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Should a Regional CPA Give Up Work-Life Balance for a Shot with a Big 4 Firm?

Welcome to the that’s-the-last-time-I’m-getting-up-at-5-am edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a perfectly happy CPA at a regional firm wants to know if giving up his work-life balance and other intangibles for a Big 4 gig is a smart move prior to hitting the dirty thirties. Should he stay or should he go?

Trying to make sense of your career? Want to know your firm’s cool quotient? Worried that the axe will fall right after April 15th? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll give you a either an ego boost or a reality check.

Back to our friend who’s considering trading work-life for work-for-life:

I am currently debating on whether I should make the move from a regional firm to a Big 4, for assurance. Pros about my firm: it’s local and has minimal travel; there isn’t much intensity/pressure; I only have overtime from February until April, and other than that I work about 40-45 hours a week. However, the variety of clients is lacking and salary increases are pathetic. Granted the current economic climate, I think that I can get a 10K increase if I make the switch.

My biggest question is: “Is it worth it to give up the intangible benefits of the easy audit life for the higher salary and pressure of a Big 4 firm?”

I’ve got a masters degree and have my license. I’m also in my late twenty’s and figure that if I want to try the big leagues, now is the time.

What are your thoughts?


An indecisive CPA

Dear Indecisive CPA,

Your biggest question shouldn’t be “Is it worth it to give up the intangible benefits of the easy audit life for the higher salary and pressure of a Big 4 firm?” rather something to the effect of “Does a crazy person know they’re crazy? And am I that crazy person?” But forget self-reflection for a second, I’ll attempt to make sense of this for you.

I was in a similar situation myself at one time, although it was earlier in my career. I was working at a smaller firm, had a decent work-life balance but felt bored and the money wasn’t great. At the time I wanted to experience life in the Big 4 and found the opportunity to do so. You sound as though you have an itch to figure out what life inside the Big 4 is like but also know that you’re giving up the intangibles that you mention.

The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you’ll regret not trying to land that coveted Big 4 gig. If you read the comments here regularly or talk to your friends who do work for one of firms, you know what to expect. If your reaction to these anecdotes is somewhere in the range of “That sounds like pure hell,” to “I’d rather scrub the floor at Penn Station with my bare hands” then your decision has already been made. If, on the other hand, the curiosity is still too much to bear, I say it’s worth exploring the opportunity. If you don’t pursue it, you’ll likely never fully get over the fact that you didn’t at least go for it and find out for yourself what life at Big 4 is really like. Plus, you’ll get a nice little bump salary and you’ll meet some new people. Could be worse. And if all of the Big 4 cast you out like a leper you’ll be better off. Good luck.