What you should know before starting with a Big-4 firm

A. Nonymous writes:

As someone newly working with an accounting firm, I thought I should give students some realistic feedback.

People always get worried about busy season. However, as a first year, you may have various different clients which have distinct year ends and therefore you may have 2 busy seasons in one year. Also, during “busy season” which is technically Mid Jan-Mid March, there is a minimum amount of hours required. However, if you do not have a year-end client around that time, you still have to put in those hours and most likely put in those hours again when your client’s year end is since that is when you will be busy. Also, it is not just about busy season.  End of quarters can be hectic too.

Besides the long hours, the firms do encourage work life balance when they can. They are always sponsoring holiday events, happy hours and more so that you can relax a bit because they understand that you do work hard.

They invest a lot of time into developing you by taking you to trainings and sponsoring your CPA learning.

With that said, everyone always says take the CPA as far in advance as possible so you get sick of hearing it. Besides, after college, the last thing you want to do is study for a really difficult exam or 4 but this is the best advice. Because of what I said at the beginning, you really may not have time to study during the week and I doubt you’d want to study on your only days off.

Last point, good work is rewarded with more work. Do not plan on having unassigned time to study at the office for your CPA because good news travels fast and if you are doing good work, you will be booked on clients all year long before you know it.


About Mark P. Holtzman

Chair of Accounting Department at Seton Hall University. PhD from The University of Texas at Austin. Worked at Deloitte's New York Office. BSBA from Hofstra University.


  1. I'll throw in a shout out for the little guys. I know that nothing can really replace having "Big 4" on your resume when you are looking for a new job, so those of you willing to put in those hours to have that, great. From my friends and colleagues that were honest with me about their big 4 experience, I knew it wasn't for me. I am at a mid sized but growing firm and I really don't have many complains at all yet. My hours have been somewhat stable between 40-50 hours per week. When deadlines approached, I did have to work a few extended hour days but nothing unreasonable. There really hasn't been much down time since I started in September, so I imagine the idea that you can "study on your down time" is not going to be true anywhere you go. The good things about the firm that I am happy with so far: 1. The salary is competitive2. Performance management – This is a tentative like. The company will be rolling out a new system so each employee can see what their compensation will be with each promotion. 3. The culture – They have an open door policy with the partners and so far they have been very approachable. 4. The hours – I will dislike this part during busy season, but for the last 2 weeks I have been home by 6:00 which I really wasn't expecting to ever happen. 5. Opportunity – One of the senior managers I worked with recently was impressive. You can tell he is the kind of person who lives and breathes accounting. He is 32 years old and is being promoted to partner in January. The firm is showing that if you are willing to put in the work, you will be rewarded for it.

  2. I completely agree with taking the CPA exam ASAP. I had an internship over the summer even with just working around 50 hours a week I had absolutely no desire to study when I came home and definitely wanted nothing to do with accounting on my days off. All I have to say is thank god I took a fifth year. I'm taking the exam now and will be done before I start with a Big 4 firm next fall. Everyone that I have talked to has said I am doing the smart thing by taking the exam before I start working and many people who are already working and studying say they wish they did what I am doing. Thanks A. Nomymous for giving me a little more insight into what to I should expect next year.

  3. As a person who has done an internship at a very small cpa firm, currently work in private accounting, and will join a big 4 in the Assurance department next fall, all I can say is that one gets out of it what one puts into.I had a really bad experience with small local CPA firms and I will most likely never work there again for one reason: the lack of training and support. There is no “methodology” when it comes to audits, there is absolutely no training, and it’s a “swim or sink” environment. If I got a dollar out of every time a person said “look into last year’s work”, I would be a couple of thousand dollars richer. Based on my current experience doing private accounting at an international bank plus what I heard others say about their Big 4 experience, their training is top notch. There is a lot of emphasis on training and personal development, which I think can make a huge difference. I don’t know much about mid-size regional firms, but based on my experience and others’, working in a small firm can be extremely stressful.Regarding the CPA and trying to get it out of the way as soon as possible, I agree with it to certain extent, but I don’t think the same advice is valid for everyone. In my own situation, I currently work 55-60 hrs, have a wife, a mortgage, and I will be taking 9 credits next semester. So when people tell me that working at the Big 4 will be really tough, I can’t help it but think “Really? I will not have to worry about school, or interviewing, or a fixed study schedule. I can plan my CPA study schedule as it fits my schedule.” So for me –and again, it depends on everybody’s unique situation, life will be actually easier once I start at the Big 4.Blackswan87

  4. Your decision to take the CPA exam really depends on the area of accounting you are involved in and the size of your firm. I know as a new associate at 1 of the big four, that they do encourage us to take the CPA exam as soon as possible. They push the idea on us, by giving time off to study, paying for study materials, and even offering a bonus for completing it sooner than later. As an associate in tax though, this push feels a little different. Many of the new associates I work with in the field are out of law school or experienced associates from tax agencies. They don't plan on taking the CPA exam and don't have to. They will most likely be promoted based on their work not their CPA licensing. My best advice would be to consider your circumstances and talk to the people you work with before stressing over taking the exam sooner than later.

  5. I definitely agree with most of the points being raised here with regards to the Big 4. However I want to add that as much as you try to characterize the industry as a whole, it truly comes down to the job your in and the team that your on as far as the type of lifestyle you have. There are clients that demand longer hours and more work than others and there are teams that demand longer hours than others so it is not always just what type of firm you are with.

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