When to Make the Move from a Big 4
Working within the Big 4 is the goal of many accountants. Having PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, or E&Y on your CV can provide an important boost to your accounting career. Indeed, many companies prefer only to interview candidates with Big 4 experience. While making it to Partner is an attractive prospect, the reality is that headcount, business development and performance demands make it difficult to last until that level. Determining the right time to leave is a concern held by many candidates who can be unsure of the options available at each stage of their career.
From our experience, there are two ideal times to leave a role within the Big 4: three years following CPA accreditation and at Manager level.
Candidates that have three years’ tenure will have proven themselves able to lead their team through the difficult process of an audit and have managed a busy tax season. They are now poised to take a commercial opportunity within a Fortune 500 or Hong Kong listed company as a senior accountant, financial planner or analyst. If they stay too long beyond this mark, they can become overpriced in the market.
Those at Manager level are ready for a bigger commercial challenge. The competition can be tough for those with 5-8 years’ experience within a Big 4 – as firms will compare their experience against candidates with both Big 4 and commercial exposure. However, candidates able to articulate their achievements have successfully joined privately-owned companies with high growth potential, notably within the TNT and Medical Research sectors, with responsibility leading pre-IPO opportunities. They can expect Financial Manager or Controller positions responsible for pre-IPO management of financial data, document preparation and relationships with sponsors and lawyers.
Making the move can open future career opportunities should candidates decide to pursue professional accountant roles. They will also enjoy lighter workloads and greater autonomy without having to take a pay cut. Most firms are willing to pay to match candidates’ current package.
Candidates should be aware, however, of the challenges that accompany a commercial role. In a Big 4, candidates with 3 years’ experience at senior auditor level would have the support of a team and associates to complete field work. Within a leaner private firm, more hands-on ground work is often required. Candidates will also need to be able to effectively deal with colleagues from different backgrounds and all walks of life in a private business. Moreover, they will be expected to have a deep knowledge of the organisation – not just the numbers – to be a strong and effective business partner to operations, sales and marketing teams.
Three years ago, strong technical skills were enough to transition candidates from a Big 4 smoothly into commercial roles. However, we have seen a shift in focus and higher demand on soft skills, languages and presentation skills. Candidates are advised to take advantage of this quiet time in the recruitment market and prepare themselves for the Q1 2019 interview drive by enhancing their language proficiency and updating their presentation skills. Those able to articulate their experience and achievements and who have researched their target companies and markets will be better poised to attain commercial opportunities.