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September 29, 2023

Intern Weighs Betraying a Small Firm for the Big 4

Suffering from Big 4 burnout? Want ideas for your Sarbanes-Oxley 10th anniversary celebration? Need help making a smart the least stupid choice at the vending machine? Email us your questions and let us feel your pain.

Hi GC,
Looking for some advice. I am interning at a small firm and I am 95% sure I will get an offer. However, I figure if I am going to be a slave in the accounting industry, I might as well go Big 4 or go home. If I do get an offer, would it be unethical to accept the offer and still shop around for a Big 4 offer? This would obviously mean accepting two offers and telling the small firm to kiss it. I feel like I would be deemed the Benedict Arnold of the accounting industry if I did such a thing.
Potential Benedict Arnold

Dear PBA,

If there's one thing we can't stand around here, it's anyone sullying the good names of delicious brunch dishes and the pig from Green Acres. But because we've pledged to help capital market servants  in need (something that occasionally conjures up feelings of regret), we'll answer your question.

Ethics are relative, so if you're a firm believer in the idea that acting in your own best interest at all times, regardless of how it affects others, then your plan is not "unethical" but rather "standard operating procedure." Because you are concerned that this course of action could result in you being branded the "Benedict Arnold of the accounting industry" then you may not fall into this camp. 

Now. There is a very simple solution here, Benny – if you get an offer from the small firm, don't accept it. Boom! Crisis averted. If you're confident that you have what it takes to be a Big 4 superstar, then you'll cruise through the recruiting process and wringing your hands over the small firm offer isn't even necessary.

Of course there's the remote possibility that you're completely delusional about your value, credentials and the fact that a Big 4 recruiter wouldn't be caught dead poking you with a stick. We've never come across a young accounting student or professional with an inflated opinion of their talents, so you probably don't have to worry about this but it's still important to be realistic about your chances before you decide to reject your small firm.

So the bottom line is this – would your imaginary scenario be "unethical"? That depends. But it sure would make you a grade 1A disingenuous DICK. If you're not 100% on the small firm, don't accept the offer and take your chances with the Big 4 recruiting process. You'll avoid the traitor label and won't feel shame every time you look into hollandaise sauce. 

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