September 20, 2018

Big 4 tax practice

How Long Does It Take to Climb the Ladder at Ernst & Young?

Welcome to the where-the-hell-is-Bahrain? edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a future E&Y tax associate wants the lowdown on the black and yellow ladder. How high are these rungs, anyway?

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Back to our girl on the partner track:

Hi,

I will be starting in the tax dept of a Big Four soon.

How long would it take to move up the tax ladder? (Yes, yes I know your response will be to start first before I start thinking about promotions… But I am thinking ahead…)

What is the minimum number of years typically required at each level? Are exceptions ever made? What goes into promotion decisions? How long would it take to get to the partner/director level? Is the promotion criteria generally standard across all Big Four or is there some variation?

Thanks,
Ms. Thinking Ahead

Dear Ms TA,

You’re quite the eager….errr, go-getter aren’t you? That’s good, I like my accountants ambitious. We’re not intimately familiar with the ladder at E&Y but we’ll give it a go and let the bean gallery fill in the gaps.

Typically, you can expect to be an associate two to three years before being promoted to senior. Depending on the needs of your practice group and your performance, this could be shorter or longer. In order to get the bump to manager, you can expect another three years at a minimum, again, subject to the needs of your group and whether or not you’re impressing the pants off the brass. From there, you can expect at least two years at manager, another two to three as a senior manager and then, if you’re lucky and you have a good business case, TPTB might start looking at your for admittance to the partnership. Altogether, you’re looking at a bare minimum of nine years before you can even get a whiff of partner and twelve to fifteen is probably a more realistic time frame. There are exceptions of course but that’s more or less the timeline.

Because tax doesn’t have the same fee pressure as their audit counterparts the wait might not be as long but don’t forget, not just anyone gets into the partnership. You need to be a performer and be able to win new clients. The benefit of tax is that it has more diverse career paths available, so if you find discover that you’re a wizard at transfer pricing or M&A, you might see a quicker ascension.

This presupposes the fact that you obtain your CPA in a timely fashion as most tax practices will not promote you to manager without a CPA, a JD or EA. How about it black and yellow tax troops? Dispel with the gory details as necessary.

When Should a Big 4 Auditor Mention That They Are More Interested in Tax?

Today in “Help me if you can” a soon-to-be Big 4 auditor wants to know when to broach the subject of…not wanting to be a Big 4 auditor. Rather, the young grasshopper would prefer to switch to tax, pronto.

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As for today:

I am starting in the audit department of a a Big 4 firm in a major market next month. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity, however I’m not too interested in audit. If I want to switch over to tax, how do I go about doing that without giving a poor impression of me? Is this a common enough request that it shouldn’t be a problem? Is it better to bring it up sooner rather than later? Do I bring it up with my recruiter before I start? I’m concerned that if I wait too long to bring this up I’ll end up wasting a year (and a promotion) before being able to switch to tax.


First of all, congrats on not opening your mouth during the recruiting process. Interviewing for an audit position but admitting that you’re really interested in tax would have been akin to handing your interviewer a 3×5 with “DON’T HIRE ME” written in your own blood. Braddock’s response to this question was, “Then why are you here for audit? Why didn’t you apply for tax?” which is valid. So if you don’t want to give a bad impression of yourself, don’t bother discussing it with the recruiter. You’re already hired, there’s no sense admitting that you pulled a fast one on them.

In a previous post, we discussed how difficult it can be to get into a Big 4 tax practice. In your case, since you’re already inside a Big 4 firm and claim to being in a “major market” the path will be a little bit easier. That being said, we’re wondering why you’re in such as rush.

The best thing you can do is hang out in audit for awhile, meet some people and see how it goes. You were hired for audit, so you might as well give it a shot and build your network within the practice before changing your career path when it hasn’t even started.

Once you’re working it won’t be long before you’ll be asked to document some of your career goals. When you’re discussing these goals with your performance counselor (or whatever they’re called these days) discuss your interest in tax but try not to make it sound like the audit practice has been the worst experience of your life (even if it has). Since you’re in a larger office, it’s likely your counselor knows someone (or knows someone who knows someone) who has done a rotation or transfer to tax. These people will be able to talk to you about their experiences: the pros, the cons, the whathaveyous. Also, because you are in a larger office, your request isn’t that unusual and the office may even hold an informational session about rotations to other practices.

Your concern about the timing is valid (i.e. waiting too long). If you complete one year in audit and you are still jonesing for tax forms, you can safely express your interest about a rotation to the tax practice If you wait too long, you are correct – you may end up wasting an additional year and possibly a promotion.

So summing up – do some time in audit and get your feet under you; you never know, you may discover that you – gasp – enjoy it. When it comes to discussing your career goals, mention your interest in tax and find other professionals who have been through the process so you have an idea about what it’s like. Good luck.