Big 4 offers you neither good money nor a good work-life balance. I have already covered that. However, I still maintain that a job with a Big 4 firm is an ideal start to a corporate career.
The biggest reason you should be considering a career with the Big 4 is the education. The experience you gain with a Big 4 firm is the best functional business education a person can get. Yes, theoretical knowledge has its place, but if you want to really learn about how Fortune 500 companies do business, go audit them. As an auditor, you will have exposure to almost all aspects of your clients business and this is invaluable experience.
For example, as part of your audit of a diesel engines manufacturer, you will probably end up answering some of the following questions: How does this company make the engines? How does it determine what sort of a warranty the engines should carry, and what amount should they accrue for claims? Is the inventory going to become obsolete due to some new legislation? How and when are the sales reps paid? Can the company reasonably expect payment for their products from customers? I think you get the point.
After days of grueling, back-numbing work, when (if) you come out of the audit alive, you will know how a diesel manufacturing company works, and in a larger sense how many mechanical manufacturing companies work. You will have learned about the problems that these companies face and the strategies they employ to overcome such problems. Three months of auditing a company can teach you substantially more about how businesses work than four years at a university. Now imagine the amount of knowledge you will gain auditing several different companies, with different product lines in different industries.
Now, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that auditing alone will provide you with the necessary skill set to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, however, you definitely will know hell of a lot more than most people who graduated with you with a business/accounting related degree and decide to “work their way up.”
The second big reason you want to go work for a Big 4 is surprisingly the same reason you don’t want to go work for a Big 4: it’s a terrible working environment.
Spartans had agoge, a harsh military indoctrination into the military life, where young boys were put into a hostile environment, forcing them to become survivalists. Accountants have the Big 4 experience. Both cases result in seasoned warrior, who is unnerved by nothing, and can take on basically anything. The work ethic you develop while working for a Big 4 firm is possibly one of the best in the corporate world. You will become a corporate machine. You will learn to laugh at your friends complaining about working late because they had to stay till 6:30PM, well that is assuming you have any friends left outside of the workplace. Unlike many office workers, you will learn to take a task-oriented approach instead of a time-oriented approach. You will not sit there and count the number of hours until you go home, instead you will try to accomplish as much as possible before you have to go home.
The value of this conditioning is not lost on companies looking to hire accounting professionals. If you take the time to careen through a few job boards, you will see that many higher level accounting positions require the applicants to have prior Big 4 experience. People working in mid-size or small public accounting firms may very well have the technical knowledge needed for the position, however, the recruiters want to know with some level of certainty that the applicant can perform under pressure. A Big 4 stamp on your resume says exactly that – this person has been stress tested by the Big 4, hire him or her!
And the third big reason you want to go work for a Big 4 is networking. The beauty of working for a Big 4 is that you can get pretty chummy with your clients, who just happen to be large corporations with giant accounting departments. As such, you will get to know and befriend some key accounting executives. You will show them how hard working you are via the 2:00 AM PBC requests and that you know their operations inside and out, given that you are auditing them (allegedly). It’s your job to impress the pants off (figuratively) of your client’s top management.
These guys can prove to be your key allies in helping you land a key job, when you decide that you are done shoveling shit for the Big 4 and want to get out. If they have a position available in their company, they may hire you directly. However, if the particular company they are working for is not hiring, they will probably forward your resume to some of their friends at other companies who are in need of good people. A recommendation from an Accounting Director or VP of Finance of a Fortune 500 company will give your resume an almost nuclear power. All of a sudden resumes of people who were probably more qualified than you are being overlooked because you were named the prodigal son. No recruiter or headhunter can provide this sort of firepower to your resume. Oh, and expect at least a 10%-50% increase in salary.
That’s the power of the Big 4.