Is My Career Dead If I Don’t Go To A Big 4 Accounting Firm?

delayed flight

From the mailbag:

Hi Andrew,

I’m almost finished with my Masters program and have run into something of a career dilemma (already!).  I was hoping to get some feedback from you.
Quick overview of my recruiting:
I interviewed for three of the four Big 4 accounting firms and received office visits from everyone.  I really wanted PwC, made it to the final 9 candidates, but they only took 5 people for the office I applied to.  The other two office visits conflicted, but I couldn’t get a reschedule date from Deloitte, so I went to EY.  However, I later learned that I was in the last group, so essentially all the job offers had been given out before I stepped foot in the office.
So, I will be working for a large regional firm (that I really liked, so I’m not bitter).  A lot of accounting forums would lead me to believe that my accounting career is already at a dead-end without Big 4 on my resume.  So, in your opinion, should I try to come in as an “experienced hire” after doing a year with the regional firm, or do mid-tier guys come out alright sometimes when making the jump to industry.

Bean Counter Fan

Great question!

One of the reasons I started the Bean Counter is to distill the myth that:

Myth: If you don’t go Big 4, you will always be second tier.

Yes, it is true that some people skate through their career working off the name of their first employer. But most don’t. If you’re actually willing to work hard and be excellent at what you do, you’ll crush most Big 4 hires in a few short years.

APPLY: Even if you don’t go Big 4, you NEED to consider applying for the CPA EXAM.

Not to mention all the nuances of the accounting profession. We’ve had TONS of people with non-traditional accounting career paths. I mean look at me!

So no, your career is absolutely not “dead” by going to another large firm. However, if you would like to go to the Big 4, you can consider leaveing your firm after at least 1 year of experience and once you have your CPA license.

Why so fast?

Well, if you go the Big 4 after spending time at another firm, it is not likely to count for your position and title.

What does that mean?

Let’s say you worked for two years at a Top 50 accounting firm and then want to transfer to Ernst & Young (EY). You are thinking, great! EY promoted people to senior after two years, and I’ve got two years of experience, so I should be a senior.


In most cases, they won’t count the full years of experience and honestly, you probably wouldn’t want them to. If you became a senior and didn’t know their technology, audit or tax methodology, it would be tough.

So if you’re going to make the move, it’s better to do it soon. Don’t wait 3-4 years, you will just lose ground.

But if I’m in your shoes, I’m taking a breath. You haven’t even started at this firm yet. You may seriously love it. I’ve had some experience with other Top 25 accounting firms and there are some serious perks of work / life balance and less impact of government regulation over auditing standards. Smaller firms tend to have fewer public clients where the audit environment isn’t as stressful.

All things considered I think congratulations is in order. You’ve locked in the first job in your new career. Congrats dude!!