Saturday, April 4, 2009

What it is really like inside a Big 4 Firm?

"Yesterday we were recruiting you, today you're an Employee"
A common question people want to know is how life is working inside the big 4. Not the BS the industry feeds you about "work, life, balance"
But, actually, what it really is like.

After all, during recruitment season, they make it seem like a dream job. They treat you so well with those free drinks, free food, free limousine rides. Everyone is happy and smiling and talks about how the firm has offered them "flexibility." The Younger Big 4'ers talk about how their friends are so jealous that they work for a big company and get huge salary.

I must say that honestly that a lot of this is BS. This is standard recruitment that every company does so don't really buy into it.

The truth is that you must expect to work HARD, very HARD at a big four firm. There is no 9-5. 9-7 during busy season is a dream job. 9 - 11 is reasonable. 9 - 1 is possible. 9 - 2 happens and no one feels sorry for you. All nighters have been pulled before.

In a big 4 firm, whoever can go the longest without sleep is "COOL."

In terms of culture, things are pretty much structured in an hierarchy. You start off as a low level junior and are expected to do the grunt work. Sometimes you do work that a 8 year old can do faster and with more interest. Try footing numbers and referencing pages for 12 hours a day. If you're lucky, your senior "the one who supervises you" will give you more interesting work like the Cash section or the Accounts Receivable section.

Eventually, you move on to an intermediate level. You have a little more responsibility here and a little more stress. You get to see a little bit more of the picture, and do more interesting work. Interesting work in accounting is still boring work, but it's not "I want to kill myself boring" anymore.

Finally, you move on to a senior accountant. I shouldn't say Finally, because seniors are only half way up the hierarchy. Seniors are in charge of the entire audit file and basically their ass is on the line. Not surprisingly, seniors are also always the most stressed, work the longest hours, and look constantly sick and depressed. The worst thing about being a senior is that you have to get your own work done, but also have to teach and supervise the juniors and intermediates. So some seniors might ignore you if you ask too many stupid questions.

Seniors answer to managers and senior managers. These are amongst the most experienced people in the firm. Managers and Senior Managers review your work. If you're lucky managers and senior managers won't give you too many review notes. Review notes are basically things you need to do to improve the file. Sometimes you get review notes like "Please sign off." Those are pretty fun and easy to clear. Sometimes they ask more annoying things like "Please reprint and make it bigger."

Managers and Senior managers also seem under high stress. They want to impress the partners (The big daddy's.) If you're lucky, you will get a fun manager and that makes the entire engagement better.

Finally, the big daddy's are the partners. Partners always seems happy to me. I can't blame them. In order to become a partner you would actually have to survive the hell all the way from the bottom. These guys probably drop 400k+ a year and obviously have the most flexibility. A good partner will bring in clients which pays your salary. Partners always talk about wanting to "grow the firm." I wonder if they just really want to "grow their pocketbook."

A simple corporate structure at a big 4 firm. I will talk more about the working environment in a future post. It is 2:43 A.M. and I must sleep now.


  1. Completely true and for all client facing sections of the firm, not just A&A! I know I work at one. And due to the GFC it has only gotten worse and now the partners don't hide that fact that you are just slave labour.

  2. But still... being once fired from one, I am trying to get into another and become a slave again. None on others gives you more experience

  3. why were you fired?

  4. hey man is it real ?
    I want to know more