A question I am often asked is whether or not I think working in a Big 4 firm is worth it, or whether I would advise prospective graduates and experienced hires to choose an alternative career path. Below I have set out the pros and cons of working in the Big 4.
Pros of working in the big 4:
– Young and intelligent Staff
Working with other young and intelligent people makes for a positive working environment and is certainly a good place to learn. This also means that there is usually a good social side of work, whether that be going for drinks after work, or a weekly 5-a-side football match, it’s a great place to meet like minded people.
– Variety of clients
At a big 4 firm you will be given the opportunity to work for a range of clients, from very large multinationals to smaller corporations. Given this range of clients, you will be able to get a range of experience and build your client base as you prefer. I personally worked on a number of tier 1 investment banks which just wouldn’t be possible had I been at a smaller firm.
– Progression path
There is a very clear and structured career path at big 4 firms. Typically they promote employees to the next grade each year assuming certain performance goals have been met. This means that you are never stuck at the same level and are always looking to move up. There is a drawback of this approach which I will cover later.
Similarly to the progression point, it is expected that graduates take an increasingly senior role on audits as they move up the ladder. As such, you will be expected to ‘coach’ the more junior members of staff from a very early stage. An audit senior is often expected to lead on-site audit engagements, which can consist of around 5 other team members.
– Brand recognition
Having one of the 4 firms stated on a CV (or Resume) can often be seen as a golden ticket. In a recent study carried out by Forbes, the PwC brand was considered to be the fifth most recognisable corporate brand in the world. This is certainly one of the benefits of working in the Big 4.
– Potential to move to other departments
Big 4 firms not only have audit and tax departments, but they also have departments such as advisory, deals, law etc. As such, there are opportunities to move internally to other departments to gain further experience. In addition, you are often given the opportunity to move office location given that they have offices all over the world.
Cons of working in the big 4:
– Long hours
Depending on factors such as department and client base, the expected hours in the big 4 can be very long. Especially during the busy audit season, staff are regularly expected to work 10-12 hours per day. Given that this does not include travel time, it means work can really take over your life.
– Rigid progression
As noted above, although progression in one sense is good given the linear structure given to employees, this can also work the opposite way. Therefore, there is usually one one promotion window open in any one year with a limited number of promotion places available. As such, capable staff are sometimes forced to wait to be promoted, whereas they could get this promotion if they were to move externally.
There is often a significant amount of politics involved in the big 4 firms. More senior members of staff (the decision makers) can have their favourites, and it is these that seem to get promoted quicker than some others who may be more deserving. As such there are definitely people trying to ‘play the game’.
Although the remuneration in the big 4 may seem competitive, it is generally 25% less than what can be obtained externally. The exception to this is partner remuneration, which can be extremely high.
Working in the Big 4 has clearly got its pros and cons. In my opinion, starting your career in the big 4 or spending a few years working in the big 4 is a great idea and the pros in terms of the benefits to your career definitely outweigh the cons.
That said, there is a time to move on. There is a time when the cons do eventually outweigh the pros – which is usually upon qualification.