post Category: Recruiting — Accounting Genius @ 4:46 AM — post Comments (22)

If your university or college is worth its salt and is a “target school” for the recruiting, chances are that the Big 4 firms will throw some lavish parties for you – the students – at some swanky resorts in the area. Your school’s accounting association will typically be your ticket in to these events.

Once at the said party, you will find good food, an open bar (unless you’re a BYU student), and partners and senior managers who look like they are made of money. The Big 4 people attending may talk to you about how their particular firm is the cat’s pajamas, but most of them will delight in discussing tall tales from their sign-off parties with other partners and associates present. Over the course of the night, the highest ranking partner present will bust out an oversized check for a ridiculous sum of money for your accounting association or business program. There may be a speech or two from the “elected leadership” of the accounting association about how much this money will help the association, and how they loved every minute of their summer internship, and how they look forward to working with their Big 4 after graduation. The night will go on, and the booze will keep flowing. There probably will be dancing at some point. At the end of the night, well-fed and a bit tipsy, you will go home. If you have played your cards right, it may be with that cute boy or girl from one of your classes. Hurray for lowered inhibitions and free alcohol!

Time will pass. Depending on how far away from graduation you are, you will inevitably start to think about what you want to do after college. You will start thinking of all the places you should apply. Eventually, you will think back to that night of the party with the Big 4. You will start to rationalize.

“Working for them can’t be all that bad. Yeah, I’ve heard some people complaining about long hours, but man do those people know how to party. I had such a good time with them! And if worse comes to worst, and even if I have to work over-time here and there, it will be well worth it. I mean the partners were rocking monogrammed shirt cuffs with expensive cuff-links for Pete’s/fuck sake. They have to be rolling in so much cash!”

Three hours into this process, you will have convinced yourself that a Big 4 offer is your gateway to designer clothes, caviar, champagne, models and whatever other ridiculous things people buy with money.

Wrong!

The Big 4 firms go out of their way to give this appearance of extravagance. The expensive dinners and parties are the proverbial carrots dangled in front of the donkey (you). It’s a subliminal way for you to start associating a career with a Big 4 firm with monetary success. The starting salaries for associates on average is $55,000 and can vary anywhere between $42,000 to $70,000 depending on if you decide to go work in Montana or New York. This money seems rather enticing. It’s certainly much higher than the average starting salary for most college graduates, and Big 4 recruiters are usually quick to point out this fact. However, what they are not telling you is the fact that as an associate for a Big 4 firm, you are going to be working way more than the person making $35,000. So, if you factor in the number of hours most associates work during the course of the year, most of them are making somewhere between $10 to $25 an hour. That’s right, you are making somewhere between what an In-N-Out worker makes and what an unskilled road construction worker makes.

As an astute business and accounting student, which I assume you are, you should not find it difficult to see that being compensated $10 an hour is a terrible return on your investment of $80,000+ for your college education. The compensation at a Big 4 for the staff is so horrible that there are several class action lawsuits related to compensation that have been filed against them or are currently under investigation. The moderately handsome annual salary offered is a good way to ensure that they don’t have to pay overtime, in case you end up working overtime.

And you are definitely going to be working overtime. The Big 4 recruiting makes a big deal about comparing the number of hours worked by people at Big 4 with those at people at investment banks. That’s mostly bullshit. The rural areas aside, a Big 4 auditor in a large metropolitan area can expect to work a similar number of hours, and be paid about half as much, if not less. You should expect to spend almost every waking hour during the busy season at work, and if you’re lucky enough to work for an office with a “perpetual busy season” then double the fun!

Your friends, family, spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, will all play second fiddle to the “needs of the team.” This is a very basic expectation that most supervisors have for incoming staff; as a result, don’t expect a big hug from your manager at the end of the engagement where he or she thanks you for your sacrifices. Most managers and partners have been in the same place as the staff and were shown no mercy, and as such, don’t really feel any regret or remorse in making you work until 2:00 AM, even on your birthday. A lot of them will not care if your relationships are falling apart because you can’t spend any time with your loved ones. Prior commitments to all non-engagement related events also go out the window.

The stress increases exponentially, as associates are promoted to senior associates. Many of them will age a lot faster because of the stress and tension. Within your first year of working at the firm as an associate for a Big 4, you will see a senior associate do one of the following: 1) Cry, 2) Punch a wall (car door also works), 3) Hyperventilate, 4) Break down completely. A few minutes/hours later, defeated by the tyranny, they will return to their desk and subserviently start their work again.

Welcome to the life of the Big 4.

post Category: Fun,Staff — Accounting Genius @ 1:54 PM — post Comments (7)

The Big 4 environment has its unique set of lingo, and for an outsider listening in, you may be stuck wondering as to what the hell the people are talking about. I have tried to compile a comprehensive list of most commonly used terms and phrases used in a Big 4 and what those phrases really mean. So here it is:

10 Key: A 10 key input device used with laptops that replicates the numeric pad on a full keyboard. Also, a good way to determine how nerdy a person is.

10,000 Foot Analysis: High level analysis. The term is usually used by senior managers and partners when a staff person is bothering them with pesky details.

Busy Season: Typically, the three-month period following the client’s year-end, where a Big 4 staff member can expect to work 12+ hour days. However, some offices are known for their perpetual busy seasons, where the staff works long hours throughout the year.

Campus/College Hire: Staff personnel hired straight out of college, usually in their early 20s. They can be identified by their brand new cars that scream junior executive and their uncanny ability to talk-up their positions and roles working at the Big 4.

Capacity: The amount of work you can currently handle. You always want to have the appearance of being at full capacity, otherwise you should expect the senior associate to dump a bunch of busy work on your desk.

Charge Code: Codes used in the time reporting system to charge time for different projects for billing purposes.

Circle Back: Let’s talk about this again later. Also, used when a superior does not want to discuss the issue at hand due to the lack of his/her understanding of the issue.

Clearing Comments: The process of resolving issues raised by partners and managers while reviewing your work. This process can cause quite the headache if you have a nitpicking reviewer and a grumpy client because you will be caught in the middle of the cross-fire.

Crossfoot: Verifying the row totals of the PBCs.

CYA: Cover your ass. The term is used for documents used in the course of the audit but not included in the workpapers. These documents are typically preserved due to the litigious nature of accounting services.

Document Retention: The proper term for CYA. However, it’s only used when describing the contents of the CYA boxes to be filed.

Eating Hours: The relatively common (and unethical) practice of not charging hours for the work done in order to give the appearance of meeting the budget. Usually there is severe indirect pressure from the top that leads the staff to eat their hours.

Efficiency: Working at your maximum level of productivity. Also, a veiled suggestion to eat your hours as the engagement is over budget.

Experienced Hire: It usually refers to members hired at a manager level or higher. However, it can also be used to refer to the mid-30s to mid-40s accounting manager who decided to come work as a staff at a Big 4, and can have major attitude problems towards taking directions from someone in their mid-20s.

Foot: Verifying the column totals of the PBCs.

Main Client: The biggest client where you will spend most of your time in the year, usually a large public corporation.

On your plate: Capacity. You always want to have your plate full or have a lot on it. If you don’t, you will be viewed as being inefficient and be assigned more work with unrealistic deadlines.

Period End: The end of the fiscal period for which the accountant renders his/her services.

Recruiting Lunch/Dinner: A meal ticket to a fancy restaurant.

Sign-Off: The ultimate deadline for an engagement, where the CPA firm signs-off on the documents it was engaged to review or prepare for the client. Staff should expect to work longer than the usual long hours around this time.

Sign-Off Party: Typically a grand affair involving expensive trips and dinners, usually billed to the client.

Touch Base: Let’s discuss something at a later date. Also used when a superior is not quite certain that the subordinate knows what he/she is doing.

Workpapers: Any and all procedures performed by accounting professionals should be documented. These documents are called workpapers.

Can you think of any that we may have missed? Email us and let us know!

post Category: Blog — Webmaster @ 10:43 AM — post Comments (2)

Welcome to Narrowing the GAAP – your ultimate guide to the Big 4 accounting firms (i.e. Deloitte, Ernst and Young, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers) and the life of an accounting professional.

While we hope everyone takes something away from this blog, we started it with two particular audiences in mind: the doe-eyed college students who are thinking of accounting as a career and the Big 4 staff who are trying to make sense of the Big 4 corporate culture.

College students should use this blog to develop a good idea of the life they can expect as an employee at a Big 4 firm, and make an informed decision about whether that lifestyle is for them or not. If you do decide to take the plunge, read up on everything on this site about recruiting. We have been through this process and were successful at getting offers from the Big 4. We have also been on the other end of the recruiting and interviewing process, and have stared down people like you from across the table. You should maximize your chances of an offer by reading and digesting these materials, and then set up your game plan.

Big 4 staff should use this blog to increase their overall productivity and to learn about various ways they can deal with the stress that comes with working for a Big 4. You are not alone in working till midnight on your birthday, or dealing with the passive aggressive manager who seems to unload everything on you the first chance he gets. We were there too, and we survived. Learn from our experiences!

We were motivated to create this blog because we didn’t have these resources and information available to us. The articles here are a result of long discussions with several Big 4 employees, at all levels. We try to be as comprehensive as possible in our writings, so as to provide the reader the best picture possible. However, if you are a Big 4 professional reading this, and feel like you may have something to add to this blog or something you disagree with, we would love to hear from you! We want to share as many different experiences with the audience as possible and we promise to keep all identifying information confidential.

And finally, we would like to thank you, the reader, for all of your feedback and support.

Regards,

The Author(s)