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.
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.