Friday, August 21, 2009

The Best Time to Leave

I was having a discussion with co-workers about when was the best time to leave Big 4.

This has nothing to do with the recession. I ultimately feel the economy is in recovery mode, especially in Canada.

The consensus amongst them seemed to be after getting your CA, and reaching the manager level. I disagree with this on many levels.

Number one: I have never seen a manager not complain and moan about their job.

Number two: All the managers are stressed, and look way older than they are supposed to.

Number three: To actually reach manager level, you will need 6-7 years of long, hard sacrifice.

It is true that you will constantly be learning in Big 4, and that with each promotion, comes greater responsibility, and less grunt work.

However, the amount of work necessary to become manager is mind boggling.

You are basically working 10 hours per day to get the opportunity to work 12 hours per day during busy season. Nice trade off eh? =)

After doing some observation at my firm, I noticed that the majority of the “good” people left early.

This broke down into three basic groups:

1) Those who just couldn’t take it anymore and left within 1 year – 2 years without their CA
2) Immediately after getting their CA
3) CA and After one year of Senioring Experience

The good people refer to the people who I felt had the highest potential to go on and become a huge success in life. These were the people who got the job done, and who the majority of people liked.

They quit either because they realized Big 4 was not for them, or because they were so heavily recruited by industry. The really good ones are given unbeatable offers by industry early. No one stays in Big 4 if they get a crazy offer from industry.

So really to make manager, you have to be pretty good, but not so good that you are stolen away to industry.

If you want an analogy, this is similar to the NBA before the high school rule.

The best prospects like Lebron James were immediately snatched up. The best college recruits were good, but not so good, that they were taken in high school.

So really, the best of the best leave early.

Which brings me to my final point.

You can get your CA’s in two different ways. Its entirely possible to get your CA by having the necessary hours, and months of experience, but learning absolutely nothing that could contribute to your career.

Progression towards your CA is not the same as career progression.

If you are learning nothing, and getting bad jobs with repetitive work, the CA hours mean nothing.

So in entirety, there is no best time to leave, but it seems the overwhelmingly majority of the good people leave early. Food for thought.


  1. I got some ridiculously good offers from industry and I'm still around. ;)

    People who hate their jobs leave early - or who have other plans in mind. Some of whom are the best, but not necessarily the only ones.

    [the spam block is being weird, I might double post this comment]

  2. Wow, I really never thought of this way - "the good people leave early". It makes sense.

    I guess it has a lot to do with what one wants as well. In the industry you are more likely to do the same task, work with the same people everyday. In the Big 4, it doesn't necessarily change it, but with different clients, different counts you might atleast get the feeling you are doing different work.

  3. I came across a few instances where people in the big 4 were given "hints" to leave if the firm feels that you do not tick their boxes. The "hints" are usually demonstrated in you getting the shitty jobs and bad reviews (in the form of a suprise). I agree that the people who stay on are bright but not bright enough to be snapped up by the industry. They are typically those who love their comfort zone (with the high salary but ridiculously long hours so they can make work their life), hardly question management/the partner's decision and can be easily moulded to fit what the partnership wants you to be.

  4. sorry i just have to comment that as much as people are saying that in an audit firm, you are doing different "work" every day, it is just a different version of the same sh1t again and again. What is more ridiculous about this job, which i think totally defeats the purpose of even having this industry, is that everyone on the audit team, that being the senior, manager, senior manager, tries to mould the testing in a way to avoid the errors that they could possibly foresee. "give less details to get into less questionings and troubles" as they say. That's like a doctor who's not telling you that you got cancer and will die in 3 months b/c he doesn't want to explain to you and go through the embarassing moments with you.

    Auditors,thereotically, are there to find misstatements in the financial statements before they are issued. But every auditor I've seen in the Big4 firm, tries to AVOID finding misstatements. So why do we exist?

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