Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Exit planning for an experienced audit manager

Although there are a lot of Failure to Launch posts here, everything I have seen has been focused on early career.  Granted, some of these issues are probably the same wherever you are in your career, but the circumstances and consequences seem a little more daunting the further along you get in your career.  So my question to anyone who's been through this, what general advice would you have for someone who's 5-8 years into their Big 4 career and starting to question exactly what he or she wants next?  If I haven't 100% committed myself to making partner, at what point am I wasting my time by staying in Big 4?  How do you keep your options open?

For background, I'm an experienced audit manager.  I graduated at the top of my class, generally curious about what was out there, and not afraid to try new things with my career.  I started with a Big 4 firm because it seemed like the logical choice to work wth the best and see a lot of different things without having to commit to one particular company (or even industry, although I am fairly specialized).  

At no point in my career have I ever said that I definitively wanted to be a partner; I've always been able to keep a relatively decent work/life balance, and will not give that up.  I started as the golden boy in my office, and really rode that out through my promotion to Manager.  I've had my fair share of rough projects, but I also realize that I've had my share of good luck along the way as well, working mostly with people I've liked and respected (and I think the feeling has been mutual).  As a mangager, I've mostly kept a low-profile – I get my stuff done on high profile audit clients, and staff generally enjoy working with me – but I try to steer clear of picking up additional work or getting involved in the office admin extracurricular stuff.  

Shortly after being promoted to manager, I looked into some interesting Technical Accounting/ SEC Reporting roles for major companies, where I was barely qualified but got interviews  – one gave me an offer (although I was effectively told that I wasn't the first choice because of lack of experience) and the other said they liked me but wanted another year or 2 experience at a Big 4 manager level, and asked me to re-appy in 2 years.  Shortly after, I was offered a national office role with my firm, which has been a good learning experience and a change of pace, but more structured than I generally like.  So, I'm now about a year away from going back to a regular audit role as a newly promoted Senior Manager – I have good idea about what I like and don't like, but I'm in no way committed in any direction.  

The general rule I've heard is that unless your goal is to be Partner, staying more than 1 year as a Senior Manager is not worth it, and as I've mentioned, I'm not the work-for-the-sake-of-working type.  Based on my experience testing the job market a little, it seems like I would be in a pretty ideal place to make lateral move to industry with a good mix of responsibilities and 8 years Big 4 experience.  That said, I think I could handle being a Director on the right clients, if the opportunity presented itself (maybe everyone says that).  

If you've read this much of my train-of-thought rant, I would love to hear your thoughts on anything I should be thinking about (or doing) now based on personal experience.  Thanks!