January 21, 2019

PwC Employee Dreams of Small Firm Utopia

Tuesday got you down? Wonder how to best waste all that PTO you haven't been using? Curious as to who would win a Big 4 CEO Royal Rumble match? Email us your questions.

Hey there Gee-Cizzle,
 
I am in my third year (up for senior next year) working PwC Tax and as you probably already know, life sucks. Talking about the details would just be an exercise in flogging a deceased equine.
 
I seek more information about the promised land. There are so many fables that paint a utopian picture of smaller firms and industry. Does the reality come close to the legend? I am considering leaving the Big Three and a Half (sorry KPMG) way of life and settling down with a smaller, kinder, gentler firm. I'd like to find the ever-elusive unicorn of work-life balance with reasonable compensation in a job that I wouldn't be ashamed to tell my future in-laws about. Would my life really change if I moved or would I still be working the long, thankless hours, just in a different building? What are the advantages and disadvantages of moving to a smaller firm? 
 
Thanks,
 
Associate in the Desert 
Dear Ass in the Desert,
 
Clearly you've spent too much time in the sand because this image you see of meek capital market servant souls riding on unicorns is a mirage. Your mind is playing tricks on you. Small public accounting firms have more than their share of miserable business casual drones that work hours on end to avoid their awful home life. And as colleagues, they don't like to help you because God they wanted to work at a small firm so they don't have to deal with idiots like you. Plus, you can't even break wind without the whole office knowing. One false move and you'll spend the rest of your career trying to get everyone to forget how you cleared out the break room after that team lunch at the local Tex-Mex joint.
 
Okay, that's a worst-case scenario. I'll try to explain some basic differences, pros, cons, providing links along the way because we HAVE discussed this. Try to listen this time while I address these.
 
I'd like to find the ever-elusive unicorn of work-life balance with reasonable compensation in a job that I wouldn't be ashamed to tell my future in-laws about – What's your definition of work-life balance? Does it mean showing up in your sweats at 10:30, a flat screen in your office, plus a benefits package that rivals the Big 4? Then the answer is no, you won't find it. You'll still work hard and you might do it for less money. However, know this – if little perks like a more flexible culture and better quality of life come with the small firm, the sacrifices will be worth it. But BEWARE, there are small firms out there that are trying to act like the big boys, so be wary. Oh, and your future in-laws will still be disappointed in you.
 
Would my life really change if I moved or would I still be working the long, thankless hours, just in a different building? – Your life will only change if you allow it to change. For example, if one thing you HATE about your Big 4 job is the awful commute, you should probably consider finding a firm that is closer to you as a shorter commute can be a game changer. As for the long hours, sorry, I'm afraid you won't be able to avoid them altogether but they shouldn't be as thankless as the ones you logged at PwC. Your small firm bosses won't be slapping you on the back and heaping spot bonuses on you once a month either, but the environment won't feel as soulless as it can in the large firms. 
 
What are the advantages and disadvantages of moving to a smaller firm? – Advantages: Access to the people calling the shots, more flexibility, less bureaucratic nonsense, more responsibility. Disadvantages: Sink or swim culture, can't make a move without someone knowing, benefits packages are less attractive, not as much money, new partners are pretty rare (if that's an ambition), more responsibility. 
 
Want more info? Check out this guest post we published a while back on the differences between small and large firms. With all this in mind – and help from everyone out there in GC land – you'll get as close to utopia within a public accounting firm as humanly possible. Good luck.

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