bogey-18-Phil edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a prospective Big 4 associate wants help deciding between a large or mid-market city. Let’s see what we can do to get her out of the sticks.

Have a spotty past that may hurt your career aspirations? Need help spending some extra money that fell into your lap? Do you work with a bunch of tools? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll point you to some sharper folks.

Meanwhile, back on the farm:


I am preparing for recruiting season this Fall, and I attend a heavily-recruited university on the east coast. Recruiters from the Big 4 (as well as other firms) recruit nationally from my school, so I pretty much have my pick of what city I would like to work, if I were to get hired by one of them. I know that they ask us for our preference in location, and that is my current dilemma – I am not sure yet which one to pick.

I know for sure that I want to leave my current city, as it is mostly a college town. I have family in both Miami and Phoenix, so I am considering those options, but those are middle markets. My dream has always been to live in a big city, so I am considering NYC and possibly Chicago. Obviously there are big differences in size, both in terms of number of employees and clients. However, I have no family in any large city, so I would have to live on my own or find a roommate. But wouldn’t working in a bigger city provide me with a greater advantage, career-wise? There are a lot more possible clients and industries to pick from when you work out of a large city. I would really like to know the advantages and disadvantages of working in a middle-sized office versus a really large one (Big 4 firm specifically). I would truly appreciate any feedback that you may have on this matter – maybe even post it as a blog on the website so that the readers can share their insight.

Dear Big City Dreamer,

Live on your own?! Roommate?! Is it possible that you’re becoming an adult? That may have a – gasp – job in the very near future? This can all be very scary, I realize so I’ll stop with the jokes…for now. Lucky for you, I’ve lived and worked in both a mid-sized and a large city, so I’ll share my personal experience and then we’ll throw it to the group.

When choosing where to live it’s important to know what you want to get out of that city. You’re going to be living there after all and believe it or not, you will have free time occasionally to do some things other than work. You say that living in a big city is your “dream” so I’d encourage you to go for a big market so you can enjoy everything that they offer. I lived and worked in New York for about two years and while the hours were long, I still had the great opportunity to experience everything the City has to offer. Plus, I made a lot of cool friends in a part of the country where I didn’t previously know anyone. Professionally speaking, it’s true that you’ll be exposed to a wider variety of clients and a bigger network of people. All good things for someone who’s looking for options.

The main disadvantage to a larger office is that it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. If you’re not hell-bent on being Ms. PwC, just want to do your job and go enjoy your life outside of work, sometimes that can work against you. It’ll be important for you to foster good relationships with people that will go to bat for you when it comes to performance reviews and staffing you on clients. If you’re always billing and you’ve got a good relationship with your superiors, you should be fine. If you find yourself floating around, you may end up being a name no one recognizes and that makes you expendable.

A mid-sized office, on the other hand, is a little more familial. You’ll get to know everyone, including the support staff who can be lifesavers when you inevitably find yourself in some kind of jam where they can help. Mid-sized cities can be fun because they have a different feel from the big city. Denver, for example, has a great music scene and amazing weather so you spend a lot of time outdoors. No, you don’t have the Met or a grip of five-star restaurants but you make the most of wherever you go.

The main problem with a smaller city is that because it can feel familial, there’s always familial problems. It can feel a little bit like high school at times and most people will know your business one way or another. If there’s a beef amongst team members or someone else, EVERYONE WILL KNOW ABOUT IT. Also, because line-of-business groups are smaller, it can make the promotion process and the internal politics a little trickier. There are fewer clients to chase and so the higher up you go, the fewer manager and partner spots are available. As a staff you won’t really be affected by this but if you want to stay with your firm for awhile, it may become an issue later.

Ultimately, go with your instincts. If you want to live in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, you should go for it. You’re young and eager, so you may as well use that high energy on those high-energy places now. Good luck.