Big 4

Big 4 Employee with an Itch to Jump Ship Wants to Know What His Options Are

Welcome to the the-shutdown-will-probably-last-45-minutes edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a Big 4 senior associate has a hanker to jump ship. Problem is, corporate accounting and internal auditing don’t sound like appealing life-preservers. Are there other options or is our hero doomed for permanent Big 4 burnout?

Nervous about a promotion? Back on the hunt for a co-worker to canoodle with after an unfortunate experience? Concerned about where your bonus is going? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll sort you out one way or another.

Meanwhile, back on the Titanic:

Hello there,

So I’m a senior associate at a big 4 accounting firm and needless to say, I’m getting the itch to leave this gig. The problem I’m facing though, is that I don’t know what job I want to take when I leave.

While the hours may be better, going into corporate accounting and doing journal entries / reconciliations sounds just as mind numbing. Likewise, doing the same old routine in internal audit doesn’t really sound riveting either. So outside of those, what are my options? What jobs are out there that will let me put my CPA to good use while actually enjoying my career?

– Not sold on corporate accounting


Ah, you’ve come to see that the grass isn’t always THC-ier on the other side. It’s important that you’ve come to this realization, so I don’t have to give you a sermon about that. However I should say, you seem to have your priorities a little backwards: “The problem I’m facing […] is that I don’t know what job I want to take when I leave.” This sounds like you’re ready to leave your Big 4 firm with virtually no plan; that would suggest A) your “itch” is really a full-body rash and B) you’ve only had preliminary thoughts about what life after Big 4 can really be like.

In addition to the plethora of corporate accountant and internal audit gigs, there are many opportunities for various analyst positions – cost, budget, financial – if that’s something that would be of interest to you (check out this post on cost accounting positions from last summer for more details). If you’re the wonky type, a SEC reporting or a technical accounting position may be up your alley.

With all that in mind, don’t dismiss all senior accountant job. If you find a company that’s the right for you (i.e. size, responsibilities, money, etc.) you’ll end up learning a lot and in addition to your Big 4 experience, you’ll have a nice skillset that will prepare you for your next move. As far as internal audit is concerned, I personally never had much interest, simply because I discovered that auditing was nothing I wanted to do. If you do like auditing (God help you), then I wouldn’t dismiss all of those opportunities but like the senior accountant positions, I’d be pretty selective.

Just remember, don’t get anxious to leave just because you’re miserable. Figure out what your real interests are and then start your job search, working with a recruiter or pounding the pavement yourself. You might discover that you need to get of this accounting thing altogether. I’m a living, breathing example of that and there are plenty more out there like me. You may be one of them too but I admit, you have to be willing to make sacrifices (mostly money). The worst thing you can possibly do is take any old job with a fancy title and a bigger paycheck to only hate it in three months. Good luck.

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.

In Case You Forgot, the Big 4 Are Hiring a Small Army of People This Year

CNN/Fortune managed to dig up this corpse of a story: “Bean counters wanted: Why the Big 4 are in a hiring frenzy.”  This refers to the hiring bonanza that Deloitte announced last September that was followed by various announcements by the rest of the Big 4:

[T]here’s one unlikely place where the help wanted sign is up, big time: Accounting firms.

Deloitte plans to hire 17,000 professionals in the U.S. and India in 2011, according to Cathleen Benko, its chief talent officer. It’s seeking accountants, auditors, consultants, and IT staff. Hiring is split evenly between experienced and entry-level applicants.

Ernst & Young has stepped up recruiting. It’s looking to hire 7,000 employees from college campuses — 4,500 full-time and 2,500 interns — and 6,000 experienced staff, totaling 13,000 people in 2011, says Dan Black, its director of Americas Campus Recruiting. Experienced staffing is up 80% from last year and campus recruits are up 20%.

Both firms compete for talent against PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, and large consulting firms such as McKinsey and Bain. The hiring confirms a 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics report that predicted employment in accounting and auditing would spike 22%.

For starters I don’t know why accounting firms are an “unlikely” place for the “help wanted sign” but don’t forget that this is the same outlet that told us that the firms were making money hand over fist back in the Fall of ’09. Also, why CNN/Fortune is now reporting Deloitte’s India’s hiring numbers as part of this story is a little confusing. Plus, if “hiring is split” between experienced and new hires that is a change in the breakdown from what was reported last September. Again, maybe the India numbers change things up a bit and I lost my 10-key long ago.

And we’ll also mention that the E&Y numbers are slightly better than what they initially reported last September so make of all these stats what you will, the rainbow and unicorn PR machine is in full force and CNN is happy to scoop them up spit them out.

Bean counters wanted: Why the Big 4 are in a hiring frenzy [CNNMoney]

Should a Big 4 Audit Associate Ditch His Firm for a Client?

Welcome to the I’m-just-sick-about-the-Mad-Men-situation edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a Big 4 associate wants to apply for an analyst position at his client and wants to know if there will be backlash or independence issues that would accompany such a move. What’s in store for our turncoat? Let’s find out!

Have an interesting career dilemma? Need some ideas to cheer up the troops? Looking for some ways to offer some constructive criticism without resorting to veiled insults? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll help you squash any temptation for name-calling.

Meanwhile back at traitor island:

Dear Going Concern,

I’m an Associate at a Big4 looking to do something more exciting. After checking out at my clients website, they seem to have a lot of entry-level analysts positions that interest me.

I was curious as to what your thoughts were about applying to one of your clients, and how my team might react if I get the job before busy season. Also, do I have to worry about independence issues if I’m only an Associate?

Thank you,
Extremely Bored Associate

Dear Extremely Bored Associate,

You think an entry-level analyst position sounds more exciting than Big 4? Your bar for thrills is awfully low, my friend. Never mind that you lack an inner Indiana Jones, I’m here to help you.

For starters, I’m not really sure what you mean by “just before busy season” since it’s March and busy season is all but over. However if you do ditch your team prior to busy season, some will sneer at your timing and then forget about you. And then there are the people that will hate you just on principle. You simply have to accept that as a cost of doing business. As far as independence is concerned, I don’t see any issues since you’re pretty low on pecking order but your firm may have a cooling off period or some other policy that forbids you from taking a position for a certain amount of time, so consider that your homework assignment.

Have said all that, I should tell you that it’s possible that your client may not be interested in offering you a job simply because you worked for the audit team. The argument being that maintaining a good relationship with their audit provider trumps any cog in the wheel so poaching you from their professional services firm is something they simply won’t do. Now are there exceptions? Probably. So the only the way to know is find out; run it up and see what happens. Good luck.

Brits Call Big 4 Auditors ‘Disconcertingly Complacent’ During Financial Crisis

Not exactly what you would call a compliment. And while they were at it, the House of Lords would like the Office of Fair Trading to investigate why the “Big 4” isn’t a “Global 6” or “Universal 8” or “Dirty Dozen” or something similar.

Of course auditors have claimed that did everything they were legally obligated to do and the HoL admits that’s kindasorta true but not really:

Its report said: “We do not accept the defence that bank auditors did all that was required of them. In the light of what we now know, that defence appears disconcertingly complacent.” It added: “It may be that the Big Four carried out their duties properly in the strictly legal sense, but we have to conclude that, in the wider sense, they did not do so.” Bank auditors and regulators had been guilty of a “dereliction of duty” by not sharing more information with each other on an informal basis before the crisis, the committee claimed. Auditors were either “culpably unaware of the mounting dangers” at banks or they were at fault for not sharing any concerns with supervisors, it added. Either way, auditor complacency had been a “significant contributory factor” in the banking meltdown, the committee said.

So in “the wider sense,” auditors best step up their game. Go forth.

Auditors criticised for role in financial crisis [FT]

Choosing Between a Big 4 and Mid-tier Firm Part XXIII

Welcome to the upset-special edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a future public accounting foot soldier has to make a decision between a Big 4 firm and “GT/BDO type firm” but is stumped on what to do and can’t find a two-sided coin anywhere. The next best solution was, obviously, emailing us.

Want to know if you’re in a dead-end job? Trying to deal with stress in the waning days of busy season? Anxious about changes in your job? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll help you pull through.

Back to the indecider:

Hi Going Concern,

I have an offer from a Big 4 and a GT/BDO type firm and am having a tough time deciding. I wanted to ask which option will be better in the long-run if I want to start in public accounting, but then might want to move to a large publicly traded tech company? I guess my question is which route would give me better exit opportunities and long-term benefits should I decide not to stay in public accounting? (If I leave, I have a good idea of where I’d like to work on the corporate side.)

1. Mid-Tier Firm experience — having taken lead on small projects by my second year, more interaction with clients etc. Having experience with mid-sized (not public) tech companies, and experience with large, public companies that are not tech companies.

2. Big 4 — staying a little more than 2 years (enough to move up to Sr. Associate level but not staying too long beyond that) – and having worked on large, public tech companies. Having the Big 4 brand name on my résumé.

Also, there’s a chance that I might enjoy staying at the Mid-Tier in the long-term, but without being sure, I want to keep my options as open as possible.

Thanks. Any advice is appreciated.

Stuck in Indecision

Dear Stuck in Indecision,

I’m impressed that you’ve managed to cover all the angles here. You could possibly like each scenario without considering what it is actually want with your career other than “might want to move to a large publicly traded tech company” or “might enjoy staying at the Mid-Tier in the long-term.” You’re basically saying that you’re up for anything – hence, ” I want to keep my options as open as possible.” Your options are open all right since you’ve committed to exactly nothing. However I’m here to help, so here goes.

To keep it brief: all things being equal, go with the Big 4 firm. Here are some details – it’s likely that you will have the opportunity to work on smaller clients at a Big 4 firm, thus giving you the chance to “take the lead.” If you also have experience working for larger, publicly-traded companies (not as likely at a mid-tier), your experience will be more vast and allow you decide what it is you actually want to do (because, at this point in time, you don’t seem to have a clue). GT, BDO, McGladrey et al. are fine firms but you have a Big 4 offer – take it. You didn’t mention the people (a big selling point at most firms) so I’ll assume you’re indifferent or that they were all equal on this front. The network you build in a Big 4 firm will benefit you the long run and the experience will as well. Just don’t expect your firm to do well in “cool” contests. Good luck.

Chart of the Day (From Yesterday): Audit Failure Edition

As if the combination of March Madness and St. Patrick weren’t enough, this slide from yesterday’s Investor Advisory Group meeting should drive many to drink.

After yesterday’s findings on the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the auditor’s report, we bring you “The Watchdog that Didn’t Bark … Again.” It’s not as caught up on surveys and whatnot, as it is just pointing out some of the well, failures by auditors during the financial crisis.

The presentation was prepared by The Working Group on Lessons Learned from the Financial Crisis of the IAG and includes past comments from critics like Francine McKenna and Jonathan Weil on the expectations gap between auditors and basically everyone else. But don’t worry, it also presents the audit profession’s defense of itself including past statements from the Center for Audit Quality and PwC’s Richard Sexton the head of audit it the UK, who said this:

Now, one could come to the conclusion that Mr Sexton works for his clients first and not investors but you might not agree with that.

Now before all the Big 4 auditors get in a huff, the presentation has some criticisms of the PCAOB as well, specifically on the report the Board issued in September 2010:

If you can manage to stop drinking your breakfast for two, check out the full presentation below and discuss.

The Watchdog That Didnt Bark

Should a Big 4 Auditor Jump Ship for a Rival After Four Months on the Job?

Welcome to the you-better-get-work-done-today-because-no-one-is-doing-shit-tomorrow edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, an experienced Big 4 auditor has recently gotten the interest of a rival firm after just four months on the job. Does he risk a disloyal reputation if he jumps ship again?

Have a career question? Trying to deal with a troublesome co-worker? Concerned that your firm isn’t offering you enough chances to crush some Chardonnay at the office? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll attempt to find you a firm that isn’t full of teetotalers.

Back to our Judas-in-waiting:

Hi Going Concern,

I recently made the move to a Big 4 firm after completing two full years at the largest mid-size firm in the U.S. I was promoted to Senior right before I left my old firm but was offered a position as a Staff 2 (with a nominal increase in pay). I am in the middle of my third busy season (assurance) and I just got an e-mail from one of the other Big 4 firms I was in communication with when I was looking to split from my previous firm. The e-mail is describing an open position that they have in a client acceptance specialty group, based in the NJ office (I currently live and work in NY).

I have only been at my current firm for about four months – is it too early to contemplate considering the opportunity? Of course I would have to go through the whole interview process so this could be a moot point but I can’t help wondering if the move would be a bad idea? Would it limit my ability to work in the private sector later on? Would my résumé scream DISLOYAL? My main incentive would be a pay/title increase (opening is for a Senior position) and what I would hope would be a less stressful “busy season” but at this point I have no clue what to do.


Ship Jumper in NY

Dear Ship Jumper,

Simply put: when given an opportunity, I a big believer in making a run at it. I don’t see anything wrong with going through the interview process with your prospective firm and seeing where it leads. If you don’t get the job, what have you lost? The answer is “nothing,” and you won’t wonder whether or not you should have gone on that interview. I’m not really sure how you feel about being an auditor but joining a speciality group could be a nice change of pace.

Scenario B is that you land the gig and you’re worried about the appearance it will have on your résumé. First of all, you make it sound like you’re one of those bounders who jumps around because they hate every job they’ve ever had. Two years here; eighteen months here; six months here. If you end up going down that road, the answer is yes, that is a warning sign to potential employers. If this opportunity is really the direction you want to take your career, then there’s very little risk of that. In the future when discussing the brief stint to an interviewer (if they even ask), you’ll be able to explain it this way, “The opportunity came up and I went for it. I’ve been working in this group for X number of years and have enjoyed my time there. This is just another opportunity.”

I think future employers should be interested in someone who recognizes opportunity when they see it as opposed to someone who is content to sit back and wonder what might have been. This goes for aspects in your work, not just career moves. As long as your intentions and ambitions about this opportunity are sincere and not simply opportunistic, employers won’t be worried about the brief pit stop at your current firm.

How Bad Are the Odds of Making Partner at a Big 4 Firm?

If you’re a (senior) manager at one of the Final Four horsemen of the accounting firm apocalypse, you may have asked yourself this very question. A reader recently dropped some quantitative analysis on us, writing, “I tried to step past anecdote and see how bad things really were.” This is specifically for the audit practice and is fairly large office, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Using commonly available data from my firm, I decided to create a quasi-statistical analysis of the likelihood of senior managers making partner in the near future.

There were, as of the date I pulled this data, 843 senior managers in our audit practice. It’s too time consuming to divide these among starting classes, so I’ve made the following simplified assumptions:

9 year – 30% of the population, or 253 senior managers
10 year – 25%, or 211
11 year – 20%, or 169
12 year – 15%, or 126
13 year – 10% or 84

Let’s consider half of year 11 and all of year 12 and 13+ to be “in the pipeline”. That’s 295 senior managers competing for a given number of partner/principal/director (“partner”) spots.

Our tipster used a sample of approximately 200 partners (out of an assumed total of ~1,000) to conclude that approximately 14% of them would retire in the next five years (assuming 30+ years with the firm, mandatory retirement at 62) and assumed a 6% growth rate (which he/she admits, is on the aggressive side).

Here’s an extrapolation of open spots based on turnover and growth:

1,000 partners x 14% turnover = 140 partners turn over due to attrition, or 28 partners per year
1,000 partners x 6% growth = 60 partners per year, ignoring compounding

84 new partners sounds like a lot of partners. That’s because it is. Those in the know put our planned crop of partners at ~50 for 2011. At best, you’re looking at 1 in 4 of those high performing senior managers making partner, based on our assumptions. More realistically, it means that 1 in 6 can make partner.

Maybe you’ll take those odds, maybe you won’t but like we said, if you’re working in an office that is a fraction of the size in our tipster’s pattern, your odds could be worse depending on the situation in your office. Our tipster continues:

These odds are much worse than anyone is willing to admit, and simply making promotion a war of attrition by extending the partner track to 15 years isn’t going to do much to clear up the pipeline, since very few senior managers are going to find an opportunity that presents the chance of making $300k plus within 2 or 3 years. The situation gets even more grim for senior managers in their 9th and 10th year, who have a huge backlog in front of them and a glut of peers who were hired in the SarBox days of senior managers leaving for 30-40% raises and expect the same in their own careers.

Experienced seniors and new managers should very carefully consider the extended consequences of this data, and what it’s going to look like in 7-9 years when they are trying to make partner. The days of 15% growth in our industry are over and aren’t coming back, and the reality is that many Big 4 senior managers simply are not employable in industry at their current salary levels. Think through your career decisions in the coming 18 months very carefully.

As we’ve discussed, the firms know full well that not everyone has the goal of becoming a partner but if you do have partner ambitions, you’re in a pretty select group. The problem is, the odds still seem to be against you. Now with busy season winding down and three of the four firms closing in on fiscal year-ends, this year’s performance (and prospects outside the firm, depending on how promotions fall out) will be weighing heavy on the minds of many.

Chinese Companies Want the Big 4 Magic

“Companies are under pressure from investors to get the best auditor they can,” said Paul Gillis, an accounting professor at Peking University in Beijing. More than 200 Chinese companies are listed on U.S. exchanges, and hundreds more trade on over-the-counter bulletin boards. In the last five months, at least 15 have upgraded to a Big Four auditor — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers or KPMG — from a smaller firm, according to an analysis from Audit Analytics. [Reuters]

Weary Big 4 Auditors Are Invited to Live Out Their ‘What I Really Wanted to Be’ Dreams This Saturday

As busy season trudges along, some of you may be looking for a second wind. For many of you, any chance that you can reach down into your soul and conjure up a little more energy to help you reach the finish line passed with that blown deadline.

However, for anyone on the Isle of Manhattan that is looking for a little pick-me-up this weekend, we’ve been informed that there is a fiesta in the making (invitation art at right) and it invites you to harken for the days when your aspirations weren’t so practical:

My friend is having a party this weekend with what I think is a pretty clever theme. On Saturday, we will be attending “Fuck! We are Auditors (How did that happen)”. Description:

“Have you always dreamed of becoming an Auditor?

If so, this party is not for you. For everyone else, come celebrate the (nearing) end of busy season! The theme of FWAA is to dress up as something you wanted to be when you were a kid. So call up your mom or flip through your diary to see what aspirations you had when you were young. Points (more alcohol) will be given to those who have a very convincing outfit.

So don on a lab coat, leotard, or tiara, bring a little somethin’ somethin’ (alcohol), and come get your drunk on. Feel free to invite other auditor or drab job related friends. Perhaps this theme will inspire other auditors to put their life in perspective and go for it…or just drink more to our unachieved dreams. We obviously don’t mean any disrespect to our jobs (or firm. no need to bite the hand that feeds you) seeing as we just started, but any reason to drink/dress up right? It’s been a long busy season. One down, and god-knows-how-many to go.

And good news, the party-throwers (who wouldn’t share their firm with us) have deemed this all-firms-are-created-equal event, “we’re willing to look past those corporate labels and invite all auditors to party.” Of course if you’re not in the Tri-state area, you’ll have to organize your own dashed-dreams rager but the theme has been set. Cowboy, pro athlete, Miss USA, movie star, whatever you failed to be, you’re invited to pretend for a few awkward hours this weekend. As long as you’re not working of course.

How Should an Ex-Big 4 Manager Broach a Possible Return to the Firm with His Boss?

Welcome to the this-ashes-made-me-break-out edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a former Big 4 manager wants to pursue a chance to return to this old firm. How does he handle this with his current employer?

Got a question about your career? Do you have an interesting opportunity but not sure if you should pursue it? Need a new nickname for your special, super-secret team? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll help you avoid anything lame (or possibly racist).

Back to the Big 4 Boomerang:

Hey Going Concern,

About a year ago, I left Big 4 as an audit manager and now work for a client of my former firm (though not one of mine, Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley made sure of that). Lately, I’ve been seriously considering a return to my old Big 4 stomping grounds.

My questions isn’t whether I’m crazy or not, it’s how to handle the issue with my current company. It’s not a slam dunk that I will return to my old firm, but I want to at least pursue it. On the plus side, I have a good relationship with my current boss (we’ve known each other for several years).

If I come clean to my boss but end up staying, that’s a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there. If I reach out to my firm on the sly and leave, I threaten to restart my audit career by angering a client.

Help me Going Concern, you’re my only hope…

The Once and (possibly) Future Auditor

Dear Oa(p)FA,

A Seinfeld and a Star Wars reference? Obviously this is keeping you up at night. I’m on this. Since you’ve made up your mind that you are pursuing a Big 4 boomerang situation, I won’t pass judgment there but knowing a little more about your situation might be helpful. I’ll be making some assumptions in order to help you with your ordeal.

Personally, I’m a “honesty is the best policy” type, so telling your boss about your ambitions is the way to go. It sounds like you’ve got a good relationship with him/her and if you do the march in, drop the news and are gone in two weeks, I feel like you’re torching that bridge. The best thing you can do is explain your reasons for pursuing a return to your Big 4 firm. If it’s because you really miss auditing, I think you need your head examined. If it’s because you think you want to make a run at partner, the odds are against you. If it’s because you think it will better prepare you for a return to an industry for a management position, then you can probably explain this to your boss (assuming he/she is level-headed person); your honesty will be appreciated and your integrity will remain intact.

And if you don’t get the job, what then? Well, that is a bit awkward but if you and your boss have a good relationship and are the only two people aware of the situation (which I recommend), you don’t have to worry about others getting all judgmental on your ass and you’ll eventually get back to business as usual. If your boss knows you well, he/she probably is aware of your long-term career ambitions and knows that a move (regardless of whether it’s a return to your old firm) is inevitable at some point and situations like this will come up occasionally. And if your boss isn’t aware of what you want out of your career, this is a perfect time to start talking about it. May The Force be with you.

What Exit Opportunities Exist for a Big 4 Transaction Services Professional?

Welcome to the maybe-we-should-start-pointing-out-who-really-isn’t-winning edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a future advisory professional wants to know what kind of exit opportunities he’ll have when he’s had his fill of Big 4.

Need some career advice? Concerned that you’re being unfairly portrayed by someone? Have you recently found a mistake at work and aren’t handling it well? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll, at very a tie score.


I will be starting at a Big 4 firm in TS this fall. I have seen posts and comments on GC primarily about KPMG’s TS group, and commenters mention a “mass exodus” from TS.

I was interested to know what the exit opps are for people in TS? I have been searching around banking blogs and it seems that TS is not held in high regard in I-banking, so what offers are they receiving?


Interested Viewer

Dear Interested Viewer,

The advisory space isn’t my strong suit but I’ll take a stab. You’re starting with a “Big 4” but then mention KPMG so I’m not exactly sure where you’re ending up so I’ll keep things fairly general. All of the Big 4 have various services within their TS practices including due diligence in various forms, restructuring, accounting advisory and valuation among others. A common exit opportunity for many in Big 4 TS people is to go to…wait for it…another Big 4 firm. None of these firms have a monopoly on the services offered so if you’ve heard good things about Deloitte as opposed to your living hell at PwC, you may jump at the opportunity to join a rival firm. And we know how the firms like to poach from each other, don’t we?

If that’s not of interest to you, the top consulting shops like McKinsey, Bain & Co., Boston Consulting et al. (check out Vault for their list of the top firms) are a possibility but in reality, not a very good one. These firms like their people with smarts – frightening smarts – and Ivy League degreed. If you’ve got both, you probably already work at one of the best firms. If you’re lucky enough to have one of those two, you might have a chance. If you’ve got neither, than you have virtually have no chance.

You mention I-Banking and again, the odds are against you here if you want to work at the top firms, for the same reasons as we mentioned above. Some more realistic options include due diligence, acquisitions or analysis work for a private equity or hedge fund shop or working in the finance group of a firm with M&A aspirations or that needs other complex transactional analysis.

The other option is that you work for awhile, get an MBA and then try to land the BSD job at McKinsey, Goldman or wherever. Of course hitting the big time after going to a prestigious B-school doesn’t mean your dreams of rainmaking are a lock, so it’s a big risk but obviously many have taken this road and made a decent run.

So, there you have it, Interested Viewer: some ideas, at the very least. Any Big 4 TS types out there with some first-hand accounts of the comings and goings are invited to weigh in at this time. I’ve got to get caught up on the #winning Twitter feed.

Let’s Discuss: Beards in the Big 4

From the mailbag:

Caleb –

Just curious what your thoughts or GC readers’ thoughts are on male facial hair in the public accounting world. Personally, I hate shaving. I shave once a week but am sure to keep a clean line under the chin. (I also dress well and don’t believe that business casual means khakis and a golf shirt.) A friend of mine told me that his manager at his big 4 firm was asked to shave his nicely groomed beard by his partners. Is this normal? Petty? A generation thing?

Let me address your questions one at a time:

1.a. Q: “Is [partners telling managers to tell someone else to do something, like shaving] normal?” A: Yes. Some partners can’t believe they have��������������������general vicinity as the staff, let alone talk to them, so when an awkward conversation needs to be had, a manager often gets the privilege. That said, ambitious managers who want to become partners will often take it upon themselves to inform the beast in question to break out the Bic.

1.b. Q: Is [frowning on facial hair] normal?” A: As a general rule, yes. Some smaller firms are known to be pro-beard but As far as I am aware, the Big 4 state that they allow mustaches and beards if they are kept “neatly trimmed.” However, the reality is that most partners don’t like facial hair. Whether you are growing it for charity, you lost a bet to a broheim or your spouse thinks it’s hot; they don’t give a damn. They want your faces clean shaven.

2. Q: “[Is this] petty?” A: Well, we are talking about the Big 4, now aren’t we? Petty annoyances are part of the deal. In fact, a beard could cost you a promotion if you’re working for the wrong person. That said, I personally don’t think making an issue of facial hair is that petty. The reason being, that despite your well-trimmed beard, it is the exception rather than the rule. I share your hatred of shaving (not to mention your anti-khakis/golf shirt stance) but this is one of those “a few bad apples” situations. Lots of men in the Big 4 are flat-out slobs and if you give them an inch on facial hair, they’ll take a mile. Now, if you happen to have snuck in a well-groomed beard or mustache and kept it that way, you may get a pass but if you’re just letting the 5 o’clock shadow extend an extra day or two and it’s disgustingly obvious, you should get a talking to.

3. Q: “Is this a generational thing?” A: No. There are anti-beard people at various ages who simply equate facial hair with hipsters, hillbillies and the Taliban. I think it’s more of an accounting firm culture thing. So if you’re sporting one, it puts you at odds with TPTB and squarely in the “counter-culture” camp. But on a more practical level, you work in a professional environment for crissakes. For advisory and audit professionals staff who are in client-facing roles earlier than their tax counterparts, partners and managers don’t want you looking like a hobo in front of clients. It doesn’t seem logical to let the gents in tax let themselves go, so the rule applies across the board.

The “beard or no beard” question is now open for debate. Sorry about the gender-specific topic ladies. Your thoughts and unfiltered judgments on the matter are certainly welcome and encouraged.

Another Future Big 4 Associate Wants Advice on How to Best Ruin Their Life Prior to Starting Work

Welcome to the cancel-your-holiday-in-Libya edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, another Fall 2011 Big 4 associate would like to nail down a certification in addition to the CPA before starting work. Can I keep my head from exploding long enough to formulate a coherent response?

Caught in a ethical jam at work? Need a shredding service-provider that also has a knack of taking care of “problems”? Want to challenge your firm’s dress code but need an objective opinion? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll make like Anna Wintour.

Back to our overachiever du jour:


I am about to pass the CPA exam and have 8 months until I begin at one of the “Big Four” firms in Florida. I am excited to start at the firm as it was my first choice however, I am not certain I will be in public accounting for the long run (like most people). My question is, being uncertain about my career path, what other certification should I obtain before I start in 8 months?

I have considered the CISA, CFE, CMA, CFA, Six Sigma but, I am not sure as I am not certain of my long term path. I want something that will give me an edge if I leave the firm and/or switch careers.

What certification would you recommend?

Any suggestions are helpful.

Dear Overachiever Du Jour,

After murdering the remainder of Stranahan’s in the house, I’m better prepared to answer your query.

I appreciate your ambition and we definitely think that obtaining additional certifications is a good idea for those that move on from public accounting but I fail to see how this benefits you now before you have an inkling of what kind of career you want. HOWEVER, I’m here to help sort you out as best I can, so I’ve put aside my judgments for two.

Based on your “considerations” listed, you seem to have a case of accounting certification ADHD which is fine but there’s no clear pattern as to what your interests are. I’m not going to recommend you do something just because it may be a hot area (forensics) or in-demand (information systems) but I am going to recommend you rank these certifications based on your level interest. Want to eventually be a CFO? Then go for the CMA. Want to pile up the financial reporting bodies? Get the CFE. You get the point. The important thing is to pursue a certification you find interesting rather than one that will just puts a few letters behind your name that may (but probably not) impress someone.

But really, do you want to spend the summer prior to starting work studying for a test? Get the band back together, take a trip, something.

Some Companies Willing to Drop a Big 4 Auditor Like a Bad Habit…For Another Big 4 Auditor

Auditor musical chairs isn’t something that happens too often but Reuters reports that more and more U.S. companies are looking to save a little extra scratch on their audit fees:

Bucking a long-standing preference by most companies to stick with the same auditor for years, some companies are putting their audit work out for competitive bids to win better deals on fees, or to get fresh teams looking at their books. “It’s a change in the competitive landscape among the audit firms where they have the ability and desire to take on more clients,” said Mark Grothe, an analyst at consulting firm Glass Lewis. Public companies also seem to be more willing to switch auditors, as long as one of the “Big Four” firms will be doing the work, he said.

The article cites Apple (dropped KPMG for E&Y) and Tysons (kicked E&Y to the curb in favor of PwC) as two prominent examples. We’re also aware that Credit Suisse is slowly transitioning a good portion of the audits performed by KPMG to PwC, according to sources familiar with the situation. Companies of this size willing to change their auditors demonstrates that some companies aren’t too concerned with the learning curve that may face their new auditors. In fact, some CFOs are more than okay with it, including Linster Fox of Shuffle Master who claims, “There’s no degradation in service — the service is actually higher.”

PwC’s Tim Ryan, however, doesn’t buy the idea that fees are the driving force behind the auditor switcheroo, “When a company does go through a change, it is almost always driven by something other than fees,” he told Reuters. Instead, a change is more likely to happen when, for example, a major fraud gets missed or there’s a difference of opinion on a crucial issue OR the CEO is a finicky character OR some other mysterious reason unbeknownst to all of us.

Regardless, the real concern is that all this auditor swapping puts a lot of pressure on fees:

Fee pressure has been intense worldwide, but especially in the United States, according to the International Accounting Bulletin, which tracks global audit fees. “The U.S. is a very competitive market, easily the largest audit market in the world, and the Big Four have competition from a much larger pool of firms,” said IAB editor Arvind Hickman. “Last year we received reports of fees being cut between 5 and 15 percent on average on audit work, and there were extreme cases where fees were being cut up to 40 percent,” he said. Fee pressure appears to be easing somewhat, “but there will still be fee pressure this year and we don’t predict it will go away any time soon,” he said.

This has Big 4 firms undercutting regional competitors and is no doubt, partly responsible for the parking lot at the Senior Manager level in some markets. With this level of competition and, as a result, a slowly decreasing portion of the Big 4 revenue stream, it doesn’t necessarily mean a career as an auditor is a dead end but it sure doesn’t help.

Auditor shopping helps U.S. companies cut fees [Reuters]

Big 4 Firms Shouldn’t Count on Government Help If Things Take a Turn for the Worse

Just something for the ol’ memory bank, Big 4 risk managers.

[Professor] Michael Power from the London School of Economics told the conference that big audit firms were “probably” not “systemic” in nature, in the same way as banks, and that it was unlikely government would step in to save one on the edge of going bust. Power said the lesson from the collapse of Andersen was that the crisis facing the audit market was relatively shortlived when a big firm collapsed, and that a global firm in trouble will break up into its national components to find a solution. He added there was no real evidence of market failure as a result of Andersen’s demise.

Big Four are ‘not too big to fail’ [Accountancy Age]

Apparently This Video Is a Hit with Big 4 Auditors in Asia

A tipster from Manila sent us this video telling us “[it has] got us laughing over here.” And based on what we see, it seems that being an auditor in the East isn’t really that different from being an auditor in the West. That said, if you detest subtitles or Disney you should probably just move along.

And Now…We Try to Keep Three Prospective Accountants From Freaking Out About Not Having Jobs

Welcome to the Lindsay-Lohan-prison-jumpsuit-fitting edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, we’ve received a flurry of emails from Big 4 hopefuls who can’t land interviews and are FREAKING OUT. Are they doomed to the breadline and/or parents’ basement or can their CPA firm dreams still come true?

Are you working for the devil this busy season? Are you looking for a summer activity that doesn’t involve three letters? Need an excuse for not passing the CPA exam that will pass the mustard with the Email us at [email protected] and we’ll try to come up with something better than, “The dog barks whenever Peter Olinto is on screen and I can’t concentrate.”

Now, then. Today is a little bit different in the ol’ advice column. And since everyone out there seems TOO BUSY to engage in any busy season chicanery and tell us about it, this thing will be a tad lengthy. In the last week, we’ve received three emails from people who are borderline having panic attacks because they can’t land interviews. Obviously, this is a problem worth these pages but if you think we’re writing three columns on the same damn thing, you’re all a bunch of mental cases. And for those of you thinking that this sounds like you, don’t even try giving us the “well, this doesn’t address my specific situation,” story. Sure, everyone is special but not so special that you need the delicate intricacies addressed. [BREATHE]

All right. Let’s do this, shall we?

Here’s a portion of email #1:

I interned at PwC with an internal position during Summer 2008 and I did audit with them in Spring 2009. I wasn’t given an offer for full-time employment and I have been looking for a job since. I tried recruiting with Ernst and Young last year and they kept saying they did not have any positions and then last summer they hired another candidate from my school with whom I graduated. Just about everyone I’ve graduated with has a position at an accounting firm. I’ve applied nearly everywhere (other big 4, mid-tier, local acct firms, industry, and even Craigslist). I can’t help but start to take it personally. Career services at my school doesn’t seem too interested in helping me…in fact one of the counselors actually was a recruiter at PwC when I worked there and she just recently left a voicemail that we should stop talking. I have one professor that still keeps in touch. I knew I wasn’t going to get an audit position even though I still applied but I’ve even been turned down for staff accountant positions. Last September I passed all four sections of the CPA exam. I’ve been told that I’m either “over-qualified” or I don’t have enough years of experience.

That should be enough but if we suffered through them, then you are too. An excerpt from email #2:

I have been to numerous career fairs since then and I’ve made significant contacts with some big 4 recruiters and other regional firms. But after sending my carefully prepared résumé by mail and continuous attempts to get some information about an interview, I‘ve been always getting the usual “we are looking at other candidates and wish you the best” reply or none at all. The only significant feedback I received was from a regional firm that was really interested, but was drawn back when I told them my college GPA. I take full responsibilities for my shortcomings in college, but I have invested the needed time and effort in doing what EVERYONE IN THE WORLD TOLD ME TO DO, which is passing the CPA exam. I have also gained significant and progressive experience at my current workplace, but I still have not even gotten an interview! I am 25 and I feel time is running out for me. I’m even thinking of getting other certifications like the CFE or ACCA (Association of certified chartered accountants), to make me a more desirable candidate.

Sick of it yet? Here’s a bit from #3:

I’m in my last semester and will have my 150 hours at the end of this spring. I am also preparing the the CPA exam (have started Becker, taking my first section, AUD, at the end of February). As a student in these times, I have never been able to find an accounting internship or any part time accounting work as all of my job inquiries wind up unanswered. It’s not for lack of trying, but my GPA isn’t spectacular (3.2) and my résumé is average. At the college job fair a few weeks ago, I put in resumes with all big 4 and all mid tier firms and was NOT INVITED TO A SINGLE INTERVIEW. I became an accounting major because I thought there were jobs available to qualified students. I have an accounting and finance degree, 150 hours and will have the CPA under my belt in a few months…what the hell am I missing. Am I really not qualified to become a slave to the Firms?

Good Lord. Let’s see if I can do this without LOSING IT.

For starters, we’re making the assumption all three of you are socially capable individuals. If you’ve noticed people responding to your typical conversation with “That’s awkward,” or “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” then we suggest engaging a life coach or some other professional that can help you with your awkward tendencies. Secondly, all three of you need to stop freaking out. Sure, you’ve got responsibilities and school loans and whatnot but thank your lucky stars you’re not a lawyer. You have a good educational skill set, a job market that is thawing out and your debt is probably under six figures. CALM DOWN.

Now. If the Big 4 isn’t interested in what you have to offer, you have to get over it. Somewhere in your gray matter, you knew striking out with all of them was a possibility. Now that it has become a reality, you need to move on. If you’ve managed to do that and say you’ve gone to Grant Thornton, BDO, Rothstein Kass and McGladrey and you’ve been denied there too. And maybe you’ve gone to regionals like Moss Adams, BKD, Clifton Gunderson, Plante & Moran, WeiserMazars, Dixon Hughes Goodman et al. [ugh] At this point, it’s natural for frustration to start creeping up on you. But if you want to work in public accounting, you can’t get discouraged. Next thing you should do is to knock on all the doors in your geographic location. The Vault 50 is a good place to start. Firms from every part of the country are on the list and you can specifics on them over at the Vault website. Pound the pavement, people.

If that doesn’t work, then we suggest calling some reputable recruiters in your area to find out if they have any entry-level positions at CPA firms. Keep things cool, don’t act desperate and put your best qualities forward. The recruiters should be able to help you polish your résumé if needed and find you an interview or two. IF ALL THAT FAILS and you simply need a job, look for an in-house accounting job to get your career started. Just because you don’t start in public accounting doesn’t mean you’re doomed to work a dull job and have a lackluster career. And who knows, you might – gasp – like the work.

Any words of encouragement from the peanut gallery? I need a drink.

Measuring the Career Value of the Big 4 Experience on a Scale of 1 to 5

As most of you are acutely aware, your humble editor is a KPMG alum. By virtue of said alumni-ness, occasionally, I’ll receive an email from the old firm informing me of this or that and the occasional invitation to an event of some sort. Recently, I was asked to participate in a survey called, “The Career Value of Big 4 Experience” and since the firm said that for my participation they would donate a brand new children’s book to First Book, I figured it was worth my time. ANYHOO, since it’s a painfully slow day out there and you guys aren’t making squat happen (with the exception of tax returns, audit workpapers, due diligence and whathaveyou) I thought I’d share my answers with you and put Big 4 career value idea out .

Apologies for the various sizes, clipping these screen shots were a bitch. And full disclosure: there were six additional questions to the survey that asked about my salary, my company, etc. that are of little consequence.

Now then – the 1 to 5 scale was only offered for the first six questions:

Now, let’s be honest – I wouldn’t be where I am without my experience at a Big 4 firm, so answering #1 was easy. Question 2 on the other hand is a little tricky, as my “current skills and experiences” involve reading blogs, figuring out WordPress, tweeting and stringing together mildly amusing run-on sentences with the occasional quip or pun. Some of my friends describe it as “shit-stirring” but I prefer…well, that about covers it. Is this valuable in the current job market? Sure. But probably not in a way any a Big 4 firm would have imagined. For question 3, it’s simple – I’m satisfied with my job. I don’t make as much money as a Big 4 baller but I don’t have a second job, my work/life is good and it’s fun. Not much else matters.

Moving on:

Career advancement isn’t really an issue since I only have to deal with TPTB if the lawyers come calling. Again, not exactly typical for a Big 4 alum. Question #5 is more or less a joke. Question #6 was interesting. Many people argue that manager is the ideal point to the leave the firm and I suppose if I had become a manager maybe I’d have a little better perspective of the management team but I know enough people at that level to get the gist and if I have questions, they can give me the lowdown. So had I stayed at KPMG a couple more years (I wasn’t given the option, btw) perhaps I’d be marginally better at my job.

And finally:

Okay, so #7 – had I not been shipped off in the fall of ’08, would I have stayed longer? Probably not. I was burned out and had explored as much of the firm as the bureaucracy would allow so it was a good run. Question #8 – after talking to MANY people who have gone on to new careers, I’ve concluded that leaving as a SA is best but I should qualify by saying that you should at least be an SA2 and SA3 is probably ideal. Sure you might be on the cusp of manager but by becoming a manager, you’re fully saturating the Big 4 indoctrination and some employers would prefer if you still have a shred of impressionableness in you. With the manager title and experience, your ideas (right or wrong) about audit/tax/advisory are pretty steadfast and you may be an old dog already. That’s not to say that you people aren’t flexible but I’ve been around enough of you to know that getting into mental ruts is a specialty.

So wrapping up, I’m very grateful for my Big 4 experience. It was unimaginably valuable, I met a lot of great people and have no regrets (except for a few brutal hangovers at national training). So, I’ll give it a 5. But most of you aren’t me so feel free to discuss your own experiences. I need to get back to ignoring AOL/HuffPo headlines.

Big 4 Aspirant Requests Some Myth Busting

Welcome to the first Friday in February edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition a future Big 4 soldier isn’t sure what to make of all the myths and rumors swirling around the quad about said four firms. He’s asked me to debunk.

Are you in desperate need for a regime career change? Have a gassy cube neighbor? Need some tips on how to turn that frown upside down during busy season? Email us at [email protected] serve you better than Dr. Phil (or his dopplegänger).

Back to our Big 4 mythbuster:

Hey GC,

I was wondering if there were any truth to the rumors/legends that seem to percolate through campuses about Big 4 accounting. Here’s a short list of stuff that I’ve heard while attending accounting job fairs, business frat/club meetings, and associates from Big 4 and regional firms that come back to campus for recruitment events.

1. During their respective busy seasons, new tax and audit associates at a Big 4 work so many hours that their monthly salaries break out into an hourly rate that is less than minimum wage.

2. It is nigh impossible to study for and pass any portion of the CPA exam while simultaneously working at a Big 4.

3. Internships are virtually the only way for new graduates to break into a Big 4.

4. Becker is better than Kaplan is better than Bisk.

5. Beginning a career at a Big 4 will open more doors down the road than starting at a mid-tier , regional or local firm.

6. At Big 4 firms, advisory associates make more money than audit associates make more money than tax associates.

7. The average Big 4 associate leaves/quits/defects before their 3rd year.

8. Evan after taking raises into account, Big 4 associates that were hired during the brunt of the recession will actually be paid less than new hires this year.

So is there any truth to these rumors? I’m guessing that there’s quite a bit of embellishment that come from associate ‘war stories’ so I’ve tried to take everything with a grain of salt.


Big 4 Mythbuster

Dear Mythbuster,

There’s a lyric in “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” that goes, “People say believe half of what you see, Son, and none of what you hear,” which we find to be generally a good rule of thumb (with the exception of what you read at this fine publication…most of the time).

ANYWAY, we’ll tackle these one at a time:

1. During their respective busy seasons, new tax and audit associates at a Big 4 work so many hours that their monthly salaries break out into an hourly rate that is less than minimum wage. – Let’s keep this simple: if you calculate an average salary based on this year’s starting salaries and 2,000 chargeable hours, it’s pretty difficult to get down to the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25. Now, can you work far more than the 2,000 hours? Of course but even if you doubled the hours, you’re still above the minimum wage. MYTH.

2. It is nigh impossible to study for and pass any portion of the CPA exam while simultaneously working at a Big 4. – Is it difficult to balance a work schedule, studying, arranging to sit for a section, having a shred of a personal life, finding time to take out the dog AND still pass a portion? Yes, absolutely. “Nigh impossible”? No. People working at the Big 4 pass portions of the CPA every month. MYTH.

3. Internships are virtually the only way for new graduates to break into a Big 4. – When the Big 4 firms were hiring everyone and their dog back in the mid-Aughts, this would have been a myth. These days, with hiring budgets being a little tighter, the internship route is a must. Most interns end up taking the full-time offers which leaves just a few spots, so that doesn’t make for very good odds for any outsiders. TRUTH.

4. Becker is better than Kaplan is better than Bisk. – God, sorry to say but this is fruitless exercise. I don’t endorse any of the CPA review courses (FULL DISCLOSURE: I used Becker and passed and some companies happen to advertise with us.) out there. The companies will present stats that presents their pass success rate in the best light possible. That said, ranking the review courses in some arbitrary order like you’ve done above is meaningless. If you hear from someone on campus that Becker is the best because that’s what they used (Tim Gearty’s handsome wardrobe notwithstanding) or that Roger is the best because that’s what they used (and not because they have a thing for hipster chicks) that doesn’t mean you will necessarily have the same success. And if someone tells you that they’ve tried more than one review course, you should know that this person probably just sucks at taking tests. MYTH.

5. Beginning a career at a Big 4 will open more doors down the road than starting at a mid-tier, regional or local firm. – As a general rule this is true. Having the exposure to the most complex accounting systems, transactions and business models will allow you to work at these companies if you so choose. Working at Big 4 firm (and in some markets, mid-tier firms) will give you that exposure. Does that mean you’re doing yourself a disservice by accepting a position with a regional or local firm? Of course not. It all depends on what your career goals are. But does a Big 4 firm name on your résumé get more attention than a non-Big 4 firm. Yes. TRUTH.

6. At Big 4 firms, advisory associates make more money than audit associates make more money than tax associates. – In my experience, I’ve found that salaries for tax and audit associates are extremely close with a slight edge to the tax side, so you’ve got those two backwards. But yes, Advisory associates are paid the most. ONE-THIRD TRUTH.

7. The average Big 4 associate leaves/quits/defects before their 3rd year. – Again, the “average” number of years that an associate works at a Big 4 firm is a complete arbitrary statistic. I’m not sure when people started throwing numbers like this but it’s pretty useless information. Typically when people state an average number of years that an associate stays, it’s not backed up with any stats. I’d be surprised if the firms themselves even know what the average shelf-life of an associate is. I may be wrong about this and would love to see some stats if they’re out there but for now we’re going with: MYTH.

8. Evan after taking raises into account, Big 4 associates that were hired during the brunt of the recession will actually be paid less than new hires this year. – Pay freezes and meager increases certainly put a damper on salaries in ’08-’09 but this past year saw the Big 4 return to some reasonable increases across the board as well as bonuses in various forms. Starting salaries for new associates will always keep up with the market (as is popular to say) but with coverage of salaries being more transparent than it used to be, it will be impossible for firms to allow new hires to earn more than their superiors. MYTH.

Whew! There you have it; discuss as needed.

Best Place to Work Bupkis

Last week we went through the painful ritual of listing out the accounting firms blessed with a spot on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work. All the usual suspects made an appearance but ultimately a regional firm, Plante & Moran, took the highest spot among accounting firms (but they didn’t get to ring the closing bell, did they?).

None of this is of interest to you and frankly we’ve had about all we can stand when it comes to these lists but Adrienne pointed us to this post by Laura Vanderkam that takes the debunking to an intricate level, starting with something that we all know, that most of these lists are opted into by the companies HR or Marketing Departments (emphasis ours):

To be eligible for a list, you have to fill out whatever paperwork the tabulators require […] This means that not only do you have to be a great place to work, you have to be a company where management cares about being listed in magazines as a great place to work. Only 311 organizations bothered this year, out of thousands of employers in the US. So if you went through the whole process, your odds were pretty good. But that doesn’t means that the 311 employers that did try are better than the thousands that didn’t.

Our resident math genius is on vacay but if you do some rough calcs, your chances are, what, 1 in 3? Decent odds. Then, comes the strange phenomenon of where these companies fall and why:

[I]t’s strange that a magazine with such great reporters as Fortune relies on such a flimsy methodology for creating their rankings. If you believe this list, then Americans prefer to work at Nugget Market (a 9-store supermarket chain) than at McKinsey, at Google vs. Facebook even though some headline-making defections would point otherwise, and we should want to work at Aeropostale because, as one young employee put it “Where else can you talk to the boss over pizza?” (Um, where can’t you?)

The Trouble With “Best Places To Work” Lists [BNet]

Which Big 4 Firm’s New Hires Aren’t Receiving Performance Ratings?

There are clues:

We hope you are settling into your new role and that things are going well!

The purpose of this email is to make you aware of some important information regarding the year end performance management process that applies to all new campus hires and all newly hired associates/administrative assistants for this year.

The firm recognizes that as a recent new hire, your primary focus is to transition into your role and responsibilities and build your network. It is important that you have the appropriate amount of time to learn about the firm and integrate fully before you are formally evaluated on your performance. Therefore, for this performance year, which ends June 30, 2011, you will not be assigned a performance rating.

Even though you will not receive a rating, you will participate fully in all other aspects of the performance process, such as getting feedback from individuals you work with and meeting with your counselor to discuss your feedback, progress, development and goals for the 2012 fiscal year. We are confident that even without a performance rating for this year, you can fully understand how you are doing by asking the right questions and having meaningful conversations with those you work with.

In the meantime, please make sure you are getting periodic feedback and staying in touch with your counselor. As the year end process approaches you can access helpful tools that will help you prepare for a variety of coaching conversations

Further, you can learn more about the Performance Management and Development process by clicking here.

If you would like to discuss this further please contact your counselor or your People Consultant. Thank you for your participation in this important process.

Take a stab in the comments and feel free to speculate as to the motivation and repercussions behind “all (wo)men are rated equal.”

What’s a Mom Over 40 to Do When She’s Ignored by the Big 4?

Welcome to the is-anyone-sick-of-snow edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a Mom of two is getting her career started after going back to school and has found the Big 4 to be less than interested in what she has to offer. She’s looking for some feedback and advice but we’re guessing it has nothing to do with this Tiger thingee.

Got the busy season blues? Need help making your next career move? Concerned that your boss is channeling Lucifer? Emailto:[email protected]”>[email protected] and we’ll say a prayer for you.

More from Mom:

Please help! I came back to college for an accounting degree at 40 after earning my first degree in a non-business field long ago. I have a 4.0 major GPA, and am at the very top of my class. I will have an undergraduate accounting degree soon and be done with the CPA exam a few months later. I have 2 kids who are 10 and 12.

My plan was to start with at least a couple years in public accounting, and go from there. It seems like you need to do that so that you don’t limit your options for later. I’ve been to one career fair and didn’t get a single interview. I intend to be committed when I go full time (45-50 hours a week) but don’t desire to work from 9 am until 10 pm 5 days a week all year, at least until my kids are out of the house. Working crazy hours for a 3 month season would be fine, but not all year. I lean toward tax but enjoy everything I’ve done in accounting. Despite all their talk about diversity, I haven’t seen any Big 4 firms remotely interested in anyone over 40 and I’m not sure that I would fit with the Big 4 culture anyhow. So the question is – what is your best advice for a smart mom over 40 who desires a job in accounting – regional/local public accounting, straight to industry, governmental? Would also love to hear some HONEST feedback about the work hours at regional and local public accounting firms. Thank you!

Smart mom over 40

Dear Smart Mom,

We’re not surprised to hear about you being stonewalled by the Big 4. You’re way past the impressionable stage and the large firms like their newbies young and clueless. Furthermore, when it comes to diversity, we don’t think age is really at the forefront of their ambitions. Your instincts are serving you well and a regional or local firm will be a better fit for you. We would advise against going into an in-house or government job at this point, as some time in public will help you determine what your interests are. We suggest finding a public accounting firm where you could engage directly with managers and partners that are closer to your age, as there will opportunities to bond over kids and other things you have in common, plus it will be a natural fit for a mentor/mentee relationship. You’ll learn more quickly and be given more responsibility sooner, which is probably of interest to you.

As far as hours are concerned, you’ll work plenty but it won’t be the epic busy seasons of Big 4 lore. You’ll likely work between 50-60 hours a week during the busiest time of year but obviously, this will vary from firm to firm. Also, small firms tend to be more creative when it comes to flexibility in order to accommodate their employees specific needs, so this will probably serve you better than a Big 4 or mid-tier experience. If all else fails, land a recruiter who can take your personal situation and set you up with a firm or company who will appreciate your situation but will also be a good cultural fit for you. Good luck.

Should a Big 4 Loverboy Request a Transfer to Avoid a LDR?

Welcome to the Bachmann 2012 edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a Big 4 acceptee’s beloved is moving across the country while he’s stuck with his job in New York. Does he request a transfer, stick it out or simply choose love over money?

Does your career need a wake-up call? Got the busy season blues? Jealous because you’re not in Davos hobnobbing with great minds like yours? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll remind you why you’re stuck in a broom closet somewhere in Iowa.

Back to our ockquote>Hi Caleb,

I graduated from a west coast college and moved to the New York after graduation with a few friends. I ended up going back to school out here (NY) and am getting my Masters in Accounting in June. I went through the accounting hiring process this past Fall and did much better than I expected, receiving offers from a few mid-tier firms and two from the Big 4. I ended up accepting an entry level audit position in a New York Big 4 office and am starting in the Fall (2011).

However, my girlfriend, who I am serious with, is getting transferred for work to the city I was born and raised in on the West Coast. I had always planned on working in New York for a few years and transferring/moving back closer to my family. Now I wish I had gone through the interview process for the specific west coast office where my family lives but I have already accepted my offer for the east coast office.

I know there are a lot of politics in the Big 4 and I don’t want to be viewed as a problem child/uncommitted by asking if I could transfer to the west coast before even working a day at the firm. And if I start in the New York office and want to transfer: first, I have no idea how long I would need to work there for for a transfer to be appropriate (both to ask for one as well as how long it would possibly take), and second, a long distance relationship would be stressful and not ideal (duh).

So, my two options seem to be:
a) Ask my HR contact at my firm or my manager I interviewed with about my situation and see what they can do.
b) Suck it up and work (a while? how long?) at the New York office until it’s an appropriate time to transfer.

Thanks in advance,
Lost but in Love

Dear LbiL,

I never thought I’d actually delve into relationship-cumBig 4 career advice but luckily for you I have a similar experience so here goes nothing.

I know the LDR situation all too well, so we feel your pain. It can be good if you like space but it can be bad, well…obviously. What’s missing from your story is your better half’s side. Is her company requiring her to move to the west coast or is this her choice? If it’s the latter, did you discuss the potential ramifications of such a move? You say, “I wish I had gone through the interview process for the specific west coast office where my family lives but I have already accepted my offer for the east coast office,” but this is meaningless since we get the impression that you accepted your Big 4 dream job (with the intention to work in New York for “a few years”) prior to your girlfriend’s transfer.

Assuming you’ve talked this over with your g/f, she certainly has an opinion on the matter. If she can’t live with you being so far away, that sounds a bit needy (but maybe you like that). If she’s indifferent (i.e. she says, “do what you want” or “I don’t want you moving because of me”), perhaps she’s passive-aggressive, incapable of emotional intimacy or a little freaked out about the seriousness of the situation and doesn’t want to held responsible if things go wrong. If the two of you have actually sat down, talked it over and she says, “I’ll support you in your choice, whatever that may be,” you have a winner. But remember, ultimately it is your decision.

Now, then. Your firm. Odds are, they won’t be impressed with your request for a transfer straight out of the gate but situations similar to yours have surely come up in the past, so hopefully they’ll be sympathetic. Problem is – as you mentioned – transfers do involve the intricacies of the Big 4 bureaucracy so you’re looking at a slow process and they could just say, “no” or “right now we need you here but we’ll continue to work on it.” That being said, if moving back to to the left coast is really what you want to do, then you’ll never know unless you ask. Sooooo, ask the question (being prepared for “no”) and then go from there. If your firm isn’t accommodating you and you’re still head over heels in love, you can always quit and hitch it west. I hear they have accounting jobs out there. It may not come to that but we’d be remiss if we mention it as an option. Good luck.

Future Family Man Is Going Back and Forth Between BDO and Big 4 Offers

Welcome to the Calebs-are-a-loyal-sort edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a non-tradish student is getting all wishy-washy about choosing between BDO and a Big 4 firm. There are lots of variables involved so we’ll get right to it. But first…

Is your busy season belt already busting? Need help choosing classes to reach the 150 credit hours required in your state? Worried your lack of WASPyness will hurt your career ambitions? Email us at [email protected] and we can recommend an exercise regimen or a nice fine arts class. Skin color and religion, on the other hand, are above our pay grade.

Back to our decider du jour:

I work in industry accounting now as a college student and I dread the monotonous work of industry accounting. This has brought me to the conclusion that I may just enjoy public accounting more in regards to a long term career. I see my CFO, controller, and director all working crazy hours which leads me to believe that my decision between public and industry would not change my work hours enough to really affect my work/life balance.

Unlike the majority of college students in their 20s I have significant financial obligations including a mortgage, car payments, and everything else that comes with those expenses. I am also married (no kids) and my wife is a low paid professional in her industry (marginal income, just enough to get by, but not enough to carry the house hold alone).

As for my offers – I have received a full-time offer with BDO to begin in the last quarter of this year, and I have also received an internship offer with a Big 4 to begin in January 2012 (hopefully beginning full time towards the end of 2012/beginning of 2013). If I take the internship for the sake of going Big 4, I will have to take out extra student loans through my masters to subsidize my ramen noodle living in the period between the internship and full-time start date. I will also have to put off starting my family, which is a big deal for me and my wife since we would like to start that before she gets into her 30s (which would be next year).

I must say that I originally chose the Big 4 and called BDO to decline my offer and let them know what my choice was. They seemed disappointed to hear it and the partner told me he doesn’t usually take part in recruitment and would really like me on his team. This is when he pushed my original offer from Jan 2013 to begin a few months earlier if I would have liked.

Also, when I inquired about the benefits offered at the Big 4 I was perceived “pushy” and I was told that I should be grateful for being extended an opportunity with them that many students would do anything for. When I presented this issue to professionals at other firms as well as professors I was always reassured that my question and my choice of approach regarding benefits was completely valid and the firm overreacted.

I am not sure if going Big 4 will be worth the financial and family delay sacrifice, or if going BDO and foregoing the Big 4 prestige would be a better idea since I have a partner already favoring me there from the get go, and instead of incurring more financial liabilities (through the extra student loans I would need if I took the Big 4 internship) I would be able to start paying some off. Some advice to help me make my decision would be greatly appreciated!

Hopeful Future Partner

Dear Hopeful,

Since we received your note prior to our pithy warning on Friday, I’ll ignore your verbosity. AS FOR THE REST OF YOU, there’s something to be said for brevity – keep that in mind.

All right, then. You’ve got Big 4 vs second tier decision to make, the typical American debt load and a biological clock to consider. Christ, man. We won’t touch the latter two but will say: aside from drinking heavily, you really need to sit down with the Mrs. to figure a lot of this out.

As for your career problem, we’re a little confused. It seems like you’ve already turned down BDO and accepted the Big 4 offer but there must be get out of accounting firm jail free card that we’re not aware of. Put that aside and it sounds like BDO is bending over backwards for you and your Big 4 friends are a tad touchy about a pretty standard inquiry (but maybe you’ve got people skills like Dunstan Pedropillai). So if you’re back to making a decision between the two, going with BDO seems like your best move just based on the people you’ve encountered.

To address this situation a more general sense, do you honestly think “Big 4 prestige” is going to help your situation? Anyone – recruiter, partner, manager, staff – that tries to guilt trip you with “[you] should be grateful for being extended an opportunity with [us] that many students would do anything for” doesn’t give a damn about you and is more concerned about the power they hold over you with this “opportunity.” Tell them to stick it and get your career started. Your wife will appreciate it.

Leaders From the Big 4 Rang the Closing Bell Today

That is, they clapped while someone rang a bell, along with some other people. Try to contain your excitement.

It doesn’t appear to be too awkward. Not sure how Steve Howe got squeezed way over there but the Lehman thing probably doesn’t help. Thoughts on pretty much anything – trash talk amongst Barry and Bob, did John Veihmeyer need lifts?; did they all read Going Concern today? – are welcome at this time.

HELP! I Hate My Big 4 Job Part XLVIII

Welcome to the National Hugging Day edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, someone is miserable at a Big 4 firm. AGAIN. Perhaps it’s been awhile since we’ve covered this, so we’ll make another run at it.

Need some advice on a busy season take-out routine? Worried that a client’s strange penchant for ginormous vehicles could be a Ponz? Having trouble coming up with a superhero name? Email u:[email protected]”>[email protected] and we’ll help you avoid something that involves a flying mammal.

Back to our accountant who really needs a hug:

I started with a Big Four firm a little over a year ago. When I accepted the offer pay was a HUGE concern for me. I took an over $20k/year pay cut to accept a “campus hire” position with a firm when I had six years of accounting experience under my belt (I worked my way up from clerk to manager in the years before joining the firm). At that time they weren’t even considering people with non-public accounting experience for experienced hire positions. I was wrapping up my 150 units (even though I am in a 120 unit state) and figured the experience would be worth it so I could get certified and bounce to somewhere that would pay me appropriately.

Unfortunately, I’m now a second year staffer who is expected to work more than my peers- because “I can handle it.” I haven’t had time to study or sit for a single CPA exam and no one seems to care aside from telling me I won’t get promoted until they’re all done. I requested a lighter workload during the summer so I could study but was turned down, sent on an extended out of town engagement with very long hours and then scheduled on another out of town engagement for the one week my boyfriend was supposed to be in town for work. I feel like I am giving up my entire life for a job that doesn’t even care about me.

I’ve tried multiple times to tell the firm about my concerns and am always shut down. It’s not like I hate the job- I actually like it- I just can’t stand feeling overlooked at best and mistreated at worst. I am burnt out and just wish that this job was more in line with my goals. I’m probably not going to quit during busy season because I cannot imagine doing that to the people I’ve come to care about- those whom I actually work with- but I probably won’t be there in the summer if something doesn’t dramatically change.

I feel lost, like I don’t know what else I can do and like I will go apeshit and quit the day the external binder for my client is turned in. I wish it weren’t the case and don’t know if you have any other suggestions for me at this point. Can you think of anything I can do to save my career and my sanity?

Dear I need a hug,

Your email was ridiculously long, so you’ll note we edited some things out that we found to be less important. We’ll channel a certain Irish talking head to any would-be advice seekers – keep it pithy. If not, expect your message to ignored or edited until it’s a manageable length. You want a full session? Get a therapist.

Now, then. You took a risk. A good risk in our opinion but a risk nonetheless and now it sounds like things haven’t panned out the way you hoped. It sounds like you’ve taken many different approaches to address the problem but ultimately it’s falling on deaf ears and now you feel like it’s affecting your life in an extremely negative way. We would suggest leaving ASAP for your own mental health but since quitting right this second (even though others are doing it) doesn’t sound like something you’re interested in doing, we suggest that you at the very least get the ball rolling. Call up some reputable recruiters in your city and explain your situation. They’ll take a look at your experience and will hopefully be able to give you an opinion on your experience to date and some good options for employment post busy season.

Honestly, you sounds miserable, so we encourage you to get out fast but be mindful to find a job that will meet your work-life needs and is “more in line with [your] goals,” to use your own words. It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind that you’ll quit after busy season but there are some things you can do now so that you’ll have something to look forward to rather than going apeshit. Hang in there and good luck.

Suing Big 4 Auditors Hasn’t Gone as Well as Investors Hoped

Sure, there are settlements here and there but not the big KA-CHING! investors are looking for.

Lawsuits have been dismissed against Deloitte & Touche over its audits of mortgage financier Fannie Mae, as well as a case against PricewaterhouseCoopers accusing it of helping hide risks at insurer American International Group. KPMG settled a lawsuit stemming from its audits of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp, now part of Bank of America, for a relatively modest amount. “Every time somebody comes up with a new fraudulent scheme, auditors miss it,” said Andrea Kim, a partner at law firm Diamond McCarthy LLP in Houston who represents plaintiffs in auditor lawsuits. “The historical pattern is that they find a way to manage the litigation to limit their liability.”

Analysis: Big wins elude investors in auditor lawsuits [Reuters]

Despite the “Horror Stories,” an Eight-year Tax Vet Wants to Know How to Jump to the Big 4

Welcome to a special Thursday the Thirteenth edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a tax veteran who has spent their career working in smaller firms is looking to make a move to a Big 4 firm since they “can be even more flexible with schedules.” The problem is, our aspirant is having trouble getting any of the firms’ attention.

Want to know if you’re stuck in a dead-end job? Looking for some good press? Need help writing a farewell email? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll help you keep your valediction out of these pages.

Returning to the Big 4 wannabe:

Dear Caleb,

I am a tax senior who has eight busy season and a CPA license under their belt. I have always worked for the smaller firms because of all of the horror stories I have heard regarding the Big 4. Lately, I have realized that I really don’t work that much less than they do and sometimes the Big 4 can be even more flexible with schedules because of the size of the workforce. (If you are one of several, there is not a lot of room to move stuff around.)

The problem is I have never been through the recruiting process with the Big 4 and don’t know where to begin to try and move into an experienced position. I have applied on the website but have not had any responses. Any thoughts?

Lost in Transition

Dear LiT,

So the Times convinced you, eh? It’s a good paper (is that still the correct terminology?), we’ll admit but even the Gray Lady can find itself wandering into uncharted waters. ANYWAY, this problem you have – no communicado so far from the Four Horsemen; we can help.

Our first suggestion is to work with a professional recruiter that has placed others with the Big 4. A good one will be able to take one look at your résumé and flat out tell you if you’ve got what it takes to get in the door. Then it’s up to you nail the interview(s). Done and done.

The other thing you can do – if you prefer to avoid the recruiter – is to use LinkedIn to find who the experienced-hire Big 4 recruiters are in your market and contact them directly. You could get started by looking at some recent posts that have emails from recruiters that are floating around this here site but we realize that may be a longshot.

So off you go, Big 4 hopeful. We hope you hit the work-life balance jackpot.

The New York Times Takes the Big 4’s Work-Life Balance Bait

Late(r) on Friday, the New York Times published an article championing the accounting firms for their commitment to providing a flexible work arrangements for its employees. The article, as you would expect from the Times, provides numerous examples of how the policies of the Big 4 and other major accounting firms make life extra-peachy for their employees.

The article leads off with none other than a firm who has been in desperate need for good press:

As the peak season for the nation’s accounting firms begins, David Leeds’s team at Ernst & Young is once again bracing for two months of 60-hour weeks auditajor bank in Atlanta.

In years past, those grueling weeks often fueled nasty marital spats about missed dinners and children’s tantrums over forgotten basketball games.

Not any more. At Ernst & Young, as at the nation’s other major accounting firms, workplace flexibility has been built into the culture — even during crunch time. [our emphasis]

Every Monday morning, the 15 people on Mr. Leeds’s team meet and lay out the personal commitments that might interfere with work — basketball games, teacher conferences, Pilates classes, weddings. They arrange to cover for each other, helping make the busy season tolerable for everyone. Despite the auditing team’s six-day weeks, one Auburn University graduate, for example, is taking next Monday and Tuesday off to see the school’s football team play in the national championship bowl in Arizona. And Mr. Leeds plans to escape to New Orleans for three days to see his daughter run a marathon.

“We face very tight deadlines from our clients, but at the same time we try to make sure that team members have the flexibility they need,” said Mr. Leeds, a partner at the firm.

Parent-teacher conferences! Pilates! The Bowl Championship Series! From the sounds of it, you’d think being the an E&Y partner on a banking client was like whistling dixie (in Atlanta anyway). We’ll give this Atlanta team the benefit of the doubt (unless someone wants to email us with a different story) but the Times gives you the impression that the gambit of the industry is sympathetic to your family time and college gridiron road trip ambitions. Even during busy season. More untrue, this could not be.

We could go on with anecdotes about a senior manager’s spouse being in the hospital or the lack of flexibility given to a single dad OR not allowing someone to scoot out an hour early to see their girlfriend because she’s in from out of town but that really isn’t necessary. Examples such as those are simply provide you with a the spectrum of firms being at their absolute worst. What about the lion share of employees at these firms? Chances are, if you walked over to 5 Times Square and pulled aside the first person you saw with a E&Y backpack, they’d tell you that they are preparing to be sleep deprived for the next three months and if you told them they would get a dozen days off in that time frame, they’d be thrilled. Furthermore, if you were ask them if their partner had weekly meetings to ensure that everyone’s extracurricular activities were being respected, they’d look at you like you had three heads.

We won’t dismiss the firms’ efforts entirely because as we said, the Times cited several examples of employees who have taken advantage of the flexible schedules but the article is full of the rhetoric candidates and employees hear regularly when it comes to work-life balance. The best example being one of the last quotes from E&Y partner Brooke Sikes, who is out of Dallas:

“The firm very much rewards you for your performance,” she said. “It’s not about punching a clock. It’s not about face time.”

Not really much needs to be said. Reactions to this statement and any other thoughts on the current work-life efforts by your firm are welcome at this time.

Flex Time Flourishes in Accounting Industry [NYT]

KPMG Manager Irritated with ‘Other 3’ Calling the Kettle Black RE: Recruiting Methods

This week we’ve shared a couple of examples with you that demonstrate how KPMG is attempting to land some talent from its rival Big 4 firms. The strategy ranges from the Google-ish to the good old fashioned cold call email. After yesterday’s post mentioning the latter method, a Radio Station manager felt compelled to point something out:

I am a KPMG manager and I don’t want everyone thinking that it is only KPMG that is on an easter egg hunt to try land experiived the following linked in messages over the holidays:

PwC M&A Advisory Manager opportunity in Mclean, VA

Zahara Kanji Sourcing Manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers

Hi [KPMG manager],

I hope this note finds you well. By way of introduction, I am the recruiting manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Transaction Services Advisory practice. We are strategically growing at various levels across the country. I am interested in your professional background, which seems to align well with our Transaction Services Financial Due Diligence practice. Please reply to this email if you would like to learn more about our business. I look forward to hearing from you soon.



Position with Ernst & Young LLP Audit Practice

Renee Scott (Creese) National Diversity Recruiting Manager

[KPMG manager],

My name Renee Scott, Assistant Director of Recruitment with Ernst and Young’s Assurance practice. We are expanding our searches for experienced Seniors and Managers with assurance background and CPA designation.

Sasha Le with HR Consulting Partners, my sourcing assistant, through networking, has identified you as someone we would definitely consider speaking further about these great career opportunities. I’ve opted to make my initial contact with you via LinkedIn, a professional networking venue, so if you are or know of someone who is interested, please contact me at 410-263-3702 or via email at [email protected] OR you can contact Sasha Le via email at [email protected] or via (626) 839-7174. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Renee Scott
Ernst & Young LLP

A couple takeaways now that we’ve sufficiently beaten the competitive recruiting drum: 1) This time of year, there’s a big push to bring on new people because, well, there’s a perpetual shortage of people in some practice areas; 2) if you’re unsatisfied with your current firm, qwitcherbitchin and call one of these recruiters. They’d love to talk to you.

As for our tipster’s motivation:

I just begin to get irritated when staff from the other 3 point fingers at KPMG for being the bad guy. They seem to forget that an audit is an audit and unless PWC has discovered a new shmebit [sic?] to account for that the rest of the Big 4 don’t know about then I am pretty sure they audit the balance sheet and income statement the same way the rest of us do.

Now, then. Some clever commenter on the last post wondered “Whis [SIC] is this big news? Recruiters have been doing this in public accounting for many years.” We admit, this isn’t Andrew Cuomo slapping E&Y and E&Y slapping back but we seriously doubt it’s known just how competitive it is. Plus, the firm’s downplay the whole thing. Look no further than the interview KPMG’s Vice Chair of HR gave to FINS last spring:

[Kyle Stock]: I often read about poaching amongst the Big Four. Has that activity increased or decreased recently?
[Bruce Pfau]: Like any business, there are going to be fluctuations and vicissitudes in the industry in general and there’s a certain amount of movement between the firms. There’s no warfare going on between the firms or any vendettas or anything like that. In general, we find at least when people leave us, by and large, they’re not leaving to go to a competitor. And I think the same is true of our competitors. It’s usually because they see opportunities in either a corporate situation or another consulting environment of some kind.

So, Mr Pfau says it’s NBD but the reality is that the talent at the firms is very similar and when the shortage of people in a particular practice area becomes severe, the leaders in those groups put pressure on the recruiters to find good people to fill the holes. It’s reflective of the culture inside the firms and is part of the underbelly of what is going on behind the scenes. And in case you’re new to the site, that’s what we do here.

Your Big 4 Revenue Rundown (2010)

We realize that you look at numbers all day but what difference does a few more make?

Accordingly, we’ll call attention to Big 4 Blog’s performance analysis of the Four Horsemen’s fiscal year 2010.

Some highlights:

• In 2010, Deloitte surpassed PricewaterhouseCoopers to become the largest Big Four firm, reporting revenues of $26.578 billion and growth of 1.8%, just ahead of PwC’s revenues of $26.569 billion and growth of 1.5%.

• Deloitte beat PwC by a small but significant margin of only $9 million.

• Ernst & Young placed third with 2010 revenues of $21.440 billion, but its revenues shrank 0.9% from 2009.

• KPMG remained the smallest firm with revenues of $20.630 billion, but had the highest growth at 2.6% and reduced the gap with Ernst & Young.

To summarize: Of course we knew about Deloitte dethroning P. Dubs for the top spot but with the margin of victory so close, it wouldn’t be shocking to see a one and done. Time will tell, time will tell. Additionally, you can see that KPMG had a nice a little rally from 2009 and E&Y, well, not only was E&Y the only firm with declining revenues, they have some other things to work out.

The 2010 Big Four Firms Performance Analysis []

Big 4 Auditor Respectfully Requests an Audit of Big 4 “Compensation Studies”

From the mailbag:

Hey Caleb,

So recently I was found out that KPMG will be conducting a compensation study as to whether or not we are in line with “market” and the effects of the results, if any, will be announced mid-January. This came as the result of the follow up on the Mid-America senior council meeting. Apparently the question was raised in this meeting about why KPMG employees weren’t receiving bonuses similar to the other firms [Ed note: We received the following message prior to the announcement of KPMG’s new bonus program that we reported on Friday.]. During the follow-up call it was told that a “compensation study” was being performed.

I always hear all of the Big 4 talking about how they did a compensation study and found out they were in-line with the market but obviously after all of the posts about compensation raises and bonuses nothing seemed to be consistent. My question to you is where are all of these supposed studies done by the Big 4? They say they perform them but do we actually see them? As an auditor I’m inclined to ask where is the supporting documentation? We don’t take our clients word that they have $50 million in the bank we have to agree that to something, so why don’t we get some proof of this study or in your experience with goingconcern have you actually ever seen results of these studies?

Disgruntled Employee

Dear Disgruntled,

We understand your frustration with regards to these so-called compensation studies. To directly answer your question, we have not seen any of these studies nor do we know how the firms commission them. (If you are familiar, get in touch.) The transparency of the process, as you rightly point out, is virtually non-existent. While your call for more information regarding these studies may get some attention and even a brief consideration, don’t expect any “supporting documentation” in the near future. Keeping the compensation sausage recipe secret is advantageous for the firms and since “in-line with the market” is another way of saying, “right in the meaty part of the curve” people have very little room to complain.

Now, if it appears that one firm say, PwC, is compensating employees in a more generous manner than say, KPMG, the only way to conclude that for certain is to speak to a recruiter who talks to employees from both firms. Sure you can mine the comments of posts here or read Bob Half’s salary report to get an idea of what’s what but if you want to know the actual compensation disparity between two firms (especially for your skill set), you’ll have to do a little digging for yourself.

So, do you have the right to be annoyed by the lack of information around these studies? Of course. But don’t expect an in-depth breakdown firm by firm to be presented at your next townhall or webcast.

Is There a Polite Way to Quit During Busy Season?

Welcome to the one-week-of-mall-madness-left edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a new hire is ready quit her Big 4 gig after three months on the job. Is there a nice way to do this during busy season?

Freaked out over your first busy season and need medication suggestions? Concerned about the lack of communication in your office? Curious about the drawbacks of a landing ��������������������ignificant other? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll tell you what’s what.

Back to fed up in Big 4:


I’m a recent new hire at a big 4 firm in LA, and I’ve been working for the firm since October. I’m hating the job and already want to quit. I’m currently looking for jobs as we speak. Is it inappropriate to quit during busy season? How do I do so in a “polite” way?

Thanks for the advice,

Dear HatingMyJob,

Your dilemma is not uncommon but we are curious as why you would accept a job that, at least semi-consciously, you already hated before you started. You essentially took a job from someone else that probably would sacrifice an appendage for the opportunity you have.

Now that we have sufficiently guilt-tripped you, we’ll address your problem. Way back in February, we addressed this very issue and here are a few thoughts we had then:

All the people we’ve had the pleasure of working with, despite all of them having multiple “F— THIS!” moments, pull it together because they have a job to do. Why the hell didn’t you quit prior to busy season? You really felt like sticking it to everyone?

Fine. Perhaps your desire for sweet, sweet revenge against your senior/manager/partner/firm is more powerful than any shred of integrity you may have but for crissakes, that makes you a very bitter person. More so than the average accountant.

We’re not sure what has happened in the last 10-ish months but we’ve mellowed on this position. That being said, we’re putting you on notice, regardless of whether you quit now (pre-busy season) or in mid-February, people will be JUDGING YOUR ASS. We’re not talking Chief Justice judging, we’re talking the WRATH OF THE ALMIGHTY judging (if your an atheist, think of it this way – science will get medieval on you with Lou Gehrig’s or something else sufficiently terrible). Hopefully you’re okay with that because your ears will be burning.

Accordingly, there’s no reason for you to worry about being polite about it. In fact, you’re better off admitting that you hate the job (feel free to get specific) and it isn’t for you. That involves you admitting that you made a mistake but hey, we all make them. It may save you a little face with some of your colleagues.

The good news is, your recruiter – if you’re using one – is going to be able to help you more during busy season because they won’t have a backlog of people burning up their phones with, “For the love of GOD, get me out of this job!” If you’re not using a recruiter, we suggest you find one and level with them about your situation. You’re not desperate but you want out ASAP. The process takes a little bit of time and you’ll be ahead of the people that choose to battle out busy season.

So, if you’re fed up. Fine. Nothing you can do to change that. If you’re looking, that’s good; you’ll have a leg up on the new associates that decide to leave after busy season. Good luck.

Big 4 Shoots Blanks on Glassdoor 50 Best Places to Work

The following was brought to our attention this morning:

Glassdoor just published their 50 best places to work… and I believe none of the Big 4 are on it. Surprise surprise?

So we checked it out and yes, it’s true that none of the Big 4 (or any accounting firm for that matter) appear on the Glassdoor 50 Employees’ Choice Awards for 2011.

It’s worth noting however, that the methodology for this particular list is driven entirely by audience participation. From the FAQs:

The Glassdoor list is the only list that truly represents employees’ choice. Unlike many workplace-related awards that require companies to self nominate, Glassdoor relies solely on the input from employees. All that is required for consideration is an employer must have had at least 25 employees complete a survey to be considered.

So you could probably conclude one of a two things: a) Fewer than 25 employees of each firm bothered to visit Glassdoor to sing their firm’s praises or b) the reviews were so incredibly negative that the firms landed nowhere near the Top 50.

Now, possibility “a” seems unlikely since there are plenty of people working at these firms that don’t have anything better to do than mindlessly surf the web and participate in seemingly innocuous surveys and whatnot. Possibility “b” seems a little more realistic, so we’ll explain our thinking:

Since this particular list doesn’t have an application process, it is merely up to some ambitious person in the marketing/Internet reputation department to take the initiative to spread the word about this campaign TO EVERYONE IN THEIR OFFICE. Besides the fact that asking employees to add one more thing to their already-impossible-to-conquer “to-do list,” these types of emails are largely met with eyerolls that would cause most people to topple over backwards in their chairs. But rather than simply delete the message, this wells up so much annoyed rage within the bitter Big 4 Bobs/Betsys out there that they immediately proceed to the survey to crucify their firm out of spite.

Or then again, maybe we’re just cynical. If you’ve got your own theory, do share.

Can a Future Big 4 Associate Expect a Salary Adjustment When He Starts Work?

Welcome to the aren’t-you-glad-healthcare-reform-is-back-in-the-news? edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, should an incoming associate expect a salary adjustment on day one or they doomed to a pittance?

Find yourself in a jam at work? Do you have eight hours to spare and aren’t sure how to best spend this rare free time? Wondering what you should get Sharon Allen for a retirement gift? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll make sure you stay away from vacuum cleaners.

Returning to our Big 4 in waiting:

Can I expect to have my salary adjusted to market when I start employment? I will be starting in 2011. Reading through some of the articles and comments on here, it seems that new hires easily start with a salary above $50K. I received three offers from three Big 4 firms but all offered salaries were relatively far from $50K.

Each firm was within 1K-1.5K range from each other though. I know that starting salaries have even decreased in my area overall. I am not enjoying the thought of making less than what these firms have proven to have the potential to offer, or even making less than what another firm had to offer (although I knew that was the outcome by choosing this firm). I personally do not think it is worth asking for a raise or a salary adjustment since I feel that would only hurt my future annual raises. Should I just wait it out and see?

[Doubled over, catching breath, holding up hand with ‘I need a minute’]

Oh, dear. We had to take a break for a second, in fact our face hurts from laughing uncontrollably. Sorry about that.

Look friend, we don’t mean to make light of your question but a reality check is necessary here. There is virtually no chance that your firm will adjust to your salary when you start. You write, “I am not enjoying the thought of making less than what these firms have proven to have the potential to offer, or even making less than what another firm had to offer (although I knew that was the outcome by choosing this firm).”

We find this confusing for a couple of reasons – 1) obviously the Big 4 have “proven to have the potential” to pay more than $50k. It just happens this is occurring in a place where you don’t currently reside. If you did reside in one these places, your starting salary would eclipse the magical $50k. Were you expecting a big city salary for your mid-sized city lifestyle? 2) if you don’t like the idea of earning less money, why did you go with the firm that offered you less money? This simply doesn’t compute.

If making $50,000 is such a sticking point for you, move to a city with a higher cost of living so that you can eclipse the magic number you so desperately desire. If that’s not reasonable, then the best you can hope for is a pleasant surprise like PwC gave its recently hired peeps ($500 bonus for those hired post-June 30, 2010).

This may sound crazy but don’t get too caught up in what your salary is at the beginning of your career. So, to answer your question – sit tight and start your career. It’s a little early to be bitching about being underpaid when you haven’t billed a single hour.

Survey: Young Accountants Think Big 4 Is Overrated

Most people choosing the art of debits and credits as a career path, likely had aspirations for working for one of the illustrious Big 4. Fame, prestige, working with only the finest accountants that Omaha Steaks can buy, are all par for the course. This has been accepted as truth for many years.

But now – if you can believe this – this truth is being called into question in the UK – a part of the world that you might not expect.

Accountancy Age reports that a recent survey has found that young accountants (less than three years experience) are not as hung up on working at a Big 4 firm:

Only 40% of accountants with less than three years’ experience surveyed by recruiter Marks Sattin said it was important to work for a big firm — compared to an average of 67% for all of the 450 accountants surveyed in practice and industry.

“We are entering a new era in financial services…in which candidates want to sell themselves not by reeling off lists of FTSE 100 clients, but on their experience on smaller accounts providing higher levels of responsibility,” said Laura Wilson, associate director of the professional services division at Marks Sattin.

Granted, this is the pulse of the UK but there’s always been a large firm vs. small firm debate and this a trend that makes its way to the States (if it hasn’t already).

The reason for young accountants’ attitude, it turns out, is that they don’t care if they are working on prestigious clients; they are looking for more expansive professional experience:

“Whether it’s true or not, candidates think they’ll be doing work that is more involved at an early stage in their careers by joining a smaller firm. The perception is counting against the Big Four because candidates think that smaller firms offer more variety and more autonomy – and candidates are increasingly willing to sacrifice exposure to the FTSE 100 to get it.”

According to one person quoted in the article, part of this is a generational attitude but we’re not convinced that’s entirely the case. Sure, Gen Y wants to have more responsibility as quickly as possible but it’s not as though the Big 4 are taking on the same number of new recruits each year. As a result, a competitive recruiting process has made smaller firms a very good option. Plus, news about layoffs and a slow climb up the corporate ladder at the largest firms might have some students looking for opportunities.

Make no mistake, working at a Big 4 firm will always be goal number one for a lot of students and young CPAs. Regardless of what any survey says, many still have ambitions to be a partner in one of the largest firms or to work in some of the world’s prestigious companies. But the more informed students and young professionals are about career options, the perceived need for Big 4 experience on your résumé will be less compulsory.

Young accountants shun Big Four firms [Accountancy Age]

What if Accounting Firms Had Their Own Version of WikiLeaks?

We were a little surprised to learn that both KPMG and PwC had brief mentions in the WikiLeaks cables, however it is far less surprising that they were quite humdrum and didn’t bring anything new to light.

From the Swiss site, inAte>Wikileaks published cable referenced 09MOSCOW3144, created December 30, 2009, classified as confidential and originating from U.S. Embassy in Moscow, on alleged pressure that the Russian government has exerted on PwC to disavow its “clean opinion” audits in the Yukos Oil, aided by the reported raids on PwC office in Russia and threats to recall Russian audit license of PwC, closing this market for the Firm.


Wikileaks also published (09LONDON2598, for official use only, originating from U.S. Embassy in London, created November 11, 2009) KPMG’s sceptical reaction on the Queen’s opening speech in Parliament on November 18, 2009, where Her Majesty sets out one of the priorities for new legislative session – to develop a new Financial Services Bill, requiring form systemically important banks to establish plans for recovery and resolution, that ensure banks’ financial continuity, later called by journalists “living wills”.

Like we said – meh.

Now, what happens within a Big 4 or other large accounting firm is rarely a matter of national security (Francine may disagree with us) but there’s little doubt that firm CEOs, partners and other notables have said things that would range from the slightly embarrassing to the absolutely mortifying. Consequently, reactions to those statements would also range widely from mere chuckles to ”OH NO YOU DI’INT!” Because our imagination has a tendency to run wild, we’ll dispel a few of our own scenarios that we imagine being in the Big 4/mid-tier version of WikiLeaks:

Prior to the unveiling, Bob Moritz emails Tim Ryan, “Between you and me, the new logo looks like a half-finished Lego™ project.”

• Barry Salzberg and Jim Quigley are known inside some Deloitte circles as “Team Propecia.”

• After the OT loss to Michigan State, John Veihmeyer is so upset that he sends an email to Henry Keizer stating, “THAT’S IT! NO RAISES THIS YEAR.” Keizer responds to JV, reminding him that ‘if that punk Jimmy Clausen had stuck around’ they wouldn’t be in this situation and he shouldn’t take it out on the firm’s employees.

• Emails between two Ernst & Young partners in Jericho, reveal that they’ve been hoarding the extra bathroom keys because they can’t stand asking the receptionist.

• Various Deloitte partners are quaking because it is common knowledge that Arnie and Annabel McClellan have an elaborate spreadsheet detailing their various fetishes.

• In numerous exchanges Stephen Chipman begs Ed Nusbaum to let him ‘drop this ridiculous accent’ just like Ross did on Friends.

• High-level executives at McGladrey considered putting ecstasy in the punch so people would be happier but ultimately decided against it (Phoenix/Vegas went their own way) because it would have resulted in too many accountants dancing for no apparent reason.

Jack Weisbaum = The Most Interesting Man in the World. (Just like several actual WikiLeaks, everyone knew this to be true but it was not discussed openly.)

Perhaps you have your own theories or documentation regarding other exchanges. Please share with the group at this time or email us.

Should Grad Students Crash Another School’s ‘Meet the Firms’ Event?

Welcome to the your-life-would-be-easier-if-you-just-embraced-Monday edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a graduate student wants to know if crashing another school’s ‘Meet the Firms’ event is a good idea or if it will land him on the Big 4 blacklist.

Looking for some career advice? Need help filling out your Holiday Gift list? Bored with your life after Big 4 and need some ideas on how to fill the hours? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll and we’ll find you a hobby in no time.

Back to the Big 4 crasher:

I am attending a master’s of tax program in a small city that only has two Big 4 firms, only one of which does tax. As a result of this, the other firms don’t recruit at our school and won’t let us apply for associate positions because they don’t recruit at our campus.

A couple of classmates and I were wondering if it would be wrong to travel to a larger city and attend that school’s ‘Meet the Firms’ night next year to hand our résumés to the recruiters and get face time with them. Would doing this do more harm that good to us with the firms or would it show how much we want to work for them?

Thanks for the advice,
Small town accountant

Dear Small Town,

We like your enthusiasm for a road trip. This particular journey has a mission, however, so it has a little more significance than your average cruise through the desert with a trunk full of narcotics but we understand you’ve got your future career to consider. Anyway, we’re all for this idea for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s a relatively low-risk proposition that could pay big dividends and 2) If you’ve got some self-control, the trunk full of narcotics could still happen.

That said, the most important thing to keep in mind while on your recruiting journey is that you are wandering into enemy territory (so to speak). This means you’ll have no choice but to be completely honest about your non-affiliation with the school. Your résumés will easily show this but any kind of misrepresentation will eventually torpedo your plans one way or another. Clearly explaining your situation to the firm recruiters will demonstrate your willingness to go the extra mile (or 50 to 100) and assuming you’ve got a stellar résumé, it will likely impress them even more.

As for the risks – your rival school could just up and throw you out once they find out that you’re not affiliated with the school. For starters, you’re jockeying for face time with the firms at the expense of their students. As long as you don’t make a spectacle of yourself, we feel there’s only a small risk of you getting the heave. Likewise, one of the firm’s recruiters may frown on your little crashing escapade but frankly, if you don’t make it seem like a big deal, they won’t either.

So we say go for it – show up, shake hands, chat ’em up and who knows what will happen. You’ve got very little to lose except maybe a job.

Anyone out there who has crashed a recruiting event is invited to share the highlights or if you agree/disagree with the advice, chime in below.

One E&Y Office Is Under the Impression That KPMG Is Not Their Competitor

This marks the time of year that your firms ask you to give back to your community in various ways. The most common way that we’re aware of is to contribute to your firm’s respective United Way Campaign. This push usually involves numerous emails and maybe even a little dog and pony show where one partner essentially guilt-trips you into giving to the charity of the firm’s choosing rather than your own.

The Big 4 firms are quite competitive in their fund-raising efforts and a tipster had some thoughts on the tally in the Atlanta office of Ernst & Young (photo after the jump).

[A]pparently EY Atlanta doesn’t believe that KPMG exists (or is considered their competition)

Not to mention that these progress indicators are oddly phallic-looking…

It’s also worth calling attention to E&Y’s abysmal phallic filling performance compared to Deloitte and PwC. Our tipster’s points are duly noted and we’ve concluded that it’s either an obvious show of disrespect by E&Y Peachtown aimed right at KPMG OR the House of Klynveld happens to be blowing everyone out of the water and the Atlanta brass is saving everyone the embarrassment.

Knowing what we know about KPMG employees’ enthusiasm for the United Way Campaign, the latter scenario seems unlikely. Other theories and reactions are welcome at this time.

Wanted: Big 4 Bean Spillers

“Zero Hedge kindly requests any and all Big 4 (and all other) accounting firm whistleblowers to please stand up and let us know of any and every case of improper accounting they are aware of (preferably with supporting documentation).”

~ Tyler Durden

Big 4 Manager Needs Help Determining If He Is Underpaid

Welcome to the squelch-the-tryptophan-withdrawals-with-cyber-Monday edition of Accounting Career Conundrums. In today’s edition, a Big 4 manager is pret-tay sure he is underpaid. How can he broach the subject with a partner without causing major blowback?

Need career advice? Want gift ideas that will score some points with a boss in your life? Wondering where you can find an old PwC backpack? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll sniff out a deal or a homeless person.

Back to our short-changed manager:

I was wondering if you could provide advice in how to determine if I am being underpaid and if I am how to go about asking for an increase? I am a 1st year Manager for a Big 4 firm in Kansas City. I have been with the same firm/office my entire career sans a 2 year secondment I completed in Dublin just in August. In addition, to having my CPA license I also hold the CFE certification and the CFA charter.

My feelings for asking for a raise are based on the additional certifications and knowing that my salary as a 1st year Manager is less than what 3rd year Sr. Associates were making in my office 2 plus years ago. I know the economy has changed during the subsequent 2 years but still feel like I am not fairly compensated. What advice do you propose? I am nervous about sharing my thoughts with my Partner as I am afraid of a potential backlash. Thanks in advance.

Dear Alphabet Soup,

Think you’re underpaid, huh? Seems to be theme around here. However, your situation is more unique than most so we’ll make a run at this.

First thing we noticed about your situation is that you’re a M1 which means you were recently promoted, which also mean you should have just received a better-than average raise. And we’re more than a little skeptical about your assertion that a SA3 is making more than you. That would have to mean that SAs are getting insanely good raises while you – the newly promoted manager – got an abysmal one; it seems unlikely. If this in fact the case, then you’ve had a serious string of bad luck.

As for determining whether or not you are underpaid, we suggest you speak to a professional recruiter in KC to find out whether or not your credentials and international experience or currently undervalued. If the recruiter takes a look at your résumé and starts drooling, you’ll know that he/she can earn a fat commission placing you somewhere else. If they shrug and say, “Look friend, you’re doing pretty well. But let me tell you about this great opportunity…” then your salary is probably fair.

When it comes to talking to a partner about this, be sure you’re speaking to someone you trust and just be honest. Make your case with facts. Don’t go speculating about what a SA3 is making because that turns the conversation to something that is out of your control. Highlight your credentials, international experience and why they bring value to the firm and your partner.

They’ve heard the “I’m underpaid” sob story a million times. You’ve got to prove to them that your case is an exception to the run-of-the-mill bellyaching.

Your Concern About a Big 4 Failure Is Duly Noted

“I don’t see that is on the horizon at all.”

~ Deloitte Global Chairman John Connolly, responding to UK lawmakers about the risk of a Big 4 failure.

Big 4-Bound Associate Needs Rainmaking Tips

Welcome to the we’ve-already-checked-out-for-the-week edition of Accounting Career Conundrums. In today’s edition, a Big 4-bound associate is looking for some rainmaking opportunities as a young up-and-comer. Is this typical young grasshopper idealism or can this young man be helped?

Need some career advice? Recently been let go and want some ideas on how to go out on top? Looking for an interpretation of the latest message from your firm’s CEO? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll translate thrning to the rain dancer:

I start with a Big 4 firm in January. I have no public accounting experience (not really counting 2 internships I had 3 years ago). I have gotten lots of advice/tips from people in the last few weeks concering advancement. “You have to be a rainmaker” to move up.

I’ve read articles (some on Going Concern) about making sure you can show your value to your employer when negotiating raises/advancement. My questions are: how can a first year staff member begin to take steps to developing their value in a firm? What can a first year do to begin to develop “rainmaking” qualities? Is it even possible to be a rainmaker so early in a career?

I imagine networking, volunteering, and getting involved are all things that I’d normally hear regarding this topic. But I’m wondering if you have any more tangible, practical advice.

Dear Rain Dancer,

Not sure why you assume “networking, volunteering and getting involved” aren’t “tangible” but those all seem like a good places to start. As for “practical,” your firm will probably give you plenty of opportunities for all of these, so again, not sure why those options strike you as inconvenient or unrealistic.

That being said, we’ll elaborate a little bit. For starters, this “rainmaker” talk is bullshit for someone in your position. Whoever is telling you this is giving you clichéd buzztalk that is frankly, useless. Advancement, at this point in your career is more about making the most of opportunities that are presented to you (networking, community involvement are good examples).

Furthermore, you’re correct to assume that it’s pretty difficult for a new associate to walk in and bring in a slew of new business. It’s a partner’s job to find new business, not yours. You can’t become the next Piet Klynveld without knowing what a tickmark legend is, now can you?

However, this shouldn’t dissuade you from looking for opportunities to build relationships with the professionals around you. Keep your eyes and ears open and build your network. You never know who will become a decision-maker and if you happen to have a good relationship with said decision-maker, you could land your firm some new business down the road.

Same goes for volunteering. If you’re helping in the community, you’re likely to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise, so this is another opportunity build your network that will allow you to shower your firm in cash in the future.

Do you honestly think you’ll can cold-call every business in town and charm them over the phone into accepting your business? Even if you did have them doing back flips on the other line, they’ll strike the deal with a partner at the firm, not you. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a nice little bonus for making the introduction and while that shows initiative that hardly makes you a “rainmaker.”

At this stage in your career, being involved in social activities at your firm, building relationships with clients and co-workers and having a good attitude will help you advance. Oh, and it helps if you know something about your given line of business (audit, tax, advisory).

Building those relationships (and being of capable intelligence) will give you the chance to bring some business to your firm. Then you can get all Pacman Jones on everybody.

Prioritizing the CPA Exam, Getting a Masters and a Big 4 Job Part MMXXXII

In today’s edition of “let me figure out your life for you and push the CPA exam down your throat”, our little would-be Big4er writes in wondering:

I’m trying to figure out some options to get to a Big 4 firm. I interned at a regional firm in Los Angeles this past summer and realized that I want to be at a Big4 firm instead. I have been through the on-campus recruiting process this quarter and unfortunately I did not receive any offers after going through PwC’s second round interviews. I did receive an offer from a regional firm in the San Francisco area. Though, my ultimate goal is to end up at a Big 4 firm.

I will be graduating in March 2011 and was planning on begin studying for my CPA exam. I hopby October or at least a majority of the exam. Do you guys recommend I study for my CPA and go through the recruiting process again next year or continue my education and get a Masters in Accounting and go through the recruiting process after that?

I love when you kids have a plan, or rather when you have a goal in mind and come banging on our door asking how to get there.

Anyway, as always, I am inclined to recommend getting the CPA exam out of the way before anything simply because it’s easier to do now before you’re bogged down with commitment (OK, mostly a really time-consuming Big 4 gig). However I’m a little sketchy on your actual timeline since you say you are graduating in March and plan to be done by October; does that mean you’re planning on taking two parts per testing window after you apply and are approved to sit for the exam?

Assuming you are applying in California (you mentioned LA), might I recommend you take the exam shortcut now while you still can? Here’s the deal: submit your application to the state board now while you don’t qualify, pay your $100, wait 8 – 10 weeks for a rejection letter and then apply again in March right after your degree posts to your transcripts so you can be approved to sit in just 1 – 2 short weeks. That way you cut down on the waiting time while you’d still be waiting anyway, can jump right into taking your exams and can get in April/May, July/August and October/November instead of trying to cram in four parts in two testing windows.

Keep in mind that tackling the CPA exam before going to the Big 4 – or any firm for that matter – can sometimes work against you. If you really stand out as a public accounting rockstar and have already passed the entire exam they might assume (usually correctly) that you’re simply trying to get your foot in the door for your two years of experience. So be careful with the overachieving there, it might be wise to get through two parts or perhaps just get started on the exam without actually blowing through all of it before you go knocking on PwC’s door again.

Unless you absolutely want a Masters in Accounting, keep in mind it isn’t necessary to have one in California and you can just as easily pick up 30 extra units in just about anything to meet the 150 requirement. I usually discourage California CPAs from taking that route unless they absolutely have to so if it isn’t something that you really want, don’t do it just to do it. You can always get a Masters later when you’re more settled in the profession, know what you want to be when you grow up, have finished the CPA exam and have made a dent in your undergrad student loans (always a good idea before you take on any more debt).

The only issue with blowing off a Masters now is that you will obviously have a harder time getting the Big 4’s attention after you graduate so I would say plan to get started on the CPA exam as quickly as possible and put on your best game face next time the Big 4 come sniffing around at your school while you can. Hopefully that lands you something for the fall, giving you a chance to complete the exam before your start date, at which time you can try out Big 4 life and then maybe get back to us on how that’s working out.

Hope that helps and good luck!

Jim Quigley Would Really Like It if the Big 4 Could Audit in India

Deloitte is hiring about 3,000 people in India as part of their hiring bonanza and global CEO Jim Quigley dug into his bag of boilerplate statements to express his excitement:

“India is an extremely important market for Deloitte. As…Opportunities in the new economic environment emerge in India, Deloitte with its focus on hiring, developing, and deploying the best talent in the region, will help clients capitalise on these new market initiatives,” Deloitte Global CEO Jim Quigley told reporters here.

Right. So nothing new there. However, Quigs thinks that it’d be really swell if TPTB in India would change their mind about letting the Big 4 provide audit services there:

Quigley also made a case for India to open up its market and allow global audit firms to practice here, besides providing consulting and advisory assistance.

Allowing international accounting firms to practice here would require India to negotiate and allow the service to be accessed under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). At present, India has not opened up services like audit and law for foreign practitioners.

“I urge the Indian authorities to give a serious thought to allowing global audit firms to practice here. It is for the betterment of accounting professionals. A mutual recognition is required out of foreign direct investment,” Quigley said.

See? It’s not just about the biggest firm in the known universe getting bigger, it’s for the betterment for the entire accounting race. There’s so much fun to be had. The Satyams of the world are once in a blue moon.

Future Big 4 Associate Needs Help Choosing Between Commuting Hell and a Happy Marriage

Ed. Note: DWB was sober long enough today to pen this post for the Friday edition of Accounting Career Couch. If you’ve got a question for us email us at [email protected]. We’ll dispense with further pleasantries and get right to it.

I just received three offers from two Big 4 firms in San Francisco (Deloitte and KPMG) for audit and one Big 4 firm for advisory internal audit in San Jose. I really like the idea of going into advisory but the problem is that I live in San Francisco and the advisory clients for this firm are all located around San Jose and the Silicon Valley. This would likely mean at least a one hour and 15 minute commute every day each way from SF to SJ and back againlients I would likely be working on from SF are all located within 20 minutes of my apartment in the city. Moving to San Jose is out of the question for me because my wife works in SF and I’m not ready for a divorce just yet. My question to you and Going Concern readers is should I take the advisory job despite the crazy commute or should I take one of the audit positions?

I’d still be very happy taking one of the audit positions but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the more consistent working hours of advisory internal audit didn’t appeal to me much more than audit (no insane busy season in advisory). Much of this benefit would be negated by my much longer commute though. Also, if I choose advisory I would be likely getting reimbursed $0 for my commute since the job is based out of the SJ office and I am based in SF. Although $0.50 a mile doesn’t sound like a lot, it really does add up to several thousand dollars in missed reimbursement expenses for such a long commute (assuming 80 miles a day in reimbursable driving). Also, the advisory position pay is slightly less to begin with (approximately $1,500 less) than my audit offers. Other considerations that I am thinking about are that many people from the Deloitte office (mostly associates) have said that the Deloitte SF office is understaffed. To me this means more opportunity for advancement but also more hours of work. Also, I feel that if I started in audit I could do two years of audit and if I didn’t like it then could jump ship to advisory in SF rather than having to start at advisory in SJ and beg to get a transfer to the SF advisory practice in a year or two. So what should I do? Should the lengthy and costly commute for advisory versus audit be a deal breaker? Will I struggle to break into advisory after two years in audit if I decide to make the switch?

Hopefully I’ve given enough info about my choices so that DWBraddock will stop complaining about us not saying enough in our requests for advice.

Kudos to you and your detailed email. Peons of the accounting world – take note [Ed. note: but there is something to be said for brevity. Yeesh.].

First off, my advice is from the “this is usually how it works” camp. Are there exceptions? Of course, and I’m sure that commenters will point them out.

Are you sure you will be reimbursed for every single mile that you travel? The HR policy is typically the net difference between your home to the office and your home to the client site. For example if you live 50 miles from the office and the client site is 53 miles from your home, you are reimbursed for the three mile difference. I strongly encourage you to consult HR before you go re-adjusting the all-in value of the advisory offer with thousands of dollars of mileage.

Now that I crushed your dream of banking $1,000’s, let’s discuss the audit vs. internal audit battle. You make a lot of assumptions in your email, but I think these bullets cover everything you discussed:

• Internal audit should not be looked at as a green-lighted pass to jump around the advisory practice. Many advisory roles are target recruited and are very specialized from a work capacity point of view. The name “advisory” doesn’t mean the roles are similar; it’s simply a nicer way of saying “everything that’s not audit and tax.”

• You will not be fast-tracked at Deloitte just because they’re short staffed. You will work your ass off.

• It’s easier to go from internal audit to external audit, not the other way around (the way you mentioned).

• Don’t think a transfer is a simple process. There has to be a need in the office you want to transfer to, and considering you’re contemplating and office and practice switch-a-roo in one swift motion…really? This is not a game – this is business and not everyone gets what they want.

• PS – I forwarded this to your wife. She said you’re sleeping on the couch for the next week.

Grant Thornton Employees in Chicago Feeling the Heat to Join Big 4

After reporting rumors that PwC was chasing Deloitte seniors in Chicago, now comes another report out of the House of Chipman:

Is it just me or is pwc trying really hard to bring in seniors in Chicago? The other day at GT, the same pwc recruiter called every S1 in audit asking if we’d be interested in moving over.

A few of us actually answered just to see what he had to say and he was pushing real hard in getting people to accept that if we made a move, we’d have to take a step down (S1 to move over to A3), and that they’d be making a large investment in keeping us long-term (at least through a promotion to manager). This is after we lost a S2 and an A2 who both moved to pwc. Plus, we’ve received several emails from other outside recruiters gauging our interest in the Big 4, not to mention my friends at the Big 4 trying to get me to send them my resume so they can refer me (for a much larger referral bonus, I’m assume). Not sure if this is juicy enough information, but that’s pretty much what’s happening right now over at G to the T.

Here’s the deal people – all the firms need people at the Senior Associate level. All the firms have made it known that they are hiring aggressively, both experienced and entry-level employees and the recruiters within the firms have jobs too. Besides, where are they supposed to look for the appropriate talent to fill their empty positions? Dunkin’ Donuts?

Grant Thornton, believe or not, has plenty of talented people and the Big 4 will take those people if they can get them. Management probably gets tired of all the bellyaching by employees about how short-staffed they are so the pressure is on the recruiters to get asses in the seats.

If you don’t want to be hassled by Big 4 recruiters, simply say, “I’m not interested, thanks,” and go on your merry way. But judging by all the complaining at GT, lots of employees are probably happy to entertain some options.

A/P Clerk Would Like to Know How to Best Use $30k to Get a Job with a Big 4 Firm

From the mailbag:

I have been working as a Accounts Payable for 3 years. I don’t want to waste your time of explaining my disadvantages. One of my advantages is money. I have a large savings. I would like to give $30,000 to anyone who get me a job in Big 4. I am not talking about [a] bribe. I wish to know how to use advantages [sic].

Just don’t sit there, give the man some suggestions. All options are on the table. Bonus points for creativity.

Mid-tier Manager’s Phone Blowing Up with Calls From Big 4; Is It Time to Jump Ship?

Welcome to the winesday edition of Accounting Career Couch. In today’s conundrum, a mid-tier manager is getting aggresively courted by three of the Big 4 firms and what’s to know the True Accounting Firm Story about them before dropping his current firm like a bag of dirt.

Trying to figure out your next career move? Getting anxious about busy season and need some new survival tips? Did you recently receive an email that you really want to share with other but it may or may not be appropriate? WAIT! Email us at [email protected] and we’ll steer you in the right direction.

Back to our greener grass hunter du jour:


The recent improvements in the fortunes of the Big 4 have yielded some opportunities for certain of us in the mid-tier firms. In the past two weeks I have been contacted by Deloitte, KPMG and E&Y regarding open positions they are trying to fill.

I am an experienced manager at a mid-tier firm that has not quite recovered from the recession. The firm is struggling to bring in new clients and has had almost no success in this area. The Big 4 have aggressively cut fees and have a generally better reputation to rely upon. While I like the opportunities as they are advertised, what kind of situation am I stepping into at these firms? Should any of these firms be avoided? I could stay until promotion to senior manager, but the firms is currently very top heavy. I see limited benefit to staying as my share of the work increases and my pay has not kept pace. Any thoughts?

It’s pretty difficult to pick one firm over the other without details about your city (memo to advice-seekers: GIVE US LOTS OF DETAILS ABOUT YOUR PROBLEM) but we’ll take a stab here.

Choosing one firm over another is purely a matter of your own preference. If you’re a fan of yellow, this is an easy decision. Prefer blue? Your decision is a little harder, unless you’re a Phil Mickelson fan, in which case there’s no debate here.

But seriously – if you specialize in a specific industry, you’ll probably meet a partner that you’ll work for when you interview with the firm. Hell, if it’s a small enough office you might meet all the partners in your group. That should give you a pretty good feel for what you’re getting into. Like we wrote last to Jersey Girl, a partner’s behavior during the interviewing process can be a good sign of who to choose.

If you’re antsy about your current firm, then you’re probably not alone. Regarding your concern about your current firm being “top heavy” the parking lot at senior manager is pretty full anywhere you go, so can’t really help you there.

Bottom line – go on some interviews and feel the firms out. Throwing darts won’t get you anywhere. Get a feel for the people you’ll be working with and your decision should be easy.

Let’s Speculate About Why Deloitte and KPMG Aren’t on the America’s Largest Private Companies List

Riddle me this, oh wise Going Concern readers – Forbes’s list du jour is America’s Largest Private Companies and its Top 10 has two familiar names: PwC and Ernst & Young but Deloitte and KPMG are nowhere to be found.

Here’s a rundown of companies, their revenues in billions and # of employees:

1. Cargill – $109.84, 130k
2. Koch – 100.00, 70k
3. Bechtel – $30.8, 49k
4. HCA – 30.05, 190k
5. Mars – 28, 65k
6. Chrysler – 27.90, 41.2k
7. PwC – 26.57, 161k
8. Publix – 24.32, 142k
9. E&Y – 21.26, 141k
10. C&S – 20.4, 16.6k

Just for the sake of not opening a bigger canner of worms we’ll ignore the enormous drop in revenues from #2 to #3.

Both firms have over $20 billion in revenues – Deloitte’s the biggest of the Big 4 for crissakes – so that puts them in the top ten easily, yet they’re completely MIA.

If you look at the methodology, you’ll find that both firms should easily qualify to make the list:

In addition to our $2 billion revenue requirement, the companies on our list have either too few shareholders to be required to file financial statements with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or have shares whose ownership is restricted to some group, such as employees or family members. We exclude foreign companies, companies that don’t pay income tax (like Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority), mutually owned companies (like State Farm Insurance), cooperatives ( like Central Grocers), companies with fewer than 100 employees, and companies that are more than 50% owned by another public, private or foreign company. We also leave out companies whose primary business is auto dealerships or real estate investment and/or management.

If you take a hard line here, “companies that don’t pay income tax” should probably disqualify all the firms but obviously Forbes made at least two exceptions. As for the rest of requirements, nothing really jumps out so it’s anyone’s guess.

Perhaps Deloitte and KPMG just got their applications in late? Maybe they were “meh” on the whole list? Maybe they don’t support the flat tax so Teve Torbes just said “To hell with them.” ? The editors for the piece don’t have emails included in their bios but we’re pretty curious as to how this whole thing came together, so please get in touch.

Theories (DWB is going with “because they both suck”) on the alleged oversight/snub are welcome.

PwC Reject Wants to Know If Making Another Run at the Firm Is a Good Idea

Welcome to the Hump Day edition of Accounting Career Couch (or as Adrienne puts it, “advice from a bunch of asshole accountants”). Today we have a PwC reject who is going back for round two. Does previous rejection mean that P. Dubs has its mind up about how big of a loser you are? Maybe!

Feeling rejected and looking job soon? Unhappy at your current firm who doesn’t provide any training to turn the frown upside down? Need some advice on to get your co-workers to loosen up? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll make everyone happy.

Returning to our glutton for punishment:

Dear Going Concern:

I interviewed earlier this year for a full time tax position with PwC. I made it to the final round and was given an office tour, lunch, 3 interviews and all that good stuff. Unfortunately, I did not receive an offer.

It is now the fall on campus recruiting season and again I am applying for a full time tax position with PwC. The lead recruiter already knows me from the recruiting process earlier this year. I’ve managed to speak with him once already at an on campus event and will see him at a career fair again next week. My question is can the fact that I’ve been rejected earlier this year hurt me in my attempt to get another interview and hopefully a full time offer. I plan on asking the recruiter this question next week but I get the feeling he will tell me that it’s okay and it won’t hurt me in anyway. However, being the cynical and skeptical person that I am, I need some perspective.

Dear Cynical and Skeptical,

Dealing with rejection, eh? Lots of that going around today. Unlike the Democrats, you have done nothing wrong. You made it to the very end and you simply didn’t make the cut. That happens. However, you are taking it in stride (not cursing PwC, blamestorming, etc.) although you are carrying the standard neurosis that comes with said rejection.

Your previous rejection by PwC should not dissuade you from your chances at a job with the firm. For whatever reason unbeknownst to you, the firm passed you over. It’s likely that it was a difficult decision on their part and your interest in the firm will be seen as a positive.

We understand that somewhere in your head, you’re thinking that the firm was just toying with you. Stringing you along, only to crush your Big 4 dreams at the last minute. The only scenario we can foresee where this would be a reality is if a recruiter/partner had the hots for you and eventually their belief in your “talents” were overruled. Fortunately, the odds of this being reality are slim.

So make another run at P. Dubs, reiterating your interest in the firm, reminding them why you’ll be a kick-ass associate and what you’ve done in the last few months that will get them hot for you all over again. Taking the “You made a biggest mistake of your life” is probably not the way to go, but a subtle hint at why you are everything they want and more may get them to see the error of their ways.

Will the Solution to the Big 4 “Too Few to Fail” Problem Come Out of China?

Adam Jones at the Financial Times takes a look at the Big 4’s too few to fail problem, noting that the recent green paper from the European Commission is a combination of A) lame ideas:

Its flakier suggestions included getting a regulator or another third party to appoint auditors to ease fears about their independence – a move that would disenfranchise shareholders to an unacceptable extent. A European quality certificate for auditing was also mooted as a way of helping second-tier firms show they could handle the biggest jobs. Such a badge would have limited credibility.

And B) points of discussion that need to be explored further, “[A] call for international talks on a contingency plan for the possible failure of one of the Big Four,” “enforced work-sharing also merits further discussion,” and “Brussels says it may also loosen rules requiring auditors to own the majority of an audit firm.”

All this talking gives us a headache and Jones admits that by allowing all ideas on the table it allows those happy with the status quo to distract from any real solutions:

The surfeit of ideas makes the debate comprehensive. But it also creates easy targets for those who want to preserve an inadequate market structure, detracting from more sensible suggestions made by Michel Barnier, EU internal market commissioner, and his team.

Despite the haters out there, the most interesting solution mentioned by Jones is the possibility of China – albeit a longshot – coming to the rescue:

Some think the danger might be eased by a Chinese accountant teaming up with a second-tier firm to create a new rival to the Big Four. Such an entity would face suspicion in the west, though, and it may be too soon to look to Beijing for answers.

For the market enthusiasts out there, this has to be the best idea you’ve heard even though it comes at the exception of the Chinese.

Think WeiserMazars but on a much, much larger scale. Maybe BDO’s U.S. firm is a target because of their legal troubles. Maybe Stephen Chipman will use his connections in China to parlay into some mega-international merger. We realize it’s hard to use your imagination when you’re staring at spreadsheets all day but ideas are needed people.

Solutions provided by the market will be a far better than something mandated by governments. China’s economy is still growing at a ridiculous clip and some say that’s good for the us here in the States.

Bottom line – we’re happy to entertain the possibility of China getting in the mix because as Jones says, “[W]hile this risk is broadly acknowledged, I have so far seen little evidence of a plan to deal with it.” And as it stands now, the bureaucrats are leading the discussion.

Big 4 Recruit Needs Advice on Table Manners, Office Visits

Today in “I need advice from strange accountants and Going Concern trolls,” a Big 4 recruit needs some insight into the office visit and how to behave when breaking bread with Big 4 professionals.

Need to know what to expect for your first busy season? Looking for pointers on how to subtly attract your rival’s employees? Want ideas that aren’t über-lame for your team’s next happy hour? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll put our heads together like the Stooges.

Back to our aspiring Big 4 rube (KIDDING, we know some of you are sensitive):

What should I expect at an office visit for the Big 4? Also, how do I behave at a dinner or lunch?

Simple enough. The Big 4 office visit is standard operating procedure in the recruiting process and we asked our resident Kool-Aid™ mixer, DWB to give his take on these show and tell excursions:

I apologize in advance if my answer comes off as salty; someone must have spit in my Cheerios this morning. But really – what kind of question is this? I’ll remind everyone about my rant the other day about providing Caleb with greater details when submitting questions. So with that, I have some questions for you – are you a college recruit? What practice? What office? Is this a one-off tour or is it part of an official recruiting program?

Because your submitted question was useless, I will make the assumption that you’re going on an official visit. Expect a tour, an interview (I hope – why else would you be going?), and the normal HR run-around of work-life balance, salary growth, etc. I advise you to talk to as many individuals as possible – on the record, off the record, etc. Get business cards, and follow up with questions you might have later. NETWORK your ass off. The people you meet in the “casual” settings have just as much of an influence on whether you receive an offer as your interviewer does.

Well, the bad accountant angle is obviously out, so regarding your behavior at chowtime, some good rules of thumb:

1) No booze. We realize this sucks but you don’t get bonus points for being able to hold your liquor.


3) Don’t be too chatty or too quiet. Nobody likes someone who talks without breathing throughout the entire meal but you will be noticed if you say nothing.

4) Topics of conversation to avoid: recent campus ragers; office visits that you’ve gone to at other firms; negative news about the firm you’re currently visiting; the hot server’s physical attributes.

These are just a few but in general, if you have to ask yourself, “could this make things awkward?” then avoid the behavior. If that doesn’t clear things up then ask Emily Post.

If we’re way off base here or anything crucial is missing, let us know in the comments.

In-Demand Accountant Wants to Know If He Can Ask His Prospective Big 4 Firm for More Money

In today’s edition of “I’d like advice from a bunch of strange accountants,” an experienced accounting associate is interviewing with the Big 4 and wonders if makes sense to waltz in, slam their fist on the table and demand more money.

Need some advice on your next career move? Want some pointers on how to win that coveted item at your local IRS auction? Having trouble with the law and wonder if you should share it with someone your firm? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll get you on the road to sobriety in no time.

Back to our prospective Big 4 associate with dollar signs in their eyes:

I will be going on a job interview with one of the Big 4 firms (currently employed with a large national firm), and they are interviewing for experienced associate/senior associate position. I have experience in an industry their office has a large need for, but not all the candidates to fill it. Even though I am a senior associate at a smaller firm, and may come in as a experienced associate, does it make sense to ask for a pay increase from what I am currently making? I will be relocating to another market, but I would assume the markets are comparable. Just wondering if anyone may have some thoughts on the salary I should be requesting.

Always about the money, isn’t it? Very well, then.

You’re with a large national firm which means you’re near the high end of the accounting salary range already. This doesn’t exactly help your negotiation for a higher salary with a Big 4 firm. To take that a step further, the Big 4 aren’t exactly the negotiating type. The range of salary at the Associate/Senior Associate level isn’t a huge and if you come in at a higher salary than your peers, you’re likely to be on the short-end of merit increases come merit increase time (as this is SOP). Plus, it’s unlikely that your work experience to date will impress the firm you’re interviewing to the extent that they’re A) begging you to join the firm and B) they’ll throw thousands of extra dollars your way (not that it makes that much of a difference).

All right, now that we’ve mercilessly shot you down, you’re ready to hear some good things – if the firm you’re interviewing with really has a need for your experience, it is likely that they are willing to pay you more. If you can demonstrate in your interviews with the partners and managers your knowledge and accomplishments, they will let HR know that want your hot auditing (or whatever) ass ASAP. And that’s the key – what do you offer that the clowns that started with the firm don’t? Run-of-the-mill statements like, “good work ethic, do what it takes” blah blah blah won’t do anything for you. Have you already reviewed other’s work, supervised staff, etc, etc? Differentiate yourself in substantive ways. Make that firm want you for what you bring to the table.

Bottom line: you probably won’t get to “request” your salary, you’ll simply be made an offer. But if you can present your coveted experience in a way that will make your interviewers crave you like Kardashians crave cameras in their faces, coupled with a jump to the higher pay scale of the Big 4, you’re likely to be happy with the salary they offer you.

Accounting News Roundup: Political Nonprofits Pushing the Limits with Ads; Familiar “Outrage” Over Big 4 Audit Industry Dominance; Obama Attacks GOP Tax Policy in Weekly Address | 10.18.10

Groups Push Legal Limits in Advertising [NYT]
“The basic rule of thumb for nonprofit groups organized under Section 501(c) of the tax code is that more than 50 percent of their annual activities cannot be political. Although it is a matter of debate how spending on traditional issue ads would be categorized by the Internal Revenue Service, it is indisputable that spending on express advocacy would be classified as political.”

Lords to hear top six firms on audit reform [Accountancy Age]
“A showdown has been planned for the UK’s top six acevidence is heard at a House of Lord’s inquiry into audit reform.

The House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee will take evidence from the heads of the Big Four – PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and Ernst & Young – followed by their mid-tier rivals – BDO and Grant Thornton – during its inquiry into audit competition.”

Accounting industry sees ray of light on the horizon [Crain’s]
“Demand for accountants is forcing large CPA firms to bump salaries by as much as 3.8% next year, the steepest jump since 2008. U.S. companies with more than 20 employees plan to increase hiring of full-time accountants and finance personnel this quarter for the first time since early 2009, says Michael Shapow, a senior vice-president at Menlo Park, Calif.-based staffing firm Robert Half International Inc.

During the dot-com era, bachelor’s degrees in accounting fell from 53,000 in the mid-1990s to 35,000 in 2002, according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants in Washington, D.C. The figure has boom-eranged, rising to 49,000 in 2008, creating a new problem: not enough professors.”

Systemic Risk! Dominance! Momentum! Auditors In Crisis. Again. [Re: The Auditors]
The “outrage” and “risk” over the dominance by the Big 4 in the audit industry is so played.

Obama Attacks Republicans on Tax Policy [TaxProf Blog]

AICPA to SEC: Companies Will Need as Much as Five Years to Ready for IFRS Adoption [JofA]
“In the portion of its letter regarding the impact of IFRS conversion on contractual arrangements, the AICPA voices support for a requirement for companies adopting IFRS to file one year of comparative financial statements rather than two. ‘Our research indicates that companies will need five years preparation time to adopt IFRS if the SEC requires two years of historical comparative financial statements. If only one year of comparative financial statements is required, a four-year transition period would be needed to adopt IFRS.’ The SEC has not said what the requirement would be.”

Big 4 Manager Would Like Staff to Get Some Perspective Re: Raises

Now that compensation season has passed for the major firms and most of the belly aching has died down, we’ll present some thoughts from a friend of GC and a Big 4 senior manager who shared the following with us earlier in the summer.

Hey Caleb,

A few of us were talking today at lunch about compensation and how we like reading how much everyone bitches about what % raise they got and what they feel they should have been entitled too. An A1 thinks they deserve a $10,000 raise, and that would make them happy, c’mon give us a break?

It is easy to understand this is a prime area to feel you have been cheated in, however, we thought it might be interesting for some net dollar coeffect, for those complainers who feel they were cheated with their raise %.

Interesting idea, we thought. Our muse suggested the following assumptions: 1) 40% tax rate – federal and state combined 2) 24 annual paychecks.

Our friend/source continues:

Would be interesting to see and shed a different light on a cash pay basis what the real difference is in pay for those who think they got cheated from a 8% raise and only got 6% or something, does the $35 per paycheck really require a personal vendetta or hours of frustrated Facebook status updates? Probably not.

My guess is that on an after-tax, per paycheck basis, some of these raises are equivalent to cutting out the morning Starbucks run, or latest iTunes download.

So we decided to dust off the Excel skills and crunch a few numbers to see if our Senior Manager friend was onto something.

We took a humdrum salary of $70k and applied the 8%, 6% comparison and tabled it:

Salary $70,000 $70,000
% Raise 8% 6%
$ Raise (Annual) $5,600 $4,200
Taxes withheld 40% 40%
Net Raise $3,360 $2,520
Bi-monthly # of paychecks 24 24
Net $/paycheck $140 $105

BFD you say? You got a 6% raise while some clown who couldn’t audit their way out of a paper bag got 14%? Fine, we’ll take a look at that too:

Salary $70,000 $70,000
% Raise 14% 6%
$ Raise (Annual) $9,800 $4,200
Taxes withheld 40% 40%
Net Raise $5,880 $2,520
Bi-monthly # of paychecks 24 24
Net $/paycheck $245 $105

So let’s say you’re the average shmo with the 6% raise and your friend/sworn enemy is getting the 14%. Are you really spitfire pissed that you’re missing out on $280 a month? We’re not talking life-changing sums here. If you’re consistently average over your career, maybe this will add up but hopefully your better sense will grab ahold and you’ll either A) step up your game B) move on with your life C) eliminate the competition (not condoning violence here, just pointing out that it’s a variable in the equation and maybe that it’s an option).

Rebuttal? Agree? Let it rip.

Accounting News Roundup: PwC Rakes in Fees on Lehman; Grant Thornton: Opening the Audit Market Wouldn’t Hurt Big 4; One in Three IRS Employees Are Eligible for Retirement | 10.15.10

Bernanke Signals Intent to Further Spur Economy [NYT]
“The Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, indicated on Friday that the central bank was poised to take additional steps to try to fight persistently low inflation and high unemployment.

‘Given the committee’s objectives, there would appear — all else being equal — to be a case for further action,’ he said in a detailed speech at a gathering of top economists [in Boston].

Mr. Bernanke noted that ‘unconventional policies have costs and limitations that must be taken into account in judging whether and how aggressively they should be used.” But he suggested that the Fed was prepared to manage the riske most powerful tool remaining in the Fed’s arsenal of weapons to stimulate the economy: vast new purchases of government debt to lower long-term interest rates.’ ”

Lehman Brothers’s U.K. Administrators Billed $420 Million Since Collapse [Bloomberg]
“Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s European administrators have billed 262 million pounds ($420 million) for work since the bank sought bankruptcy protection in September 2008.

The administrators have recovered 11.9 billion pounds in cash in the 24 months since the bank’s collapse and more than 350 trading counterparties have settled what they owed according to a report today on the PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP website.

‘We have achieved exceptional progress in the administration, dealing with some 29 billion pounds of securities and cash, having now returned almost 12 billion pounds of this to clients,’ Tony Lomas, the PwC partner on the Lehman administration, said in a statement. ‘Whilst there are still numerous major challenges to address, our actions to date have generated significant realizations for creditors which will be paid to them in due course.’ ”

Y U Luv Texts, H8 Calls [WSJ]
“For anyone who doubts that the texting revolution is upon us, consider this: The average 13- to 17-year-old sends and receives 3,339 texts a month—more than 100 per day, according to the Nielsen Co., the media research firm. Adults are catching up. People from ages 45 to 54 sent and received 323 texts a month in the second quarter of 2010, up 75% from a year ago, Nielsen says.”

Big Four can take losing a chunk of the audit market [Accountancy Age]
“Opening up a fifth of the FTSE-250 audit market would only hit the revenues of the Big Four by an average of £6m, according to Grant Thornton.

Welcoming the EC’s green paper on audit reform, which has made a raft of radical measures including mandatory rotation of audits, the firm said opening up the audit market would not hurt the Big Four.”

Mozilo and SEC in Deal Discussions [WSJ]
“Confidential talks begun in recent weeks appear to be moving toward a settlement in the Securities and Exchange Commission’s high-profile civil fraud case against former Countrywide Financial Corp. Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo and two other former executives, people familiar with the matter said.

Late Thursday, a status conference on the case was ordered for Friday, a move that could signal a new development in the suit. If no agreement is reached, a jury trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday in federal court here before Judge John Walter.

It is also possible, people familiar with the matter said, that only one or two of the defendants would reach a settlement before the trial. Attorneys for both sides are preparing for trial in the event it goes forward, said people familiar with the matter.”

33% of IRS’s 106,000 Employees Are Eligible for Retirement [TaxProf Blog]
Do they simply love their jobs that much?

A little perspective on those 18,000 XBRL errors [CPA Success]
“It’s not that bad.”

Michel Barnier: The Big 4 Audit Model Is a Failure

Okay, those weren’t the EU financial services commissioner’s exact words but you get the sincere impression that he’s had it up to his silver coif with how things are going.

“The crisis highlighted failings in the audit sector,” Barnier said today. “These need to be explored and we need to see what improvements can be made. I believe it is important to approach this discussion in a frank and open manner. No subject should be taboo.”

Right! No subject is off limits. So what will be discussed? Well, for starters this Big 4 thing has to stop. The Telegraph reports, “If one of the Big Four – PricewaterHouseCoopers, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young – were to collapse the Paper suggests it could create systemic risk for the financial markets.”

Secondly, the notion of independence and “putting shareholders” first is a sham. ‘Berg reports:

Restrictions on auditor choice may reduce “distortion within the system” caused by auditing firms acting in the interests of their clients rather than shareholders when compiling reports on a companies’ financial health, the commission said in a report outlining possible measures.


The commission said it’s also considering rules that would force companies to change their auditing firms after a fixed period of time.

Forcing companies to rotate their auditors would “enhance the independence of auditors” and “operate as a catalyst to introduce more dynamism and capacity into the audit market,” the commission said.

Lastly, can a Frenchman get some choice up in this mofo?

The top four accounting firms have a market share of about 90 percent in the majority of EU member states, according to the commission’s report.

“The market appears to be too concentrated in certain segments and deny clients sufficient choice when deciding on their auditors,” the commission said.

Barnier isn’t asking for a full-blown cafeteria but for crissakes, the choices right now are chicken, chicken, and….chicken. Sure, they might have slightly different recipes (e.g. KPMG a little spicy/sweet, PwC is in a cream sauce) but it’s all chicken. And Barnier HATES chicken.

Companies May Lose Right to Pick Auditing Firms Under European Union Plans [Bloomberg]
EU markets chief Barnier plans radical overhaul of audit industry [Telegraph]

Need Help Choosing Between a Career in Audit and Advisory at a Big 4 Firm?

Since we’ve already checked out for three-day weekend and a reader needs advice ASAP, we’ll dispense with another edition of “Accounting Career Couch.” An aspiring accountant is trying to decide between joining the advisory and audit practice of a Big 4 firm but – surprise! – can’t decide since she likes both. Sigh.

Have a question about your next career move? Worried that you’re not doing enough for your clients? Need help casting a satirical political ad? Email us at [email protected]. Like donuts, there’s nothing we can’t do.

Back to our indecisive co-ed:

Hi Caleb:

I feel as if I am facing a small dilemma at a pivotal point in my young accounting career. I am interviewing with one of the Big 4 tomorrow and have been asked which service area I would prefer to go into: Audit or Advisory.

To be honest, with this job market, I would love either and I am 100% sure I would be a good fit for either type of position. I am very actively involved in Beta Alpha Psi and my resume is very “plump” with positive customer service experience. I posses very strong soft skills at quite a young age and have a lot of leadership experience in school and through my role in BAP. The company I am interviewing with is my #1 and I have built two strong relationships, each in each service area. For my high interest in Advisory, I can say, I always gravitate toward the headlines that have become the new hot topics that include, fraud, forensic accounting, and investigation. This is consistent with my very investigative and curious personality. However, on the other hand, understanding and learning the breakdown of a specific client’s company as I am involved in an audit interests me very much. The point is, what are the pros and cons for the two different services: Audit v Advisory. What is the opinion for a positive, fulfilling career in each service area, as public accounting is my interest for a lifetime? Am I hurting myself by letting the company choose where to put me by saying I am interest in BOTH opportunities?

To answer your last question – yes, it’s our feeling that you are marginalizing yourself by saying you’re interested in both practices. If you’re on the fence about which to join, other candidates that are more sure about their preference may have an edge over you. Make a choice for crissakes.

With that in mind, let’s break down a few pros and cons.


Audit – Your schedule is more predictable; less travel.

Advisory – Money is better; work is sexier; better reputation.


Audit – If you’re the type of person that is easily bored, then you will eventually get bored with auditing; auditing practices are bureaucratic nightmares – keeping up accounting and auditing rule changes; audit does not enjoy a sterling reputation.

Advisory – Hours can be unpredictable – you might work late nights for weeks (sometimes months) away from your home office or quite the opposite – you might find yourself with nothing to do for weeks at at time; the advisory practice is more susceptible to changes in the economy which means if things get bad, layoffs are more likely in advisory than in audit.

The real question is – what path do you want your career to take? You say that “public accounting is my interest for a lifetime.” Call us cynical but we’ll be shocked – SHOCKED! – if this is true in 3-4 years. If you really, really, really think that it is true, then audit is probably the choice for you. You’ll find a business line you like and if you’re ambitious and active within your firm, you’ll be on the partner track.

On the other hand since you say you’re drawn to fraud, forensics, investigative nature etc., we feel you should go with your instincts and go for advisory. Granted, Sam Antar will also tell you that you need the proverbial ironclad balls but those come in over time.

Anyone else faced with this dilemma? Anyone made the choice and got some input? Fire away.

So ‘Global 6 Accounting Organization’ Is Out of the Question?

“The largest companies are generally served by one of the Big Four firms and I think that’s going to continue to be true and one of the reasons are the needs of that market place, due to the scale of those enterprises.”

~ Deloitte Global CEO Jim Quigley (who must have been making the rounds today) doesn’t see a return to the Big 5.

Deloitte Is Officially The Biggest of the Big 4, Says Deloitte

Figuring that it couldn’t trust any of its direct competitors to call this one, Deloitte announced today that it is officially the biggest of the Big 4.

Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (DTTL) is proud to announce that its member firms have risen to become the largest private professional services organization in the world for the first time in the organization’s history. With this milestone, Deloitte surpasses all competitors in the private professional services category to become the market leader based on revenue and headcount. As of the fiscal year ended 31 May 2010, Deloitte had aggregate member firm revenues of US$26.578 billion (US$26.6B) and employed approximately 170,000 people worldwide, including nearly 35 percent in priority markets.

Even though it’s against our natural inclination, we decided to fact check this little stat. Jumping over to PwC’s newly official rebranded site we added up the aggregated revenues by region to discover total revenues for P. Dubs of US$26.569 billion. That’s a difference of $9 million and some change. The proverbial photo finish.

As you can imagine, Jim Quigley and crew are pretty amped about the situation, even though this was never their goal:

“When Deloitte Haskins & Sells and Touche Ross & Co. merged in 1989 to form our modern organization, we were the smallest of what was then the Big Eight. Over the years, our goal was never to be the largest—we have always aimed to be the best, to be the standard of excellence,” said DTTL Global CEO Jim Quigley. “Deloitte professionals have pursued that goal by consistently delivering high-quality, world-class client service and demonstrating a strong focus on responsible business practices. Their commitment and dedication to living our values-based culture have transformed Deloitte into the world’s number one private professional services organization. This is a defining moment in our history.”

In other words, “Shucks, guys. We weren’t trying to be numero uno, it just kinda worked out that way. But DAMN, does it feel good or what?”

And this momentous occasion wouldn’t be complete with a little twist of the knife. Apparently Deloitte got so close that they ended up just wanting it more than the rest of the firms out there:

Over the years, Deloitte has consistently closed the gap and widened the lead among its major competitors. In fact, over the last five years, Deloitte was the fastest-growing private professional services organization based on total revenue among the Big Four. During the period from 2005-2009, Deloitte outgrew its peers by 2.7 to 3.3 percentage points annually. The organization has achieved its leadership position through a combination of organic growth, strategic acquisitions, a focus on quality, and bold investments in priority and emerging markets.

Of course it helps that the consulting business is still in-house but hey, no need to mention how the sausage is made, amiright? And who knows, PwC could always bounce back in FY2011 or maybe E&Y and KPMG will start courting each other again to create a super-firm. Okay, that last one is a stretch but we’re hoping for some surprises.

Deloitte ascends to become the largest private professional services organization worldwide [Deloitte]

Big 4 Firms Score Perfect on 2011 Corporate Equality Index

Yesterday The Human Rights Campaign Foundation released their Corporate Equality Index for 2011. If you’re not familiar with the survey, it “assesses American workplaces on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.”

We’re happy to report that the Big 4 are perfectly gay friendly which probably surprises no one (or not?). The firms go to great lengths to be inclusive, especially in public eye and a ranking like the HRC’s is a perfect opportunity to call attention to their efforts.

This is the ninth year for the survey and its largest – with 844 companies being rated. Scores are determined based on the following criteria:

Criterion 1a Prohibits Discrimination Baation (15 points)

Criterion 1b Provides Diversity Training Covering Sexual Orientation (5 points)

Criterion 2a Prohibits Discrimination Based on Gender Identity or Expression (15 points)

Criterion 2b Provides Diversity Training Covering Gender Identity OR Has Supportive Gender Transition Guidelines (5 points)

Criterion 2c Offers Transgender-Inclusive Insurance Coverage for at Least One Type of Benefit (5 points)

Criterion 2c+ Offers Transgender-Inclusive Insurance Coverage, Including Surgical Procedures (4 )

Criterion 3a Offers Partner Health Insurance (15 points)

Criterion 3b Offers Partner Dental, Vision, COBRA and Dependent Coverage Benefits (5 points)

Criterion 3c Offers at Least Three Other “Soft” Benefits for Partners (5 points)

Criterion 4 Has Employer-Supported Employee Resource Group OR Firm-Wide Diversity Council (15 points) Would Support ERG if Employees Express Interest (half credit)

Criterion 5 Positively Engages the External LGBT Community (15 points)

Criterion 6 Responsible Citizenship Employers will have 15 points deducted from their score for a large-scale official or public anti-LGBT blemish on their recent records (-15 points)

Big 4 spin-off Accenture also scored a perfect 100 while Capgemini scored a 60, receiving no points for any of the #2 criteria or criterion 5. We took a quick glance through and didn’t notice any more accounting firms, although McGladrey parent H&R Block is on the list, scoring at 65, missing on criteria 2a, 2c and 5.

This seems like a pretty easy diversity win for most firms. Prohibiting discrimination is a piece of cake (enforcing it is another discussion) while providing training and benefits is simply good business. Likewise, if a company has an “employer-supported resource group” or “diversity council,” engaging the LGBT community should be a natural progression.

Where firms may get tripped up is the “Responsible Citizenship Employers” criterion. “[A] large-scale official or public anti-LGBT blemish” consists of the following:

Scores on this criterion are based on information that has come to HRC’s attention related to topics including but not limited to: undue influence by a significant shareholder calculated to undermine a business’s employment policies or practices related to its LGBT employees; directing corporate charitable contributions to organizations whose primary mission includes advocacy against LGBT equality; opposing shareholder resolutions reasonably aimed at encouraging the adoption of inclusive workplace policies; revoking inclusive LGBT policies or practices; or engaging in proven practices that are contrary to the business’s written LGBT employment policies.

While it isn’t likely that any firm would fall victim to this, law firm Foley & Lardner was dinged for representing clients that opposed gay marriage even though they provided many services to many LGBT causes.

As much as we don’t like it, bigoted, well-funded nonprofits need professional services and they pay accounting firms lots of money to provide them with services. As of now, the HRC doesn’t seem to be holding that against professional services firms but this is a divisive issue, not matter how you slice it. And until total equality is achieved, the HRC will likely keep a close eye on companies that assist groups it opposes.

Workplace Equality Takes Center Stage with Record Number of Companies Rated in HRC’s 2011 Corporate Equality Index [HRC]

Indecisive Econ/Accounting Major Needs Help Plotting the Next Move

Ed. note: I’ve been called to an emergency meeting in an undisclosed location, so here’s a guest post from your friendly human resources professional, DWB.

Caleb interrupted my weekly Wednesday tradition with the following reader submitted question:

I am an undergraduate at a pretty big school and recently decided I want a job when I graduate so I switched my major from History to Economics with the intent on minoring in Accounting (it is too late for me to officially major in Business Economics but I plan on taking all the relevant classes anyway).

I am entering my junior year this fall but right now, my accounting academic career puts me with about a freshman level of re my belt.

Normally, next summer would be the internship phase of a student’s life but I’m wondering if I should put off graduation by a quarter and/or go to grad school so that I might also push off my internship applying to a different summer when I have more than GC-provided gossip to offer a firm.

If I do this, are there Big 4 or mid-tier firms who would look at me for summer leadership programs (and other sophomore-oriented recruiting) or have I missed the boat on that?

I’d appreciate anything you have to say on the matter — snarky or otherwise.

Dear History Buff,

You wanted a job, so you decided to major in Economics. That statement is so conflicting I can’t tell whether it induced my headache or I simply need a third cup of coffee. The reason I say this is because I see my fair share of 3.95 GPA Econ majors from “pretty big” schools every day, and they’re desperate for work. Your accounting minor is a start but like you pointed out, it’s lacking in worthy experience. Your consideration of internships/grad school demonstrates that you’re looking beyond the remaining cup on the beer pong table and thinking about your future. Kudos.

I’m going to assume you’re considering a career in public accounting, because why else would you be on GC in the first place? You’re certainly not here for the chicks (“Chicks, man.”). If I am wrong on this assumption, follow up with me and we’ll discuss.

So, assuming the above, I suggest a few things:

1) Start talking to recruiters: They should be all over campus by this point in the semester. Make it known to them that you are pursuing a Masters in Accounting following your undergraduate degree. Ask questions about leadership programs and internships. Remember, the general timeline for Big 4 programs is leadership program two summers before graduation (for you – summer ’11); internship the summer before graduation (summer ’12).

2) Make it easy for the recruiters: Want to make a recruiter’s day easier and better position yourself in their pool of candidates? List all of your ongoing and anticipated education on your résumé, like this:

“Pretty Big School” – Anywhere, USA
• Masters in Accounting – XYZ School of Business Anticipated Graduation: May 2013

• Will be CPA eligible upon graduation

• Bachelor of Science – ABC School of Economics Anticipated Graduation: May 2012

• Economics major, Accounting minor Overall GPA: X.Y | Major GPA X.Y

Formatting your résumé in this fashion provides the reader with answers to key questions – what is this candidate majoring in; when are they done with their education and ready to work; what is their CPA eligibility.

3) Follow up: Your educational path is not the road heavily traveled by most students with dreams of Big 4. Keep yourself in the conversation with recruiters by occasionally updating them through your process. Tell them when your GPA improves after a strong semester, when you get into grad school, etc. Don’t expect a response right away but rest easy knowing that they’re updating their records. Sharing this information can be done formally over email or informally during a conversation with a recruiter while they’re on campus.

4) Talk to Career Services: Be sure you’re taking the right classes to become CPA eligible in the state where you want to be licensed. Nothing worse than taking a counselor’s word on Ballroom Dance 201 counting toward the 150 credit requirement.

Go forth…and one more piece of advice if you’re following college football: Stanford over Oregon this weekend. Do it.

Big 4 Still Dominate Vault’s Prestige Rankings

This morning we’ll take a break from Vault’s Accounting 50, and bestow their prestige list upon you since style trumps substance in just about every facet of society these days.

So enough chit-chat, here are the top ten firms whose shit stinks the least (prior year ranking in parenthesis):

1 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP New York, NY (1)
2 Ernst & Young LLP New York, NY (2)
3 Deloitte (Accounting Practice) LLP New York, NY (3)
4 KPMG LLP New York, NY (4)
5 Grant Thornton LLP Chicago, IL (5)
6 BDO USA LLP Chicago, IL (9)
7 McGladrey & Pullen LLP/RSM McGladrey Inc. BloomingtonAdams LLP Seattle, WA (6)
9 Plante & Moran, PLLC Southfield, MI (8)
10 J.H. Cohn LLP (Accounting Practice) New York, NY (11)

You’ll note the “NR” behind PwC, E&Y and KPMG. It appears the reason for this comes from last year’s prestige list that shows only the “consulting practice.” We’re awaiting the clarification from our friends at Vault and we’ll update you just as soon as we know the story. Just a glitch, sayeth Vault. We’ve updated above.

But if you make the assumption that the consulting practices were the accounting firms, As you can see, the top five firms are exactly the same. You probably also noticed that the top ten in the prestige list is vastly different from the top ten in Vault Accounting 50. With the exception of Deloitte and PwC, none of the firms in the prestige top ten appear in the Accounting 50. So if you’re a prestige whore and work/life/culture is meaningless, the Big 4 and the rest of the usual suspects will be your taskmasters of choice.

As for the rest:

11 Eisner LLP New York, NY (10)
12 Clifton Gunderson LLP Milwaukee, WI (19)
13 Crowe Horwath LLP Oak Brook, IL (12)
14 Rothstein Kass Roseland, NJ (16)
15 BKD, LLP Springfield, MO (20)
16 Reznick Group, P.C. Bethesda, MD (22)
17 Weiser LLP New York, NY (18)
18 Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP Chicago, IL (17)
19 Cherry, Bekaert & Holland LLP Richmond, VA (15)
20 Amper Politziner & Mattia, LLP Edison, NJ (13)
21 Dixon Hughes PLLC High Point, NC (25)
22 LarsonAllen LLP Minneapolis, MN (14)
23 CBIZ & Mayer Hoffman McCann P.C. Cleveland, OH (26)
24 Anchin, Block & Anchin LLP New York, NY (21)
25 Novogradac & Company LLP San Francisco, CA (29)
26 UHY Advisors, Inc. Chicago, IL (31)
27 Marcum LLP Melville, NY (30)
28 Wipfli LLP Milwaukee, WI (44)
29 ParenteBeard LLC Philadelphia, PA (24)
30 Beers + Cutler PLLC Vienna, VA (23)
31 Friedman LLP New york, NY (58)
32 Elliott Davis, LLC Greenville, SC (28)
33 Marks Paneth & Shron LLP New York, NY (35)
34 Berdon LLP New York, NY (36)
35 Citrin Cooperman & Company, LLP New York, NY (38)
36 Eide Bailly LLP Fargo, ND (39)
37 WithumSmith+Brown, PC Princeton, NJ (41)
38 Margolin, Winer & Evens LLP Garden City, NY (40)
39 Stonefield Josephson, Inc. Los Angeles, CA (34)
40 Blackman Kallick Chicago, IL (69)
41 Aronson & Company Rockville, MD (59)
42 Schneider Downs & Co., Inc. Pittsburgh, PA (51)
43 Burr Pilger Mayer, Inc. San Francisco, CA (45)
44 Watkins, Meegan, Drury & Company, L.L.C. Bethesda, MD (53)
45 Frank Rimerman & Co. LLP Palo Alto, CA (47)
46 Goodman & Company, LLP Virginia Beach, VA (46)
47 SS&G Financial Services, Inc. Cleveland, OH (NR)
48 Habif, Arogeti & Wynne, LLP Atlanta, GA (37)
49 RubinBrown St. Louis, MO (27)
50 Kaufman, Rossin & Co. Miami, FL (43)

Notables: Top 3 firm Rothstein Kass drops in at 14 here; recently merged Eisner and Amper fall in at 11 and 20 respectively; familiar names like Clifton, Crowe, BKD, Reznick, Weiser, BTVK and CB&H fill in the rest of the top twenty.

Big Moves: Wipfli, Friedman, Blackman Kallick and Aronson & Company all experienced double-digit moves up while Habif, Arogeti & Wynne and RubinBrown dropped the furthest.

Feel free to discuss any of these firms from a prestige standpoint (or lack thereof) and definitely get in touch with us with sterling examples which may or may not include partners who have the tendency to get into fisticuffs. It doesn’t appear to affect a firm’s ranking all that much.

Accounting Firms Rankings 2011: Prestige [Vault]
The 50 Most Prestigious Accounting Firms [Vault]

Aspiring Big 4 Intern Needs Questions to Impress Pants Off Interviewers

We’ll kick things off a little early today as a young inquisitor has to prep for a big interview today.

Have a question about your career? Wondering if you should go back to your old firm after they dropped you like a sack of spuds? Concerned that the hours you’re working may cause you to blackmail your lover? Stop! Email us at [email protected] before you do anything so we can put your problem before the masses prior to you doing something stupid.

Back to our interviewing intern:

What would you say could be a stomping question for these Big 4 kids? Got the internship interview Monday! I think I need/want one of those.

We had no idea what “stomping” meant, so we asked for a clarification:

I’m looking for a thought provoking question regarding the industry or the big 4 in particular. I would like an astute question to ask.

Okay, then. You want to smart, up-to-speed on the world around you, without coming off insincere or patronizing. We can help.

Despite your curiosity, you must avoid questions about money, hours you’ll be working, drug tests, hooking up with superiors and so on and so forth at all costs. We realize the temptation to inquire about the frequency of happy hours and what the hottie ratio is but please refrain from broaching these subjects.

Now, then. It’s extremely important that you ask questions that are specific to the firm with whom you’re interviewing. There are tons of thought-provoking questions out there but if you really want to grab someone by their pin-striped ass and get them to look impressed, it will help for you to devise a question that is specific to that firm, as well as the local business environment of the office’s city that you’ll be living in.

This could require some research on your part. For example, find out if there are some local charities that the firm partners with regularly and inquire about what activities employees participate in (this is where the sincerity helps) and if there are any events scheduled during your internship. This will demonstrate your desire to participate in extra-curricular activities and your interest in giving back to the community.

Another example is to be familiar with some of the major players in the business environment in your city. If you brush up on the local business news and ask a relevant question to a recent event, your interviewers will recognize that you’re cognizant of the business environment and that you’re interested to see what the angle is from the firm’s perspective.

And posing the question to the appropriate person is important. Asking the second-year associate that’s greeting you at the interview about the potential in the venture capital space probably isn’t be as effective as asking a manager or partner the same question. Also, be careful with wonky technical questions. Sure, it may help you look smart but it could also backfire if the question comes off manufactured and awkward.

Bottom line – your questions need to be sincere and detailed. It will show your interviewer that you’re genuinely interested in their firm (and not thinking about the next firm you’re meeting) and also that you took the time to prepare. Oh, and smile for crissakes. It will make your question sound far more pleasant.

Deloitte Isn’t Buying This Big 4 Oligopoly Nonsense

Over the last 20 years or so, for one reason or another, accounting firms that were able to provide audit services to largest companies on Earth have been whittled down from 8 to 6 to 5 to 4. During this time, it became the concern of many (read: anyone not in the “Big” club) that the firms were too concentrated and audit quality was deteriorating due to the lack of competition.

Naturally, the firms at the top have dismissed this argument as bupkis. And because the public accounting industry is one that elected representatives and their constituents could give a rat crap about, the cries of the less fortunate firms have gone unheard.

Until recently that is. A report this summer that revealed the existence of “Big Four clauses” in credit agreements in the UK and that allowed the Grant Thorntons and BDOs of the world to have their “A-HA!” moment.

Deloitte, however, is not impressed with revelation and would like everyone to know that the audit biz is regular dog fight:

The audit market is “fiercely competitive and transparent” according to Big Four firm Deloitte, which sees no reason to open the top-heavy industry to greater competition.

Deloitte believes audit quality is “higher than ever” and said it has seen “no evidence of anti-competitive behaviour”, according to its submission to the upcoming House of Lords inquiry into audit competition.

“Our experience is that the listed-company audit market is one of the most competitive,” the firm said.

“The firm” presumably said this with a straight face.

Audit market is “fiercely competitive” Deloitte argue [Accountancy Age]

Can My Firm Force Me to Change Brokers Even Though There Are No Independence Conflicts?

Today in accountant anxiety, a new Big 4 audit manager is perplexed as to why the firm is requiring the movement of their brokerage accounts, which on the surface, don’t result in any independence conflicts.

Have a question about your career? Is your favorite gridiron powerhouse affecting your work? Concerned that you may be allergic to your job? Shoot us an email at [email protected] and we’ll help alleviate your problems.

Back to our muddled manager:

I’m a new audit manager at a Big 4 firm. As a new manager, my firm is requiring me to move all of my brokerage accounts (even those for which I’m the trustee but have no beneficial interest in) to a firm approved by the company and which participates in their daily transaction import program so they can keep daily track of all of my holdings. How is this legal? I’m not allowed to do business with a brokerage firm of my choice, even when there are no independence conflicts? Doesn’t this violate some law or something!?!?! Advice please!

Frankly, we’re a little surprised that you’re surprised about your firm’s requests in this matter. After all, you’re a manager. In the audit practice. We realize it’s been awhile since you’ve cracked an audit textbook but we’re curious if you’re delegating your annual independence refresher to a lowly staff because you can’t be bothered with it.

As you may recall, audit firms have to be independent in fact and appearance. Your brokerage accounts – both your personal and the accounts that you serve as a trustee – are a huge risk to your firm’s ability to maintain that independence. Your personal accounts are a no brainer – a firm simply cannot have anyone with assets with a broker that your firm has some sort of professional relationship with that could be perceived as conflict of interest.

As far as the accounts that you serve as the trustee for – Wiktionary defines trustee as follows:

A person to whom property is legally committed in trust, to be applied either for the benefit of specified individuals, or for public uses; one who is intrusted with property for the benefit of another; also, a person in whose hands the effects of another are attached in a trustee process.

So in other words, you are legally obligated to invest on behalf of the beneficiary in their best interest. This could possibly put you in direct conflict to act in a manner that would risk the independence of your firm.

And as everyone knows, an audit firm’s reputation as an independent third party that provides an objective opinion is paramount to the industry. Whether they are truly independent is a matter that Francine McKenna would be happy to take up with you on any day of the week but all the firms have a platoon of attorneys and other professionals that monitor the risk of independence violations for their respective firms constantly.

And as long as you’re an employee of the firm, the firm’s interests will trump yours. We suggest paying closer attention at your next ethics training.

The Big 4 Abbott & Costello Routine

“Do you want 7 to go into 28 a total of 13 times? Sure. Just hire a Big Four auditor, and he’s got a rubber stamp with your name on it.”

~ Gary Weiss thinks auditors are a joke.

FRC Raps Big 4; Pressure to Perform Non-Audit Work Remains High

This story is republished from CFOZone, where you’ll find news, analysis and professional networking tools for finance executives.

The Financial Reporting Council of the UK has released the annual results of its inspection of the Big 4 accounting firms. Its verdict? They can do better.

Each of the Big Four – KPMG, PwC, Deloitte and Ernst & Young – were found to have been less than perfect. Each firm had its own specific offenses, but the common thread running through the report was that auditors faced too much internal pressure to do non-audit work, so that the quality and independence of the audits were in danger of slipping.

Ernst & Young was rapped for linking its auditors’ pay and promotion to their non-audit work. Deloitte and PwC were both castigated for sending employees to advise companies both firms were auditing.

The inspector said that audit firms should take more “sufficient professional skepticism in relation to key audit judgments.” In other words, the firms should not take the CFO’s word at face value. In particular, this skepticism should be applied to forecasts, impairment tests, revenue and the confirmation of claimed assets.

The regulators are in a difficult position. There has never been more demand for the services of the Big 4. This week, Deloitte CEO Jim Quigley said that his firm was planning on hiring 80,000 new staff globally over the next five years, taking its total roster to 250,000.

Despite being blamed for going easy on companies and banks before the crisis, companies and regulators have no option but to rely totally on their services.

This stranglehold on business looks set to continue, with more work coming from the non-auditing side. Deloitte also released results this week that showed auditing revenues had slid 1% this year over last year. But its work in the public sector had grown by 38 percent.

How Do I Get into a Big 4 Tax Specialty Group Without a ‘Preferred’ Degree?

Today in “fish my career out of the crapper,” a recent grad has started a masters program hoping to get into a speciality tax practice with a Big 4 firm. However, the reader is concerned that their program won’t be attractive the speciality groups. HELP!!

Have a question about your career? Worried that your porn star spouse might derail your path to partner? Need advice on broaching the subject of the shitty coffee in your office? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll be sure that you get the help you need.

Back to our accountant-to-be in jeopardy:

I graduated from undergrad with a degree in accounting in April of this year and immediately began a masters of accountancy program in the Boston area. I did not have an internship since I chose to study abroad instead. I am fluent in Korean, and am interested in tax issues encountered by expatriates and multinational corporations. I am also interested in valuations for M&A. I have wanted to work in a Big 4 or other large accounting firm in the business advisory or tax divisions. However, looking at the job requirements for the positions in these two divisions, the firms prefer students with degrees in economics, finance, taxation, and even JDs and LLMs. My program, on the other hand, is more of a general accounting program geared towards auditing and preparing students for the CPA exam. So, my question is, “how can I get a job in tax or advisory–preferably dealing with tax issues–without experience or a ‘preferred’ degree?” The simple answer would be to just apply and point out the interests that I have, but would this accomplish anything more than alienating myself from potential employers and positions in assurance that could get me in the door and eventually onto the career path that I desire?

While your advanced degree will help your chances with the Big 4, we are wondering why you didn’t go with a program that would have allowed you to pursue a tax concentration, since that is your primary interest.

But never mind that, the issue at hand is how you get into these specialty groups without experience or a preferred degree. The answer is: it will be tough. You do have the advantage of being bilingual which will be extremely attractive, especially for any international speciality groups. If you can land a tax position, leverage this strength and communicate your interest in areas of expats and multinational issues. If you’re feeling really ambitious and learning a new language is easy for you, consider picking up a little Mandarin or Japanese to give you an even bigger advantage over your peers.

That may sound crazy but it will make you stand out from other people competing for these sexier jobs in specialty tax and advisory and like you said, if you just have a plain-Jane Masters and not the ideal background, you’ll need to make yourself stand out somehow. These groups are small and they don’t take on many new hires and yes, they do prefer people with the degrees you mentioned.

You also ask, “would this accomplish anything more than alienating myself from potential employers and positions in assurance that could get me in the door[?]” Again, if you’re interested in tax, why are you thinking about interviewing for audit positions? It will make your path to the speciality groups longer and even more difficult. Only pursue this if it’s the last resort.

Get into the tax practice if you can and go from there; your interest in international groups will seem less self-serving. You’ll probably have to do some time in compliance but that will serve as a good foundation for your career goals.

A Big 4 Identity Crisis?

“The Big 4 don’t even like being called AUDITORS. Rather they provide ‘ASSURANCE Services,’ and act as ‘TRUSTED ADVISORS.’ This isn’t just rhetorical. It’s a cynical PR move and an effort to limit their liability.”

~ Francine McKenna, who will be on a panel with Lehman Brothers Bankruptcy Examiner Anton Valukas, NYT Chief Financial Correspondent Floyd Norris and others, discussing the financial crisis.

Big 4 Land on Vault Consulting Firm Rankings by Practice Area

For those of you that love all-things-lists, Vault unleashed a few more rankings yesterday for the consulting folks, breaking it down to practice area. We’ll dispel with the pleasantries and get right to where the Big 4 (and their spin-offs) crash-landed on various lists.

9. Deloitte

4. Accenture
6. Deloitte

2. Ernst & Young
3. Deloitte
4. PwC
10. Accenture

Human Resources
5. Deloitte
10. Accenture

3. Accenture
4. Deloitte
10. KPMG and PwC (tie)

Pharmaceutical and Health Care
6. Deloitte

Business Advisory
5. Deloitte
6. Accenture
7. PwC
8. Ernst & Young

Oh, and because you’re wondering, McKinsey & Co. finished #1 in all but three of the practice areas. Carry on.

Big 4 Have Big Presence on Vault’s Prestige List, Less So in Top 50

Are Big 4 Audits in Russia Worthless?

Maybe not in so many words but this whole PricewaterhouseCoopers/Yukos situation has got some people wondering. The FT and the Wall St. Journal both published articles yesterday about the Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev trial that is close (?) to wrapping up after 18 months. The two men are accused of embezzling mega bucks from Yukos, the Russian oil company.

Khodorkovsky and Lebedev’s lawyers are now claiming that PwC “acted improperly” by withdrawing ten years worth of audits under pressure from the Kremlin. Pressure, the lawyers say, in the form of “a prriminal investigations and a slew of court cases threatened to undermine its ability to operate in the fast-growing Russian market.” Basically, they threatened to throw PwC out of Russia. And it’s pretty difficult to grow your BRIC business without the “R” so PwC pulled the audits.

The firm claims that they up and changed their minds after the prosecutors showed them some evidence that led them to believe that they had been lied to by Yukos management.

Douglas Miller was the lead partner on Yukos – and who is also reportedly under investigation by the California Board of Accountancy – claims that the accusations are is more or less bullshit and that he stands by his decision to pull the audits.

However, Miller also said in his interrogation by prosecutors that “I believe these issues are being examined not so much by the
company’s Russian office managers, but by executives at PriceWaterhouseCoopers’ global, world level.” The Journal reported, “a PWC official said the decision to withdraw the audit opinions was made by Mr. Miller and others in PWC’s Russia office.” Miller is obviously speculating about what the BSDs at PwC Global were discussing over their muffins but obviously this is a problem.

As is pointed out in the FT, this doesn’t really bode well for audit firms – hell for anyone – trying to do business in Russia:

Regardless of where the truth lies, what is emerging is a situation where global audit firms operating in Russia may all be vulnerable to the double jeopardy of auditing the books of notoriously opaque companies, while being regulated by a government able to launch arbitrary attacks. This lose-lose situation could call into question the value of audits that have been hotly sought as a western seal of approval ever since Russian companies began to access international financial markets.


[I]t underlines how all who operate in Russian finance – from global audit firms to oligarchs to pension fund investors – may still be vulnerable as the legacy of the chaotic era of Boris Yeltsin and the ensuing Putin clampdown lingers on.

In other words, audits seem to have even less value in Russia than they do in the United States. And here in the U.S. more or less everyone agrees that, at best, auditors are of limited usefulness and at worst, they should be stacked alongside the Charmin™.

But as we said before, PwC (or any other firm that wants to take advantage of Russia’s expanding economy) has billions of reasons to buckle to any pressure put on them by the Russkis. And nobody blames them – not even people close to the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev defense team quoted in the FT saying, “We don’t hold anything against them: they had a gun to their heads.”

Wall Street Journal and Financial Times Expose Serious Allegations of PwC Wrongdoing in Auditor’s Reversal on Yukos [Khodorkovsky & Lebedev Communications Center]
Oil Tycoon Says PWC Caved to Pressure [WSJ]
Russia: Chain retraction [FT]
More on PwC and Yukos:
Never Say Nyet – PwC and Moscow Update [Re: The Auditors]

Deciphering Big 4 Goal Setting

Mind you, this particular version is for PwC but names are likely interchangeable.

My Career Goals

Supplement the list with your own goals (and their real meanings) in the comments.

Do The Big 4 Use Intermediate Accounting as a ‘Weed-Out’ Course?

Back from the meat sweat-infused Labor(less?) Day Weekend with the latest edition of “help me get my career out of the crapper,” a young accounting student is concerned that their “C” in Intermediate Accounting will derail their Big 4 dreams of fame and fortune.

Have a question about your career? Need advice on how to handle the client contact who just happens to be a complete lunatic? Undecided on whether or not you should eat the frozen pizza that isn’t yours when you’re working at 1 am? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll get you back on the crooked and wide.

Back to our latest gradeobsessed recruit:

I’m currently a Senior at ASU, graduating in May 2011 and plan on enrolling in the MTAX program at ASU that Fall. I currently have a 3.52 G.P.A., but ended up with a C in Intermediate Financial Accounting (For the record, I took an accelerated 5-week course and was also working full-time). I have heard that many firms (mostly Big 4) use this course as a “weed out” of candidates. I have maintained all A’s in my other accounting courses but am worried that this C will turn off recruiters. If I plan on going into Tax, will this pose a problem? Any recommendations to counter potential problems?

Here’s the deal with grades people – they shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. There are tons of fine candidates out there who weren’t as naturally talented in the academic sense of double-entry accounting but have a lot more intangibles to offer.

Unfortunately, the current reality is that most Big 4 partners and those in recruiting are of the mindset that looking at a candidate’s grades is most efficient way to identify the best candidates. Is that bullshit? In the editor’s opinion, yes. Do you have to deal with it, anyway? Yes. Is impossible to have a low-ish GPA (between 3.0 – 3.5) and still land a gig with Big 4? No, but be prepared to sell hard why your lower GPA isn’t an issue.

In this case, while the “C” in Intermediate Accounting may rise an eyebrow or a brief mention from someone on the recruiting team, it is not the ‘weed out’ course that you are picturing in your head. Your 3.52 GPA is good enough that the Big 4 will give you a serious look and if you received “A” grades in your other classes, the “C” will look like an outlier that a partner may ask you about briefly, “What happened there?” in an attempt to be funny. You’ll give him/her the story and that will likely be the end of it.

Plus, since it sounds like you’re most interested in joining a Tax Practice, this shouldn’t be an issue at all. They’ll look at your Grad School grades and the classes you took in the program to decide where you’ll best fit into their practice. They likely won’t give your “C” in Intermediate a second look.

PCAOB Puts Congress On Notice; Requests Public Enforcement Proceedings

Despite the setback that was the creation of the PCAOB, the Big 4 have to be pret-tay, pret-tay, pret-tay pleased with the privacy they get when it comes to the Board’s disciplinary actions.

Perpetually-acting chair Dan Goelzer wrote a letter to the Senate Banking and House Financial Services Committees saying that by keeping the proceedings mysterio and out of the public eye. The current arrangement “gives firms and auditors an incentive to drag out litigation, sometimes for years,” and that simply won’t do.

Despite the general public’s disinterest in all things accounting (until the shit hits the fan, of course), the Board is still trying to find its place as the relatively new kid on the bureaucratic block. This request seems to be an attempt at fitting in:

The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board’s proposal would repeal a requirement that its disciplinary actions remain secret, according to a copy of the document reviewed by Dow Jones.

The public now is denied access to information about accountants that have been sanctioned or charged by the PCAOB, acting Chairman Daniel Goelzer said in an Aug. 24 letter to several members of the Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee.

Since the federal government has been all about transparency lately, it would be surprising for Congress to take the Board up on the offer. The problem is, it won’t really do much to speed anything along and transparency will remain an issue. If you remember, last month the SEC issued its final rule on the PCAOB appeals process that goes into effect next week.

That rule will: allow firms to dispute findings during the inspection process; prohibit the PCAOB from making those disputed findings public until the SEC investigation is completed and the SEC still has the option to make findings permanently private, if it so chooses.

So even if Congress is convinced that the PCAOB’s plan to make the proceedings public is utter genius , accounting firms will still be able to drag things along (and keep things secret) as they see fit.

Accounting Board Seeks Public Enforcement [WSJ]

Five More Facebook Fan Pages For Accountants

Our friends at FINS recently posted some must-fan Facebook pages specifically for accountants and though we agree with their suggestions, we thought it would be prudent to add a few of our own.

Before we get to those, though, let’s talk about the five FINS listed.

1. The Big 4 (all of them, if you’re really really excited to land that dream public accounting gig you’ve always dreamed of… hooRAH!)
3. Journal of Accountancy
4. CPA Technology Advisor
5. Local CPA Societies

These are all great suggestions but let’s be real about it, a good number of us use our Facebook pages for so much more than professional networking. So how about some real-world suggestions for the accounting folk out there?

1. Vodka. I don’t care if you prefer martinis or homebrew, by fanning vodka you are reiterating your commitment to professionalism in all you do as per the AICPA Code of Professional Conduct. Trust us, it’s a lot easier to be ethical and bring in clients when you’ve been on a weekend-long bender and simply don’t care anymore.

2. Accountants do it with double-entry. There’s no need to perpetuate stereotypes of the boring accountant, go ahead and shock your conservative pals by fanning this group to show that you DO, in fact, have a sense of humor and even choose to exercise it every now and then.

3. Accountants are sexy. Well? They are, dammit, especially if you followed our advice and got into the vodka. A couple of those and that mousy chick in the cube next door will be EXTRA sexy.

4. Stuff Accountants Like. Even though SAL has taken a possibly permanent vacay from blogging, reading through past entries is still entertaining if you haven’t read them before. Great for when you’re taking a break between vodka and reconciliation.

5. Going Concern. Listen, FINS, we aren’t offended that you accidentally left us off your list. But don’t expect us to share any of our vodka with you.

My GPA Sucks! Is My Accounting Career Over?

Today in “My life is falling apart and I’m an accountant” we have another poor sap that is plagued by a low GPA. Are they doomed for mediocrity? We’ll get to that, right after…

Are you wondering what your next career move is? Are you an auditor trying to put the moves on someone in tax and have no idea what to say? Wondering whether you should put the kibosh on your vegan lifestyle at your next partner lunch/dinner since you think it’ll make you look like a complete weirdo? Email us your inquiry to [email protected] and we’ll put you at ease.

Back to our slacker du jour:

My undergrad GPA was a 2.99 cumulative and that’s been a killer in my application and job process. I’m currently with a very small CPA firm. Is there a point on continuing even if I pass my CPA? It seems no one really cares about any accounting experience for public unless it’s big 4 or mid-tier. My 2.99 has been a killer since the majority of firms are looking for a 3.00+. I’m looking at options at grad school, but I’m not sure if it would help if I wanted to go Big 4 still. I also believe I should pass my CPA first if I’m looking to go for a one year MBT or MACC (Masters of Accounting) program, but honestly I don’t know that I would get in considering my GPA unless I got stellar GMAT scores.

First of all, we’re not quite sure why you’re looking for a job when you already have a job. Do you intensely dislike this “very small CPA firm”? Our guess is yes since you’re writing us but take a serious look at your current situation and consider the experience that you are getting at your current firm. It may not be exactly what you’re looking for but the work experience you obtain will be valuable.

That being said, you then moving on to “Is there a point on continuing even if I pass my CPA?” Do we need to call the suicide hotline for you? Get your CPA. That will go a long ways to bolstering your career prospects, 2.99 GPA or not.

We definitely take exception with your “no one really cares about any accounting experience for public unless it’s big 4 or mid-tier.” There are plenty of Big 4 whores around these parts that might say that but don’t forget that small firms differ from the Big 4/second tier in some positive ways, so don’t dismiss the opportunity you have right now.

As far as Grad School goes, wait until you’ve got some work experience and CPA. Do you really want to rush right back to school? If you get some good work experience and you have some decent professional accomplishments, the graduate schools will take that into account. Yes, killing your GMAT will help your chances but you’re not doomed, friend; you’ve just got an uphill climb.

Big 4 Have Big Presence on Vault’s Prestige List, Less So in Top 50

On with the second dose of rankings today, this time courtesy of Vault with the Vault Consulting 50 and The Best Consulting Firms: Prestige.

The Top 50 came out last week and it is new to the stable of Vault rankings. Here’s the top twenty-five firms (26-50 is here) of the inaugural breakdown:

1 Bain & Company
2 The Boston Consulting Group, Inc.
3 McKinsey & Company
4 Analysis Group, Inc.
5 The Cambridge Group
6 Deloitte Consulting LLP
7 Oliver Wyman
8 A.T. Kearney
9 Triage Consulting Group
10 Censeo Consulting Group
11 West Monroe Partners
12 Cornerstone Research
13 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (Consulting Practice)
14 Alvarez & Marsal
15 Trinity Partners, LLC
16 Booz & Company
17 Milliman, Inc
18 Strategic Decisions Group
20 Gallup Consulting
21 Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Inc.
22 Health Advances, LLC
23 Strategos
24 The Brattle Group
25 Monitor Group

Similar to Consulting Mag’s ranking, Deloitte and PwC (along with recently purchased Diamond) rank the highest of the Big 4 with derivatives Accenture and Capgemini landing at 32 and 45. Problem child Huron Consulting came in at 48. KPMG and Ernst & Young are MIA.

The methodology for the Top 50 breaks down this way: 25 percent firm culture; 25 percent work/life balance; 20 percent compensation; 20 percent prestige; 5 percent overall business outlook; 5 percent transparency. Practicing consultants were asked to rate what was most important to them at their firm. As you can see, while prestige still carries some weight, culture and work/life trump in this list.

Speaking of the prestige factor, a little jockeying amongst Mercer, Monitor and PwC but otherwise the top ten was unchanged from last year.

1 McKinsey & Company
2 The Boston Consulting Group, Inc.
3 Bain & Company
4 Booz & Company
5 Deloitte Consulting LLP
6 Mercer LLC
7 Monitor Group
8 PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (Consulting Practice)
9 Ernst & Young LLP (Consulting Practice)
10 Oliver Wyman
11 A.T. Kearney
12 Accenture
13 KPMG LLP (Consulting Practice)
14 IBM Global Business Services
15 L.E.K. Consulting
16 The Parthenon Group
17 Towers Watson
18 AlixPartners, LLP
19 Navigant Consulting, Inc.
20 Alvarez & Marsal
21 ZS Associates
22 Capgemini
23 FTI Consulting, Inc.
24 NERA Economic Consulting
25 Hewitt Associates

In the prestige list you’ll find the Big 4 much more prominent which may be due to the methodology that practicing consultants at these very firms are surveyed to rank the firms on a range from 1 to 10. They cannot, however, rank their own firm.

In 26-50 range you’ll find more familiar names including Huron at #27 (dropped from 25); Grant Thornton at #28; Diamond Management at #31; BDO Consulting at #49.

So based on these, the Big 4, GT, BDO seem to be doing well from a prestige standpoint but lag a little in others, namely culture and work/life balance. Sound about right? Discuss.

Consulting Firm Rankings 2011: Vault Consulting 50 [Vault]
Consulting Firm Rankings 2011: The Best Consulting Firms: Prestige [Vault]

Consulting Magazine Throws a Few Bones to the Big 4 with Latest “Best” Rankings

The Big 4 managed to squeeze onto a a couple different recent lists for their consulting efforts including Consulting Magazine’s 2010 Best Firms to Work For and Vault’s 2011 Consulting 50.

We’ll roll out the particulars of Consulting Mag’s lists first and give you Vault’s results later today.

Consulting Mag has several different lists but we’ll stick to the most relevant for the Big 4 . We’ll start off with the overall ranking:

1. Bain & Company
2. The Boston Consulting Group
3. North Highland
4. Point B
5. McKinsey & Company
6. Deloitte Consulting
7. Booz Allen Hamilton
8. PricewaterhouseCoopers
9. Accenture
10. Slalom Consulting
11. Milliman
12. Booz & Company
13. A.T. Kearney
14. Capco
15. PRTM

So the Big 4 really makes two appearances here with Deloitte and PwC. You could throw Accenture in there for old time’s sake. Back when we covered Barry Salzberg’s little merger chat in the Journal, two names that were thrown at him were Booz and A.T. Kearney. While this list is certainly no indication, you’ll see that based on the rankings, Deloitte ranks above both those firms despite commenters suggestion that Booz and A.T. are superior brands.

The list dominated by the Big 4 was the Business Advisory Services:

1. PricewaterhouseCoopers
2. Alvarez & Marsal
3. Ernst & Young
5. FTI

You don’t see Deloitte and Accenture on this list since they fall on the “Multi-Service” list at #1 and #2 respectively and Capgemini (purchased E&Y Consulting in 2000) is numero uno on the Information Technology list.

Deloitte Consulting and PwC get dropped on a few more lists that include: Career Development, Work/Life Balance and Culture while KPMG and E&Y are nowhere to be found. A list of “Best Places to Start a Career” listed Deloitte at #3 and KPMG at #6 with PwC and E&Y MIA.

Naturally there is room for bellyaching and there are vaguely familiar frustrations in the feedback portion:

You have to manage your career with little help from management. Here’s the rope, climb the mountain or hang yourself…

Work/Life Balance
The concept of a work life balance is talked about, but only as an afterthought.

Compensation/Benefits Satisfaction
Your work will double, but salary may not.

Those aren’t specific to any one firm but something tells us you could find someone in any of the Big 4 consulting/advisory groups griping about these issues. OH! And as far as scoring for morale goes, the Big 4 are shutout of the top ten.

So a bit of a mixed bag on this particular list but you’ll likely see a rash of press releases in the coming days and weeks along with emails and whatnot from your leadership.

So feel free to debunk the latest seemingly arbitrary rankings. We certainly expect the consulting purists of the bunch to be disgusted with the Big 4 sullying these particular grounds.

The Best Firms to Work For, 2010 [Consulting Magazine]
PricewaterhouseCoopers Named Among the Top 10 Best Firms to Work For by Consulting Magazine [PR Newswire]

When Should a Big 4 Auditor Mention That They Are More Interested in Tax?

Today in “Help me if you can” a soon-to-be Big 4 auditor wants to know when to broach the subject of…not wanting to be a Big 4 auditor. Rather, the young grasshopper would prefer to switch to tax, pronto.

Have a question about your career, how best to decorate your cubicle or how you can show your face again after your latest embarrassment at the most recent happy hour? Email us at [email protected] and we’ll put you on the path to success or marginal respectability.

As for today:

I am starting in the audit department of a a Big 4 firm in a major market next month. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity, however I’m not too interested in audit. If I want to switch over to tax, how do I go about doing that without giving a poor impression of me? Is this a common enough request that it shouldn’t be a problem? Is it better to bring it up sooner rather than later? Do I bring it up with my recruiter before I start? I’m concerned that if I wait too long to bring this up I’ll end up wasting a year (and a promotion) before being able to switch to tax.

First of all, congrats on not opening your mouth during the recruiting process. Interviewing for an audit position but admitting that you’re really interested in tax would have been akin to handing your interviewer a 3×5 with “DON’T HIRE ME” written in your own blood. Braddock’s response to this question was, “Then why are you here for audit? Why didn’t you apply for tax?” which is valid. So if you don’t want to give a bad impression of yourself, don’t bother discussing it with the recruiter. You’re already hired, there’s no sense admitting that you pulled a fast one on them.

In a previous post, we discussed how difficult it can be to get into a Big 4 tax practice. In your case, since you’re already inside a Big 4 firm and claim to being in a “major market” the path will be a little bit easier. That being said, we’re wondering why you’re in such as rush.

The best thing you can do is hang out in audit for awhile, meet some people and see how it goes. You were hired for audit, so you might as well give it a shot and build your network within the practice before changing your career path when it hasn’t even started.

Once you’re working it won’t be long before you’ll be asked to document some of your career goals. When you’re discussing these goals with your performance counselor (or whatever they’re called these days) discuss your interest in tax but try not to make it sound like the audit practice has been the worst experience of your life (even if it has). Since you’re in a larger office, it’s likely your counselor knows someone (or knows someone who knows someone) who has done a rotation or transfer to tax. These people will be able to talk to you about their experiences: the pros, the cons, the whathaveyous. Also, because you are in a larger office, your request isn’t that unusual and the office may even hold an informational session about rotations to other practices.

Your concern about the timing is valid (i.e. waiting too long). If you complete one year in audit and you are still jonesing for tax forms, you can safely express your interest about a rotation to the tax practice If you wait too long, you are correct – you may end up wasting an additional year and possibly a promotion.

So summing up – do some time in audit and get your feet under you; you never know, you may discover that you – gasp – enjoy it. When it comes to discussing your career goals, mention your interest in tax and find other professionals who have been through the process so you have an idea about what it’s like. Good luck.

Accounting News Roundup: IRS Drops Civil Suit Against UBS; PwC’s Diamond Deal; Roni Deutch Is Disappointed in Jerry Brown | 08.27.10

I.R.S. to Drop Suit Against UBS Over Tax Havens [DealBook]
UBS is finally dropping those 4,450 names it owes the IRS and skates past the civil charges.

3PAR Accepts Revised Dell Takeover Bid [WSJ]
“3PAR Inc. on Friday accepted an increased, $1.8 billion takeover offer from Dell Inc., a day after Hewlett-Packard Co. raised its offer in a bidding war for the data-storage company.

Dell’s revised offer matches H-P’s Thursday bid of $27 a share for 3PAR, whose software helps companies manage and store data more efficiently.

The fight over 3PAR illustrates how important it has become for tech companies to dominate the emerging technology known as cloud computing, in which data are managed and accessed over the Internet. Dell and H-P both sell storage products and see 3PAR’s assets as important additions to their portfolios as large technology companies seek to serve all the needs of corporate-technology departments.”

When Litigation Kills the Accounting Profession-Don’t Say You Weren’t Warned! [FEI Blog]
Jim Peterson of Re:Balane guest posted over at FEI Blog where he discussed his speciality – risk surrounding the Big 4.

PricewaterhouseCoopers Trying To Buy Consulting Revenue Again With Diamond Deal [Re:The Auditors]
Francine McKenna discusses PwC’s recently announced purchase of Diamond Management & Technology including whether some of Diamond’s consultants bailed early to avoid becoming a cog in the another public accounting firm, “Did some of the employees bail out before they were signed on as sterile strategists for an ineffective firm struggling under the weight of consulting ‘leadership’ with audit-shaped heads? I know for sure that there were significant groups of BearingPoint consultants that would have rather masticated glass shards than work for a public accounting firm again.”

Official Statement [Roni Deutch: The Tax Lady Blog]
Roni Deutch says Jerry Brown, California’s Attorney General-cum-Democratic nominee for Governor, is playing election year politics. Seems plausible.

Finance Execs React to Herz’s Retirement [CFO]
No one is panicking.

SEC vows more actions over crisis [FT]
The FT is finally getting to the story about the SEC bringing more actions, changing the culture with new teams, yada, yada, yada. Except not everyone is buying it, “[S]everal judges have questioned the SEC’s deals with Citigroup and Bank of America, and some plaintiffs’ lawyers believe the regulator has been too soft.

‘There’s no real difference now to what it was like before Mary Schapiro became chairman,’ said Jacob Zamansky, a lawyer for investors and longtime SEC critic.”

Boeing Postpones Dreamliner Delivery Until 2011 [WSJ]
You’ll have to come up with a different Christmas gift for the boss this year.

A Brief Moment in the Life of a Big 4 Auditor

Well. Any auditor for that matter.

Based on personal experience it’s plausible that the script came from actual conversations.

Can You Get a Big 4 Job If You Didn’t Go to a “Brand Name” College?

Today we hear from a Big 4 dreamer and their frustration with the firms’ penchant for “brand name schools,” and what, if anything, you can do about it.

Have a question about your career? An inter-office love triangle? How to interpret the partner’s passive-aggressiveness attitude? Email us your query to [email protected] and we’ll level with you.

Back to our reader:

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to go onto the Deloitte Job Board and see positions with schools next to them, indicating the spot is only for a graduate of Notre Dame or some other brand name school. I turned down Notre Dame to go to a small liberal arts school in Chicago and now I have no idea how to get into the recruiting cycle for the Big 4 or regional public accounting firms. There were no accounting firms at the job fairs or on-campus interviews held at my school.

I graduated cum laude last December (a semester early and with my 150 credit hours). Desperate not to move back home, I took a private accounting job, but it didn’t work out and for personal reasons I moved up to Wisconsin. Now I am studying for the CPA and searching for a job. My question: how can I get in on this recruiting season? Is there even a way?

Unfortunately, this is just the way it is for public accounting firms. Unless an influential partner has a personal connection to a small school (Alma Mater, children are students there, etc), they are typically overlooked. The factory-like recruiting machines that are public accounting firms look for the same attribute in their target schools; where can they get the most bang (candidates) for their buck. If you think about it, it makes sense:

Recruit at Notre Dame – meet 100 qualified accounting students
Recruit at small liberal arts school – meet 15 qualified accounting students

Of the 1-2 students a firm would hire out of the small school, those numbers can be made up at the larger universities. This saves on expenses (travel, lodging, premiums, etc). Dollars and sense.

All that said, the issue is not that you’re from a small school, it’s that you’re now graduated and part of the workforce. Being a recent gradutate is more difficult; you’re not part of the campus recruiting scope and you’re too green to fit the typical experienced hire mold.

The best thing you can do is reach out to the firms directly. Use your network to find out who the HR contact is in the city where you live or want to live and call or email them. The most crucial thing with recruiters is getting them to know your name and face.

You’re cum laude so they’ll like that and if you are legitimately interested in the firm, they will take an interest in you. It will take some footwork on your part but it can be done.

Will the Big 4 Take a “Late Bloomer” with a Low Undergrad GPA?

Today from the mailbag we have a Big 4 hopeful that – like many of you – enjoyed the splendors of undergrad life to the detriment of their GPA and want to know if this will dash their Big 4 hopes and dreams.

If you’ve got questions about your career, a problem at work (romantic, political or otherwise) or what you should have for lunch, shoot us an email at [email protected]. We will ignore pension accounting questions with extreme prejudice.

Back to our friend:

I just started an MSA program this summer after graduating with a BA in Economics. My cumulative undergrad GPA was 2.78, which is certainly not helping me attain my goal of Big 4 employment. I’ve been told that talking to recruiters now would be certain career death and I’m hoping on using the “late bloomer” story whenever I do begin the recruiting process. I can honestly say my attitude towards academics has improved tremendously over the past year or so. In the two graduate summer classes I’ve taken so far, I’m pulling a 3.85 GPA.

My question is, how long will it take for my improved academic performance to become substantial evidence of my matured academic attitude? Should I hold off on fall recruiting? Go for an internship instead of FT? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

While a 2.78 isn’t the end of the world, you are correct in your thinking that most Big 4 recruiters will turn their nose up at you. That being said, talking to recruiters is not “certain career death.” Quite the opposite, in fact. The more face time you get with these Big 4 types, the more they will remember you. Your “late bloomer” story certainly holds water now but you admit that you’ve only taken two classes. If you can maintain the GPA, then great, you’ll be in good shape. And yes, recruiters will see this is as a positive direction. If you revert to your keg standing ways (some people never get over it) then hopefully your guessing skills on exams have gotten better.

In the meantime, here are a couple of things you can do to hopefully marginalize that 2.78:

List your summer course GPA on your resume – leave the undergrad GPA off, but be honest if and when you’re asked about it.
Major GPA vs. Cumulative GPA – We’re assuming the 2.78 is your overall, or cumulative, GPA. Calculate your major-specific GPA (the classes that differentiate you from another business degree) – if it is above a 3.0, list it on your resume.

The problem with your situation, Late Bloomer, is that you don’t know what the thought process of the Big 4 recruiters, employees and partners that you meet are. Some of them may love you and others will take one look at your undergrad GPA and will respond not with “no” but “hell no.” Typically when a recruiting team is split on a candidate, the hierarchy trumps and if you didn’t impress the pants off that partner, you’ll be out.

Considering all that, you should absolutely attend the fall recruiting events and meet as many different firms and make as many contacts as possible. Also, be realistic with them – it’s okay to admit that you faltered a bit during your undergrad – just know that you’re going to have to prove it to them in the long run that you can keep things on the up and up.

Whether or not you should go for an internship or FT is your call. Will you be graduating in spring or summer of ’11? Then going for full time is probably the best move, regardless of the not-so-stellar undergrad GPA. If your MSA program can be stretched out, go for the internship. Even if you don’t get it, you’ll make plenty of contacts in the Big 4 so that when recruiting comes around for next year, you’ll be a familiar face and the recruiters will get a sense that you’re committed to academics and that you are a solid candidate for their firm.

Is Your Firm Cutting Fringe Benefits?

Last week we touched on the shockingly sensitive subject of charging time while traveling. You see, apparently it was (at one time) a-okay in some KPMG offices (Southeast) while in others, the mere idea of charging time while traveling was utter nonsense.

So that got one reader to thinking – what the hell else is being cut out these days?

Please consider a post related to fringe benefits. I’m curious in knowing whether the larger firms are allowing their employees to keep points for dollars spent on company credit cards. But there are other points programs (i.e., frequent flyer miles) and fringe benefits (i.e., gym memberships, cell phones, etc.) that may be declining on top of all of the poor raises.

Big 4 firms have been quite generous with the fringe benefits (e.g. elderly parent care, subsidizing public transit passes, etc.) and they make a point to remind you of it from the day you interview with the firm to the day you leave. However, since we’re living in unprecedented times, nothing is unheard of.

If your firm has recently gotten stingy on fringe benefits, from the vastly important (401k match) to the less crucial (discounts at Brooks Brothers) discuss or shoot us the details.

Let’s Discuss: Big 4 Merger Rumors

We have the luxury (and giddy pleasure) of receiving more crazy ass emails than the average Tom, Dick or Harriet (see: PwC Houston Partner). Some of the stories turn out to be true, some turn out to be rumors. That’s just the way things go.

One reoccurring rumor that continually keeps us guessing though is that of a mega-merger among a Big 4. Frankly, we take a agnostic approach to these rumors (that’s probably shocking for some of you) but they never fail to pique our curiosity. You can drop us a line with your wild-ass theory about tri-firm merger between KPMG, Moss Adams and Baker Tilly to form MGMT but we can probably debunk it with a couple of emails and phone calls. Plus, the firms will deny ’til they die on any of these rumors anyway.

EisnerAmper is a perfect example.

They played coy with rumors around their merger for about a week and didn’t roll out the BIG NEWS until Monday when they could issue their boilerplate press release on cue (the video was a nice touch, however).

Lots of accounting firms are looking to grow through combinations or purchases in this impotent economy (WeiserMazars, Marcum & UHY, hosts of regional combos) but are the Big 4? Our intuition says no but the rumor mill provides us with whispers of talks occurring between the largest firms.

It’s not completely unheard of for the largest firms, as is evidenced by McGladrey’s purchase of Caturno & Co. that C.E. Andrews was so excited about in his interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s. Also, Barry Salzberg told the Journal that Deloitte is actively looking (granted, it’s for the consulting practice) but these are small potatoes.

No, the stuff we hear about has a Big 4 firm going with a second tier firm to either leapfrog other Big 4 firms or to inch closer to them. The difference between PwC (#1 in global revenues) and KPMG (#4) is around $6 billion. Depending on how aggressive a firm wanted to be in its merging efforts, the gap could be close quickly or a new #1 could be crowned.

But forget about revenues and the auspiciousness of the being the biggest firm for a second. Can a Big 4 firm realistically merge in a second tier or top 10 firm successfully? Never mind the logistics of office location, files, people etc. What about culture? What about service methodologies? The mere thought of matching up those pieces is a mind job for the people that actually have to deal with them. The bigwigs at the top might play off the problems that such a transaction would create for those in the trenches. Make adjustments would take years.

But it’s been done! Coopers & Lybrand and Pricewaterhouse in ’98 being the most recent. KPMG and E&Y tried it in ’97 and failed so it’s unlikely that the idea of another huge merger doesn’t cross people’s minds every once in awhile.

So let’s talk this out. Are these rumors completely unfounded or are is it understood that there are talks ongoing? If they are rumors, where the hell do they come from and what’s the motivation to spread said rumor? People in the know are encouraged to bestow wisdom in the comments and get in touch with us. And if you’re a vet from a merger of any size, share your thoughts on the experience and how your firm handled it.

Big 4 Careers: Can I Get into the Tax Practice?

From the mailbag, we have a young lad who is about to go through his first recruiting season looking to land a Big 4 position. He requested that he got some advice from those of you in the biz and that have been through the process.

If you have questions about your career, recruiting, choosing a firm a problem/challenge at work (wonky technical questions will be ignored) or whathaveyou, send us an email at [email protected]. In the meantime, let’s oblige this young man.

The details:

I need help (advice from professionals) deciding whether I should apply for tax jobs, or audit/assurance jobs. I want to work for one of the Big 4 firms, but I know that may be lofty since I didn’t necessaril path to a career in accounting. Below is a brief narrative so that you may better understand my experience and qualifications

I am a senior at the University of Memphis (Memphis, TN) and will be graduating with a BBA in Accountancy in December 2010. I work full-time during the day to provide for my family and I attend classes at night. I work for a small bank opening new accounts, but accounting is the field I would like to have a career in. I am 24, so not much older than many of my accounting peers, and this is my first degree. I currently have an overall GPA of 3.35 and a major GPA of 3.89. I am the VP of Development for my Beta Alpha Psi chapter, and I have attended BDO’s 2009 Pathway to Success Program. Due to a change of major from Biology to Accountancy several years ago, I will have 156 credit hours when I graduate in December. I have enrolled in a Becker course beginning later this month, and plan to complete three parts of the CPA exam in the final window of 2010 and the fourth in the first window of 2011. Firms are now posting staff positions and internships on the career and employment website at my university. The time has come for me to go through my first recruiting season, and I am experiencing some anxiety.

As I mentioned earlier I am really interested in the tax specialty, but I am most interested in working for a public accounting firm. I have been told by several people in academia that a masters is necessary for tax staff, and about 90% of the entry level tax staff positions are filled with individuals who have had at least one internship. I must delay my advanced degree for a few years since I am out of cash and do not want to incur debt via student loans. I have hopes, though, that having at least some portion of the CPA exam passed will give me a leg up in the battle for staff positions at accounting firms. Also, an internship is not really an option at the current time, unless it is absolutely necessary.

I would like to know if someone with my education and experience would even be considered for a full-time tax staff position at a Big4 firm. Should I apply and hopefully interview for tax staff positions? Should I focus my attention on landing an audit/assurance staff position? Big time public accounting is where I want to be, and I know I have what it takes to make it there.

I hope you can publish my question, and ask for feedback/comments from professionals that work at big 4, regional, and local firms.

Okay, so lots of “interests” to wade through here. Let’s break these down. You say, “I am really interested in the tax specialty, but I am most interested in working for a public accounting firm,” but then you also say that you want to work for a Big 4 firm.

Depending on how you rank the importance of these three goals, that should give you the answer to your dilemma.

Let’s say working at a Big 4 firm is the end all to be all for you. You might have an easier time getting in by taking a job in the audit practice. A market like Memphis won’t be hiring too many tax professionals and it is likely that they will have advanced degrees. If there are tax positions available, by all means apply and interview for them. To answer your question, a Big 4 firm interviewing for tax positions will probably listen to what your interests and career goals are but you might not fit their ideal candidate criteria.

To address a couple other of your issues – having portions of the CPA may help you but is by no means is it a huge advantage. Also, if putting off an internship is what works best for you, then understand that will put you at disadvantage to those that have had them, especially since the Big 4 is making full-time offers primarily to their interns.

However, your GPA, work experience and BAP involvement are all good things so chances are, a Big 4 audit practice will give you a serious look as long as you interview well.

If you land the gig, you could do some time in audit and then explore some rotational opportunities a couple of years down the road, although again, those are probably extremely limited in a small market like Memphis.

On the other hand, if you are truly interested in working in a tax practice, it might easier to go with a regional or local firm to get the work experience you want. Since it sounds like you’re a good candidate, you can be selective about who you ultimately choose and what areas of tax you want to work in. Once you have a few years of experience and you still want to work for a Big 4 firm, it might be easier to get into their tax practice.

For the rest of you out there, dispense with your experiences and advice. Does he have a chance at tax? With Big 4? Should he just give it all up and join the Peace Corps? Help him out.

Accounting News Roundup: Big 4 Firms Looking to Cash in on Climate Change; GM Is Back from the Dead; The End of Fan and Fred? | 08.17.10

Barclays in Sanctions Bust [WSJ]
“Barclays PLC agreed to pay $298 million to settle charges by U.S. and New York prosecutors that the U.K. bank altered financial records for more than a decade to hide hundreds of millions of dollars into the U.S. from Cuba, Libya, Iran and other sanctioned countries.

Monday’s settlement agreement of criminal charges is an embarrassment for Barclays, which became a major player on Wall Street by snapping up the collapsed U.S. operations of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008 and has been trying to burnish the U.K. bank’s reputation on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean as a good corporate citizen.”

Cashing in on cleantech [The Guardian]
“While E&Y claims to be the first to set up a practice specifically for cleantech, in recent years PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, KPMG and E&Y have all launched dedicated practices for sustainability and climate change.

Steven Lang, who leads the cleantech division in the UK and Ireland, recently explained the attraction to Business Green: ‘We’ve seen major amounts of capital flowing into clean energy and clean technology and governments increasingly want to use the sector as a driver for international competitiveness.

‘The drivers are there for this to be a major growth area over the next five years.’ ”

GM IPO filing expected Tuesday [Reuters]
It’s like you never left, GM. “General Motors Co has completed the paperwork for an initial public offering, and timing of its filing with the U.S. securities regulators rests with the board of the top U.S. automaker, sources familiar with the process said on Monday.

The initial prospectus, expected to be for $100 million, is likely to be filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, two people said, asking not to be named because the preparations for the IPO are private.”

IASB details recruitment process for Tweedie replacement [Accountancy Age]
“In a newly created section of the IASB website, the body has outlined the process it has followed since September 2009, as it searches to replace chairman Sir David Tweedie, who steps down in June 2011.

Among the documents is a letter sent to the European Commissioner’s office on 3 December, 2009, from Sir Bryan Nicholson, who has led the IASB’s recruitment process.”

Woman due in court for pie attack on US Sen. Levin [CT]
“A woman accused of hitting U.S. Sen. Carl Levin in the face with an apple pie during the Armed Services Committee chairman’s constituent meeting in northern Michigan is due in court.

Twenty-two-year-old Ahlam M. Mohsen of Coldwater will be arraigned Tuesday. She is being held without bond after being arrested Monday on a felony charge of stalking, and misdemeanor counts of assault and disorderly conduct”


Facebook Partnership Is Proven by $3,000 Check, Lawyer Says [Bloomberg]
“The western New York man suing over claims he owns 84 percent of Facebook Inc. has a copy of a $3,000 cashier’s check his lawyer says is proof of a contract with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg.

The purported 2003 check is made out to Zuckerberg and dated three days before Paul Ceglia claims the two men signed a contract, according to the attorney. That agreement, Ceglia said in court papers, entitles him to control of the world’s biggest social networking website.”

Conference To Debate Future Of Fannie, Freddie [NPR]
Euthanasia seems like a good option here.

Are Your Firm’s Happy Hours Overrated?

AccountingWeb’s UK site discussed a recent survey detailing the mixed emotions surrounding the typical work happy hour:

A new study entitled “Health of the Workplace” undertaken by insurance firm Aviva found that although nearly three out of five managers take staff to the pub for team building purposes, just over half of employees are not so keen on going out with their workmates and one in five actively dislike it.

The research also revealed that only 23% of bosses think that such socials create a positive sense of team spirit anyway, a third find them a bit of a drag and one in 10 feel obliged to attend to keep their staff happy.

We’ve all been there – out with “the team” to a half-assed planned happy hour finagled into that one Wednesday night between interim work and busy season. Or maybe it’s the Thursday-after-working-32-straight-days-up-to-the-filing-deadline party. Whatever the situation, I feel that many of you can relate to the rough statistics above.

I’m not saying that going out with coworkers is a bad idea, because it’s not. Interpersonal relationships with colleagues is an important factor in building trust and camaraderie on an engagement team. But if a bar scene is not the ideal environment for the group, what do you suggest?

The article continues on to say, “With budgets being tight, it might be better to spend the money on initiatives that benefit both employees and the company, for example, by providing `workplace wellness programmes.’” Big 4 firms have these initiatives already, and do you know who attends them? Certainly not the staff employees who are working from the client site!

With enough team planning, smaller engagements could work from the offices during these programs, but what about the larger, more permanent field sites? Why not have the “yoga at your desk” or “financial planning for your first child” programs visit the larger engagement sites? Book a conference room; make these events work free (no shop talk allowed); encourage people to interact with one another on a personal level.

Or we could all just sit at our desk and bitch about the mandatory Wednesday night happy hour.

Starting Salaries for The Big 4 Class of 2010

Per a request from our earlier post on full time offers for interns:

Hey Caleb,
I think it would be interesting to start a post on full time/internship compensation offers that have been rolling in and will continue coming to students for the next few months. Are the firms trying to lower starting compensation?

And a reader considering a mid-tier offer:

I am going into my fifth year this fall at a large university in the Southeast. I recently received an offer from mid-size firm to the tune of $49k, no signing bonus, and no CPA bonus (firm policy). My question is, in this market, is that what students are being offered in public accounting? I would just love to know what my friends at the Big 4 are getting! Because of these numbers, and me not being sure about whether or not I want to work for them, I am tinkering with the idea of going through another recruiting season. Do you think it’s a bad idea to keep this mid-size firm waiting?

So then. For those starting this fall in the Big 4, kindly enlighten the requesters with 1) your starting salary 2) your office 3) practice 4) signing bonus (if applicable) 5) Bonus for CPA (if applicable).

And give your thoughts on the reader’s question – should they keep the mid-tier firm waiting or take what they can get?

Or the commenter – are salaries looking lower from previous years or are the A1s already making A2s jealous?

Experienced Recruiting Amongst The Big 4 Gets Aggressive

As you know the Big 4 are extremely competitive when it comes to picking up talent. Now that the firms have amped up their experienced hiring, things appear to be taking an interesting turn.

Case in point, the following email went out to PwC professionals in the Southeast:

Hello. I work for Ernst & Young’s Assurance Recruiting Team and, through my networking, came across your name. I was wondering if you would be interested in making contact for professional networking purposes.

We are currently seeking managers and senior managers in our Southeastern markets. Your referrals would be greatly appreciated as you know the best people in this industry! We are expanding our Assurance Experienced talent pool and look forward to hiring only the best and brightest talent!

There are twelve more reasons to consider EY as a strong career option!! Ernst & Young was just named to FORTUNE’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list for the 12th year in a row–and ranked highest among the global professional services organizations. The reason? Our people. Together, we’ve created a culture of learning, flexibility, inclusiveness and community responsibility that truly makes a difference.

I have been a finance/accounting recruiter for six years and assure you that not all Big 4 firms are cut from the same cloth……it never hurts to have a dialogue!!!

Thanks in advance for your time and consideration. Have a wonderful summer!

Say what you want about these particular tactics but if there is a need in a particular office or region, it is Big 4 recruiters’ job to go out and find the talent to fill that demand. Other Big 4 firms seem like a pretty good place to start since they have the “talent” that the firms want. Plus, the email does state that the intent of the message is to “open a dialogue” which, sure, could lead to someone switching firms but let’s be real – this happens.

And don’t forget! This isn’t confined to Dixieland. You may recall that PwC in the UK had been allegedly poaching E&Y partners, as reported by the Times Online.

So if you want to get all defensive about a rival firm going behind enemy lines to do their jobs, so be it, but your firm is likely doing the exact same thing.

Grant Thornton Picks Up Four Tax-Exempt Experts from WTAS

Three Things to Remember Come Goal Setting Season

Final reviews are a thing of the past and – at least for some of you – so are the days of terrible raises. Things seem on the up and up at most firms. That said, focusing on FY2011 is crucial for your career. Hopefully the potential for raises will be consistent if not better than this year’s, and but you need to be thinking about everything now.

The typical HR mantra is, “your goals need to be realistic and attainable but should also stretch you to push yourself.”

Yes, finding the middle ground between cruisin’ down Easy Street and setting yourself up for failure is crucial. So, what are you supposed to do?

1. Firm recommended goals: Every firm supplies their employees with suggested goals, and I’ve always recommended that people should use these at a starting point. Why? Two reasons:

a. Your managers and partners know them. While going through performance management training, partners and managers receive the outline of sample goals as part of their training materials. HR says, “Look, these are the goals your staff members should be shooting for” and the room goes “Ahhhhhhhhh.” Using these goals will be familiar to your superiors as you begin the review process. However, it’s important to…

b. Customize the goals to be you As valuable as the sample goals can be as a template for you, it is important that you adjust them to focus on your unique ambitions. This is your opportunity to voice your needs, i.e. – involvement in planning the audit, volunteering at firm events, or getting involved with recruiting. Showing your commitment to the firm away from the day-to-day engagements is just as important as being committed to busy season.

And for the sake of everything holy – PROOFREAD. Passed your CPA this year? Remove all of the passing-the-CPA related questions. Missing details like this will make your superiors question the effort you put into the process; don’t give them that option.

2. Review last year’s goals: Roll-forward successful goals. Re-evaluate goals you didn’t reach or didn’t surpass to your satisfaction. Demonstrating and documenting continual improvement is key.

3. Speak with your mentor: If you were promoted this year, congratulations! Newsflash – you’re in for an incredibly difficult year. New senior staff members and managers are put through the wringer, and rightfully so. Senior management doesn’t like being wrong and weeding out misguided promotions early is important to their long-term planning. Seek out the guidance of at least one person who was in your situation the previous year. What would they have done differently? Did they overshoot on a particular area in their goals? What’s one thing they recommend including in your goal setting?

Still unsure of what you should do? Talk to your peers, flip a coin, or Google it. Whatever you do, don’t miss the submission deadline.

Unless – of course – you actually want to be blacklisted.

Gird Your Loins, Big 4

“I believe the time has come for us to ask Congress to change the law and make our enforcement proceedings public, unless there is some good reason for a particular matter to be closed.”

~ Dan Goelzer, Acting Chair of the PCAOB, would like to get things out there.

8.5.10 Goelzer Public Enforcement

(UPDATE) CPA Status and Promotions: What Is Your Firm’s Policy?

With all the news on raises, promotions etc. etc., a reader got in touch, asking the following:

Can we start a thread to discuss when you need the CPA designation if you want to move up at various firms by practice (audit, tax, specialty groups, etc.) and what exceptions there are?

The idea jumped off of a recent comment on yesterday’s post discussing E&Y’s raises keeping pace with PwC:

From what I can derive, PwC was bleeding staff in the early part of the year to the best of my knowledge, requires more time to get promoted up the ranks (3 years to senior compared to 2 at all other firms) and the requirements are higher (must have passed the CPA exam). The higher raises, at least from PwC’s perspective, may be their way of staying competitive with the market because, without higher pay, PwC is not competitive. E&Y may also be attempting to compensate but I am not entirely sure what for.

So three years to earn a promotion to SA at PwC isn’t news to us and some – dare we say, many – may argue that should be the standard timeline for associates in the Big 4/second tier firms. You can debate that all you want but what about the CPA requirement? If PwC does in fact require their associates to have their license before making SA, that’s nothing if not a motivation to finish the CPA ASAP. At the same time, there are many SAs that don’t have their license that do excellent work but for whatever reason are still stalling on obtaining the CPA.

The reader continues by asking:

For instance, if you have an Enrolled Agent, can you still make manager if you’re in tax, etc. [?] I’m also curious about any place that will demote anyone of a certain level who hasn’t gotten their CPA in the last couple of years. KPMG has threatened it for managers in tax who are qualified to sit for the exam (U.S. accounting degree with enough hours), but I wonder if that’s more empty talk.

That’s the first we’ve heard of a demotion for not having a CPA but frankly, that seems appropriate. If the manager has an EA, then perhaps that’s a suitable exception, although the idea of a Big 4 tax manager without a CPA just doesn’t seem right. For many, the lack of the those three precious letters means the end of their careers at the Big 4, so it’s definitely an issue.

So indulge our reader and let us know your firm’s policy regarding promotions and CPA license status. Does it matter? Are there exceptions? Should your performance make up for your uncanny ability to fail FAR? Talk it out.

UPDATE: We obtained a copy of the KPMG policy mentioned above and it appears to be FSF with a few exceptions for those that are “CPA Eligible” and certain “waivers.” Also there’s this, “In circumstances of noncompliance without appropriate waiver, professionals may be subject to disciplinary action, including but not limited to demotion or termination from the firm.”

KPMG Tax Promotion Policy

Fulltime Offer Watch ’10: Big 4 Class of 2011

Now that it’s officially August, that means a few things:

1) Everyone around starts bitching how summer is almost over

2) The tax compliance folks take a field trip to the nearest Radio Shack to stock up on their batteries for the two and a half month stretch and

3) This year’s interns starting getting their offers for fulltime employment.

This of course means that your coffee jockeys and Xerox operators will start stressing over everything that they’ve ever done this summer and whether it’s good enough to be blessed with the honor and privilege to attain fulltime Big 4 employment.

So if you veterans out there have been doing your job, you’ve shaped some fine, young, booze-drenched minds into someone that is going to your new associate next fall. If you feel like giving them some credit below. And interns, if you’ve gotten some good news (official or otherwise) jump for joy below and share your experiences – the good, the bad, the truly mortifying (extra bonus points here).

UPDATE: Straight out of the rumor mill, we’ve heard that some E&Y interns have already found out that they won’t be partying with Mickey & the Gang:

There was a round of interns who were let go on Friday. They were told to come in to the office and terminated, offers not given. Saves the expense of sending them down to Disney (the interns that remain leave this Wednesday). There were at least 3 let go in NY.

Will a Fear of Flying Be a Problem for a Future Big 4 Auditor?

Happy MOANday, people. I received the following email last week and wanted to share my response with all of you. Please comment below if you are or have ever been in a similar situation, and detail how your respective firm responded.

I have a question that I can’t seem to have answered anywhere. I just finished my sophomore year a prestigious university in the northeast and am considered working at Big 4 for a few years for the resume stamp so I could transfer for better pay/work-life balance. One thing that interests me is how much traveling is required in the audit department if you work in a big city like NYC…are most of the client sites local or will a lot of flying be involved. The reason I ask is because I have an intense fear of flying and I am wondering if this will be a deal breaker. I would be more than happy to DRIVE anywhere or take Amtrak but I seriously do not want to fly. Would working for Big 4 in NYC, Boston, Chicago, etc give me the flexibility that I seek in terms of flying, or should I be considering another career? Thanks for your time!

The easy answer: Talk to the recruiters that visit campus. I don’t know how hard you’ve looked for an answer but the recruiters are campus know (or should know) their firm’s HR policies well enough to answer the question.

The must-give-Caleb-400-words-of-content answer: Generally speaking, intensive travel is generally affiliated with large corporations with resources in several states or countries; more times than not these businesses are headquartered in the larger cities you mentioned. For example: it is entirely possible to work on a large multinational corporation based in New York City that has factories in several states. Depending on the scope of the audit and the resources of firm, staff auditors occasionally have to travel to the remote sites and perform fieldwork. Most auditors welcome the travel as “part of the job” and enjoy a change in working environment (even if the environment is a chemical plant in Arizona). But because of your legitimate fear, this is obviously not something you’re interested in. I wouldn’t worry, and here’s why:

The advantage to working in a larger office is that the Scheduling team can better accommodate your request not to be assigned to engagements where air travel would be required. However, that’s not to say that should your office location be a smaller office (say, Pittsburgh), your request would be met with a “too bad for you” response. It is in the best interest of the firm to handle needs like yours in a professional manner.

My advice to you is to be discreet but upfront and honest with the firm you choose to worth with. Discuss the need to be on local clients, and remember – the vast majority clients in larger cities are accessible by mass transit or car. I have no doubt that you will have a successful career in public, even if you are there for the “résumé stamp.”

BT Chairman Would Probably Prefer if He Could Just Get Rid of PwC Altogether

Sir Michael Rake, the Chairman of BT Group plc (also the former Chairman of KPMG International) presumably wasn’t happy that the $2.4 billion writedown the British telecom giant had to take this past year. No one likes surprises, especially red, multi-billion dollar ones, and after some careful consideration, Rake asked PwC to clean house:

Sir Michael Rake said that PwC changed its personnel after BT expressed its concerns.

He said: “We have reviewed and strengthened our internal audit [function]. We have had discussions with our external auditors and we asked for changes in their team.

“We did a complete review as to what went wrong and why we took longer than we should have to pick up on this issue.”

There is typically some rotation in audit teams working on big accounts but for the client to demand wholesale change is rare. BT had also considered dropping the firm.

SO! Rather than give PwC the heave-ho, cooler heads seem to have prevailed. Since Rake is is a former Klynveldian, that option is out (he left in ’07) and since the FTSE 100 loves the Big 4, that only leaves two options.

Rather than go slumming with E&Y, Deloitte or – God forbid – Grant Thornton or BDO, BT will stick it out with P. Dubs. BUT a knight doesn’t have to like it.

BT sought auditor changes after £1.6bn writedown [FT]