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February 7, 2023

Is It Shallow to Choose One Accounting Firm Over Another Based on Prestige?

If you have a problem that your spouse, friends, or Labrador can't seem to fix, why not ask emotionally detached accounting bloggers who can barely run their own lives to help? Email us your questions and we'll pull it together just for you.

Dear Going Concern,
I know you get a lot of these similar questions but I couldn't seem to find one that deals with reputation. So, here it goes:
This past summer I interned at a Big 4 Firm, that let's just say, seems to get a lot of jokes on here. I absolutely enjoyed my experience there and received a full time offer for next year. The thing is, I also just received a full time offer from a bigger (apparently way more respected) Big 4 Firm and am itching to go there because it is more prestigious. How shallow would it make me look to reject my offer from the firm who invested so much in me to go begin my career at the much better firm? I know this isn't such a bad position to be in, but how important is it to start at the better firm? Would it look really bad to turn down the full-time offer after the internship to join a rival? I know there is a similar question from last year regarding this issue, but the basis for my question is my reputation.
Thank you.
Ambitiously Confused
Dear Ambitiously Confused,
Ahhh, the plight of choice. To be courted by more than one Big 4 firm is the desire of many burgeoning capital market servants and, of course, you have somehow turned this desire into a conflict.
You have to remember that this particular scenario is not isolated to you, Ambitiously Confused. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of recruits out there that will receive multiple full-time offers, yet they only interned with one firm, and OH MY HOLY GOD, IT'S NOW TIME TO DECIDE ON ONE. The firms are accustomed to this – the most talented recruits are coveted by other firms and they know there is a chance that not all of the interns will return to continue on their journey of professional service excellence. With all that in mind, let's address your questions:
How shallow would it make me look to reject my offer from the firm who invested so much in me to go begin my career at the much better firm? – On the traditional scale, this level shallow is average (i.e. 5-6) especially if you think of this as not a "rejection" of one firm so much as it is the "acceptance" of another firm. People utter "This opportunity is a better fit for me" every year. Yeah, Firm A invested some time and money into you, but it's not the first time they've been dumped by an intern and it won't be the last. Also, a "much better firm" can be relative if you consider things like geography. Here on the interwebs, firms' reputations are more often considered in the collective (i.e. national) sense and sometimes at a more local level, there can be a big difference in perception.
How important is it to start at the better firm? – On paper, it's not THAT important. If you're serving complex clients that have complex business issues, good work experience is good work experience. Yeah, future employers will look at the firm you worked for, but will be far more interested in your personal accomplishments. However, in your case, starting at the "better firm" sounds like it's of PARAMOUNT importance; your ego may be getting in the way a bit. You're taking a bit of a risk of accepting a full-time offer from a firm with whom you have no prior experience, just for the sake of prestige.  
Would it look really bad to turn down the full-time offer after the internship to join a rival? – No. Again, Benedict Arnolds amongst the Big 4 are not unusual at any level. See KPMG vs. PwC
Ultimately, if you won't be able to sleep at night knowing that you've chosen a less prestigious firm, then it's probably worth taking the chance to go with the sexier option. Good luck.

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