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It’s Not All About the Big 4

As a regular reader of GC, I’ve noticed a big 4 or die attitude. I just want to drop  a note to let students know there ARE other routes into public accounting that can be equally attractive.

I graduated with bachelor and MPA degrees from a respected university (top 15 accounting program nationally per 2014 U.S. News). Of our fifty MPA graduates, fourty-one went B4, and I was afforded the same opportunity. However, I choose to go the mid-tier route (BDO, GT, McGladrey) as my personal goals were more eclectic than just career development. I wanted the opportunity to explore other facets of life that require substantial time, of which I did not see as an option w/ the B4.

Two and a half years in, I have never doubted that decision. Life with the firm has provided many opportunities and allowed me to develop my career and professional ‘toolbox’ as I had hoped. In speaking with fellow alumni who went with B4 firms, I’ve noticed two main differences.

1.      HOURS! B4 professionals put in some serious work. 50+ hours mon-fri plus entire weekends is a reality for many folks I’ve spoken with. That isn’t much of a life if you ask me. I work Saturdays occasionally, but not often.

2.      Development. You can really hone your technical skills in B4 and develop significant knowledge in highly complicated areas. However, with the mid-tier, you learn more about the entire audit process from start to finish as your engagements are smaller. Within your first two years you will be running jobs from planning to report writing, and spending less time in the guts of an audit. I believe it results in a more well-rounded professional early on, although it does cost you some technical expertise.

As for opportunities after public, they are still there. I may never be the CFO of Amazon, but I’m ok with that. Job offers come through, controller at private company and other positions of that nature. Your network grows quickly as you are directly involved with executives due to smaller engagement sizes.

The thing is, I am in no rush to get out. Work is enjoyable,  I’m rarely stressed out, and I’ve been able to focus on the industries I wanted. I also have the time to properly tend to the other aspects of life that I value, and that makes a big difference.  Compensation has been fine, started mid 50s, adding 10 to 15% each year. Enough to keep me, the wife, and dog happy.

So at your next recruiting event, when you witness the hordes amassing at the B4 tables, take a minute and visit other firms for a chat. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Do others agree/disagree with this assessment?