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How to move out of the Big 4

Securing a job at one of the Big 4 is a landmark moment for financial services professionals.

However, as fulfilling as these roles can be, circumstances and aspirations change - and you might be considering a new path.

Leaving the familiar structure, and clear progression offered in these firms can be tough, but it's important to know that there are lots of positions out there.

In this article, we'll discuss when is a good time to go, exit opportunities for those leaving the Big 4, and how you might go about making the shift.

When is a good time to leave a Big 4 company?

Choosing when to change jobs is a highly individual decision, impacted by your unique professional and personal situation. However, there are some general guidelines that you can bear in mind:

  • Getting your qualifications: Attaining your Chartered Accountant (CA) or Certified Public Accountant (CPA) qualifications are useful strings to your professional bow, especially if you plan to move into the commercial sector later. For the majority, following standard Big 4 progression, these milestones can be reached in 2-4 years.

  • Gaining soft skills: As you move up the ladder at the Big 4, you'll have been taking on more senior positions on individual projects. Having this experience under your belt is beneficial not only for your professional development but also soft skills such as leadership and communication.

  • Keeping your objectives in mind: This may seem counterintuitive but, depending on the role you're interested in moving into, having a more senior title attached to your name isn't always a good thing. For example:

    • If you're seeking an Accounting Manager role companies are likely interested in candidates with recent, hands-on accounting experience. Former Managers, or Senior Managers, from Big 4 companies often come with a significant price tag, and may be lacking up-to-date operational participation. That said, if you're after a more technical commercial position, having a managerial title from the Big 4 can go a long way.

What opportunities are there when leaving a Big 4 company?

Where you decide to take your skills after leaving the Big 4 will hinge largely on your reasons for leaving. Among the most common motivating factors are:

  • Increased salary: Depending on where you go, you could see a pay rise of as much as 20 per cent.

  • Better work-life balance: It's no secret that Big 4 life can include some gruelling hours, whereas a commercial job is more likely to offer something closer to a straight forward 9-5.

  • Visibility over work outcomes: There's a lot to be said for the satisfaction of seeing how your work benefits a company. This is something that's often lacking for Big 4 employees, who are constantly dipping in and out of different organisations as required.

So, what are the common paths for those transitioning from the Big 4? 

Strategy roles: If you're interested in turning your mind to more strategy driven tasks, analysis and financial planning positions are a popular option. Finance teams are playing increasingly central roles, working with employers to provide understandings of the trends that shape long-term business development. This will likely be a significant departure from your day-to-day at a Big 4 firm and can be a highly rewarding experience.

Internal auditing: The idea of leaving the Big 4 and returning to auditing work might not seem thrilling. However, it's important to remember that commercial life will feel significantly different, in part for the three reasons listed above. Furthermore, internal auditing can be a great way to take your skills overseas, if your chosen employer is a multinational. Many companies like to move audit staff around different offices to ensure practices are consistent across all branches.

Operational accounting: If you've got a controller position in your sights, moving into a company as an operational accountant is a solid step in the right direction. Here you can easily apply your Big 4 accounting skills to help with the financial running of a company, and ensuring the daily activities are in line with budgeting requirements.

Where to look for a role after the Big 4?

When you're used to the steady progression of the Big 4, it can be hard to find that next step.

It's not always immediately obvious where your skills would be best suited, or what roles in the commercial sector would move you in the direction you want to go.

For these reasons, it's always useful to sit down with a recruitment professional who has an in-depth knowledge of the industry. They can help match your expertise and experience to the roles that best align with what you want out of professional life after the Big 4. Ambition has 20 years' experience doing just that, to find out how we can help you, get in touch with our team today.



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