September 15, 2019

Big 4

The Number of Financial Statement Audit Deficiencies Is Blowing Up

So says an analysis of PCAOB inspection report data: The Survey of Fair Value Audit Deficiencies was released Wednesday by Acuitas, Inc., an Atlanta CPA firm that practices litigation and business valuation services. The analysis found that fair value measurement and impairment deficiencies accounted for 52 percent of all the audit deficiencies cited in the […]

Restless Accountant Considers a Second Chance with a Big 4 Firm

Have a question on anything from career limiting moves to plausible excuses for blowing off a random Tuesday to identifying that odor in the audit room? Email the Going Concern Brain Trust with your queries. And remember, there's no such thing as a dumb question; just dumb people who ask questions.  So here's the deal. I […]

Big 4 Boomerang: Former Advisory Professional Has People Whispering Sweet Nothings in His Ear

Considering a change in cubicle scenery? Cooking up hypothetical situations for your last day at work? Recently thrown out of the house and need someone to pick out your work clothes? Email us with your questions and we'll manage a few sentences that resemble an answer. Going Concern:   There is a lot of information […]

Big 4 Firms Are Totally Down with China Locals Taking the Wheel

As you may have heard, the Chinese government has told the Big 4 that they only want homers running their audit firms that are located within the Big C. While you might think that this might be problematic – what with all the troubles over there – the Big 4 obviously saw this coming because not […]

Perhaps Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson Should Start Sending His Résumé* to Accounting Firms

Yesterday we learned that Third Point boss Dan Loeb wasn't all that impressed with Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson's credentials. It wasn't that he was all "meh" about Thompson's accounting degree, but rather that Scottie's computer science degree was not what one would consider "real." This has a lot of people pointing, laughing, judging, and Yahoo's […]

Comp Watch ’12: Sizing Up the Big 4

It's the last day of April, which means that hopefully you've tied up all the loose ends that were left over from Busy Season 2012 (aka the best one yet). The month of May brings flowers, drunken afternoons at the baseball diamond in your fair city, and speculation about your compensation adjustments. Of course, some […]

Analysis: Is The Going Concern Editor on a Power Trip?

Generally, we prefer that our tip box be used for actual tips (as previously stated, "eat shit" is not a tip) but every now and then, some non-tip makes its way through that we can't help but act on. I suppose the following "tip" is one such non-tip that I'm compelled to repost here. It's […]

Congressional Members Seem to Have Their Orders Re: Auditor Rotation

You may remember that last Wednesday I put my grown-up clothes on and attended the PCAOB's open meeting on auditor rotation. It was a good discussion (relatively speaking) and I got chat with some pretty smart people. I can't work a room of old white men like Adrienne (few can), but Chairman James Doty seemed […]

The Big 4’s Lobbying Efforts In Europe Make the Banks Look Like a Bunch of Amateurs

Proposed audit reforms in Europe, which include mandatory firm rotation and a ban on advisory services provided to audit clients, have been met with, shall we say, resistance: The Big Four are campaigning hard to stop many of the core changes from being approved by the European Parliament and EU states. Smaller auditors are urging lawmakers […]

Who’s in a Big 4 State of Mind?

As you are most certainly aware, many of your Big 4 colleagues spend their days dreaming of a life far more fabulous than their own cube-dwelling, spreadsheet-drowning existence. I realize it's hard to imagine a life better than one that spends the occasional long evening in a JIT, but some of your colleagues can't simply […]

Deloitte CEO Gives the Most Non-Response Response to a Question Ever

Barry Salzberg demonstrates the art of the dodge:  Are the Big Four audit firms too big to fail?    There is no evidence that would indicate that there is a lack of choice by business to pick up a firm to work with, so I don't agree with the premise of that question.  Good lord. […]

Ernst & Young Intern Really Needs Help with an Essay So He Can Go Overseas for Two Weeks

Ed. note: Troubled this busy season? Email us your predicament at advice@goingconcern.com. For the most part, the emails we receive seeking advice are genuine.  We have struggling GPA’ers and struggling interviewers.  Managers tempted by the partner carrot and the curious public-to-public hopper. And generally, you all turn out solid, noteworthy advice. This is not one […]

PCAOB Is Giving You a Second Chance to Tell Them How Much You Love the Idea of Auditor Rotation

Yesterday, Monday Morning Auditor that everyone loves to hate, the PCAOB, announced that they would be having an open meeting on March 21-22 that will focus on auditor independence and rotation. Sorry! I meant auditor term limits. Anyway, there are going to be several big names on various panels including Paul Volcker, Harvey Pitt, Arthur Levitt, […]

PwC Latest Big 4 Firm to Equalize Healthcare Costs for LGBT Employees

Tara Siegel Bernard of the New York Times has been keeping a progress report of gay employee health benefits and just tweeted a short time ago that PwC is the latest Big 4 accounting firm to equalize the cost for LGBT employees. — Tara Siegel Bernard (@tarasbernard) February 29, 2012 PwC's announcement follows KPMG and Ernst […]

Will One Bad Class Spell Doom for a Big 4 Recruit?

Today's blog post is brought to you by a worrisome soon-to-be-grad. Hi GC, I already accepted an offer from one of the Big 4 firms. When I did, my GPA was very solid. However, I took a class last semester with a professor that has the highest drop rates and the lowest grade average given […]

Watch These Big 4 Auditors Pull a Mildly Humorous Prank on Their Intern

Allegedly, this stunt was pulled earlier this morning in a Big 4 audit room somewhere in the Boston area. If you'd like to claim responsibility for this stroke of genius or have other samples to share, email us.

Should Big 4 Interns Be Hazed?

This is our second intern-themed post this week, which gets me thinking that some of you are neck-deep in coffee jockeys. This can be a trying time for those of you that are A) impatient B) dicks C) control freaks D) all of the above. As such, the following has probably crossed your mind at […]

What Can Accounting Firm Interns Do To Be Ready For The Big Day?

Happy Moanday, everyone.  Let's pass the time with some feel-good internship preparation, shall we? Hey GC, I've been a big fan, followed advice, and am now starting my Big 4 audit internship. I know that we are not expected to know anything because they know that we don't. I've heard it way too many times […]

Let’s Take a Second Look at a 15-year Trajectory of Big 4 Compensation

Earlier this week we shared some data that was gifted to us by an accountant who had nothing better to do during his AUD study break than create a spreadsheet charting your compensation for the first 15 years of your illustrious Big 4 career. Everyone seemed pretty grateful for it though, as it got people […]

The Big 4 Accounting Firms Had a Decent 2011

Big4.com released its 2011 performance analysis for the…er…Big 4 this week and there were a few items of note. PwC is the big enchilada again. KPMG surprised everyone with the largest growth in revenues (albeit barely), closing in on 3rd place E&Y. OH! And the $103 billion in revenue is the most ever earned by […]

What Can You Expect to Make at a Big 4 Firm Over a 15 Year Period?

It’s mid-January, which means that at some point in the next four to six weeks or so, you’ll say to yourself, “I don’t get paid enough to do this shit.” And you might be right! But the good news is starting salaries for accountants keep going up. If you’re simply annoyed with your current boss/lunch/life […]

Here Are The Most Popular Going Concern Posts From 2011

Here it is, the final week of 2011 and that means lists! Top 10. Freaky 50. Worst 100. If there's a list to be made, the Internet will provide. And since we're not immune to the power of media clichés, we'll present you with our list of the most popular posts on this here website.  […]

How Soon Is Too Soon To Leave Your New Firm for a Better Opportunity?

Ed. note: Back with a second edition of the advice column today. Thanks to D Dubs. for stepping up today.

Dear GC,

I graduated in December 2010 with a degree in accounting from a well-known university. Because of my grades (2.9 Accounting GPA, 3.0 accumulative GPA), I was shunned by nearly all of the accounting firms. This has led me to working in the accounting department at a fortune 500 company.

While in school, I was able to network and make several connections at both Big 4 and regional firms. I was told repeatedly by recruiters to “pass the exam and get some experience, then come talk to me.” I have passed the CPA exam and have almost a year of experience under my belt at this point.

In early November I signed with a small regional accounting firm set to begin in January. I know that it’s bad business to immediately bail on a company, but is it too early to get in touch with my contacts at the bigger firms? While I’m very grateful for the local firm, I have my sight set on a much bigger firm, and I want to make it to the big leagues sooner rather than later. Should I gain a year or two of experience at the local firm in order to move to the Big 4 as an experienced associate or possibly a senior associate? Or would it be better to reach out to my network now and attempt to make a transition?

Thanks!

I admire your tenacity to make it to the Big Four Leagues. Staying in touch with your contacts will hopefully prove to be beneficial. I suggest reaching out to them now, as it’s prime-time hiring season for public firms leading into busy season. Provide them with an update of your progress on the CPA exam and that a local firm has expressed interest in hiring you. In turn, express your interest in working at XYZ instead, and you were hoping to inquire about any openings they may have. If they have openings, be flexible to whatever level they want you to start at, as it’s more important to get your foot in the door. Leveraging off of your recent success with the local firm would not be the worst thing you could do; you’d hardly be the first or the last person to do so.

GC’ers – what do you think? Have any of you made the quick transition like described above?

Someone Forgot To Ask These Questions In the Interview, So Asks Us Instead

Ed. note: Feeling torn between two job offers? Questioning your career choices? Maxed out your credit cards and can no longer afford Miss Cleo’s $2.99 a minute advice? Tap the career advice brain trust for insight and we won’t even charge you for it.

I have recently received full-time offers from two Big 4 firms.  One offer is for external audit, and the other is for internal audit.  Which career opportunity would be more advantageous for a young professional in terms of salary, hours worked/busy season, and opportunities both within and outside the firms?

Also, the internal audit position would be for federal clients only.  Would this impact the above criteria in any notable ways?

Jimmy Dean


Dear Jimmy Dean,

This is a like a buck-shot of questions that you should have asked during the interview process.  You never asked about what the hours are like?  What the salary growth is like?  What the long term career track would be in each practice line?  What the hell did you talk about in your interviews!?!  No really, I would like to know.  The questions you’re asking here make it seem like you did zero homework on this and instead pounded out a quick email to GC because it’s easier to ask for the RIGHT-UNDER-YOUR-NOSE answers than find them for yourself.  Sorry, but I’m not sorry.

My personal frustration aside, I’m sure members of the GC crew here will chime in and provide you some personal feedback.  I suggest you start with career websites for the Big 4 firms.  They offer a substantial amount of [HR polished] insight on career tracks.  A few years ago KPMG released an external version of their Employee Career Architecture tool.  It spells out the marketable skills earned throughout a career in different practices. Tip: if you’re using the tool to assess an internal audit career, KPMG lists it as IARCS under the Advisory practice line. The most useful information is under the “Explore” section of the ECA tool.  As for a career in external audit?  Oh I don’t know – try another Big4’s extensive website.  Thanks, Uncle Ernie.

As for the government-heavy client base – it’s not going to necessarily restrict your external career options should you choose to leave, however it can be a natural transition.  Again, you need to assess the skillsets each career track provides.

Entry-Level Auditor Just Can’t Admit He Wants To Work For a Mid-Size Firm

Ed. note: Find yourself caught at a crossroads unsure which path to take? Feeling lost and hopeless? Just want to know your lucky lotto numbers for next week? Hit us up and the career advice brain trust will take your hand, restore your faith, guide you down the path of greatness and even pick out what you should wear tomorrow.

Hi,

By the end of the week, I am going to need to make a decision on which offer to accept. I am applying for entry-level auditing positions, and received my first offer last Friday. I also anticipate receiving two more by Thursday. The one I recently received is from a mid-size regional firm that specializes in an industry that I find to be very interesting. I alsoith their staff and think I would really enjoy myself there. One of the offers I anticipate receiving on Thursday is from a Big 4 firm.

The biggest issue for me it seems is which job will put me in the best position 3-5 years from now. There is a greater than 50% chance that I will need to move in the next few years, and I keep going back to the fact that working for a Big 4 will give me the most options. The mid-size firm does some work nationally, and may connect me with other public accounting firms around the country, but that is about the extent of it. Is working at a Big 4 that big of a deal to future employers? If I plan to make a career in public accounting, is it easy to switch from one mid-size firm to another – or am I more likely to get recognized by a mid-size if I’m coming from a Big 4?

I have been a regular reader of Going Concern over the past few months, and appreciate the depth of knowledge you and the readers have, so I’m hoping you can help.

#1) Thanks for the kind words but maybe you need to spend a few more months on this website if you actually do not possess the knowledge to answer your own questions for yourself, namely the ones that question just how big of a deal Big 4 is on your resume. We at least hope when you say “mid-size” you mean a truly mid-size and not a small, regional firm that just so happens to have a national client or two. At least you’ve got hope for flexibility in that case.

#2) Now that you’ve thought about it for a moment, slapped yourself upside the head and come to the realization that yes, Big 4 on your resume really is that big of a deal (how we feel about that is irrelevant for this discussion, we are not talking about the Kool-Aid itself but simply the effects of said Kool-Aid), the question is what you want to do in the next several years. You should also realize from your short time on this site that few public accounting grunts actually dedicate 3 – 5 years of their life to the firm. 2 years in Big 4 is sufficient to get your CPA, get some good connections and earn a solid item on your resume.

However, you note part of the mid-size appeal to you is the opportunity to work close to an industry that interests you. It’s awesome that you are aware enough of what you like to think in these terms but what happens if you turn down Big 4 for this mid-size option only to find out this specialization is not at all interesting to you? Are you 100% positive that the Big 4 opportunity wouldn’t allow you the same close quarters with an industry you find appealing?

When you say you hit it off with the mid-size staff, do you mean their actual staff or just the hot recruiting bubbleheads hired to lure you into their trap? If you mean actual staff, then I think your decision here is clear. You seem to have a good feeling about the mid-size opportunity and are simply confused because you have bought into the idea that there is nothing like Big 4. That isn’t a myth, but it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to a career of mediocrity if you forgo the Big 4 route for something that you feel fits you better.

You probably already know all of these things and didn’t really need to email us to ask. If your heart is telling you go mid-size, do it. It isn’t going to make you a public accounting pariah, though it may limit your opportunities later on slightly. Note I said slightly. You will not be relegated to some public leper colony for being branded with the curse of anything but Big 4. On the other hand, Big 4 might steal your soul and you could find yourself suicidal before you are anywhere near to the two year mark just for the sake of a few extra opportunities and a nice resume item later on down the road.

Is that a risk you are willing to take? Only you can decide that. I’m pretty sure we have at least one or two mid-size staff lurking around here to offer you some more specialized advice based on their experiences beyond what I’ve just suggested to you (just ignore GT Partner, who is an obvious troll). Good luck.

Ex-Marine Who Missed Internship Deployment Looking For His Next Assignment

Do you guys ever get an insidious sense of deja vu when reading some of these advice posts? I know I do. Anyway, here’s another lost little sheep looking for a sense of direction in this big scary world. If you’re feeling lost, hopeless, confused or otherwise unsure, hit us up with your issue and we’ll do our best not to make fun of you in front of everyone.

Dear GC,

I have a situation that may be just a little bit different than most college undergraduates but can’t be the only one in this situation. I attend a small private business sch I am a Marine Corps veteran of 4 years and currently using the G.I. Bill as an undergraduate accounting student with a 3.62 GPA. I am in my second year; however, this is my 4th semester and because I do summer semesters as well and I got 21 credits from military experience, I am right along with the Juniors in terms of graduation date. In fact I will have more credits than them when they graduate needing only 15 more to get the 150. The problem arises in me being ahead, yet behind. I am far ahead of the the sophomores, yet a little behind the juniors in regards to accounting courses completed. I am taking Intermediate I and AIS this semester and Intermediate II and Tax in the Spring. I thought because I didn’t have that many accounting courses completed going into this semester that I should wait to apply for internships, especially Big 4. Then I found out that the most accounting firms around here do all of their recruiting in September. Even though Deloitte and PwC are the only big 4 firms recruiting at my school. So I started applying for internships in October to smaller firms and filling out talent profiles on the Big 4 websites. I do plan on attending University of Pittsburgh’s MAcc 1 year program after graduation so I would in a sense have another summer opportunity to get an internship. My question is, should I in the meantime try and get an internship doing individual tax returns or private accounting at a chain retail company? (I have offers for both) Ideally I want something in Public, and eventually that is what I want to; however, would either of those internships help me at all in the long run towards getting an internship with the Big 4 next year? Also like I said only those 2 seem to recruit at my school. Is there anyway to really have a chance at E&Y or KPMG? Thank you in advance.

First off, thank you for your service to this country. My grandfather was a Marine (enlisted just before the end of WW II and missed the action), so out of respect to you for your service, I’m not going to make an excessive number of comments about how much editing I had to do to make your letter readable. But I will make a humble suggestion (in case you weren’t just being sloppy given who you were emailing), please tighten up your writing a bit before you go out there sniffing for Big 4 gigs. Granted, most recruiters can’t spell recruiter but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be putting your best foot forward here.

Now that we got that out of the way, can I ask you something? Why are you so dead set on the Big 4? You’re not actually planning on spending your entire career there, are you? It is unclear from your email why you want to be in the Big 4 so bad, so we’re going to assume here that either you drank the Kool-aid or don’t realize that there are a myriad of other opportunities for someone with your background.

Coming from a small school with low recruitment and boasting a 3.62 GPA probably won’t make you stand out on any HR desks anytime soon but the tide could definitely turn when you get in to the University of Pittsburgh MAcc program, assuming you do well and are able to attend recruiting events that are likely more active than the ones at your current school. As you noted, this is good. Also good: your military service (they eat that stuff up, it shows an ability to take orders and not revolt) and the fact that you will definitely be CPA eligible from the moment they bring you on.

What’s the rush in the meantime? Are you looking for the experience? Trying to get your foot in the door in public? Have bills to pay? Just want to get out of the house? You have plenty on your plate (not to mention the CPA exam ahead of you), if I were you I’d just focus on school for now instead of considering doing tax returns in your spare time. Unless that’s what you want to do with the rest of your career.

Since many accounting students participate in VITA anyway, telling recruiters you interned on tax returns probably isn’t going to earn you many points. And unless the “private accounting” gig involves work under a licensed CPA that you can use toward your experience requirement for CPA licensure, I wouldn’t bother.

Comment section is open for the Peanut Gallery’s (much appreciated) two cents.

Intern Needs Help Breaking the News of “The Decision” to Leave His Current Big 4 Firm for a Rival

Ed. note: Need advice on your career, the CPA exam or how to best enforce your firm’s dress code? Email the career advice brain trust at advice@goingconcern.com for answers.

Dear GC,

This past summer I worked as an intern with a Big 4 firm. Learned a lot, some decent people, long hours. Still felt relatively miserable considering most of the people I worked with were wound pretty tight. Fast forward to now, and I am considering “taking my talents to south beach” by switching to a different Big 4 firm. Yes, there is an immaterial amount of additional money on the table, so my decision comes down to (1) a more interesting client base and (2) a more exciting and open culture among the happier employees at the new firm.

To me “the Decision” has been made. How do I tell the firm I interned with (and accepted an offer with) that I won’t be coming to the party next year? Am I at risk of being “that guy?” Can you put me in contact with a cable network willing to run a one-hour special so I don’t have to tell them directly?

Thank you.

-Raymone James

LeBron Raymone,

First, congratulations on one-upping your entry level status in such a dire market. It sounds as though your decision is a done deal so cutting the cord with your personal version of Cleveland shouldn’t be hard to do.

Being that it’s already November, you need to reach out to the firm you’re breaking away from immediately. They’re in the middle of interview season anyway, and knowing that they have an additional spot in their budget now rather than later is important (and fair to their process). Reach out to the recruiter that was your point of contact within the firm (and probably the one that presented you with the original offer). Leave them a voicemail at work stressing the need to speak about a “time sensitive issue” and follow up with an email stating the same. Should you not hear back from them in 48 hours, follow up with another call. If it’s another empty voicemail, follow up with another email (forward the original) and state then that you will not be starting with them after graduation. Explain the situation (using the “it’s not you, it’s me” angle usually works), and thank them for the positive intern experience.

In fairness to them you should try to speak to them live on the phone; however you’re not obligated to make a dozen attempts to reach them. Everyone has email in their pocket these days and it’s reasonable to expect a response in two business days.

And why are you worried about being ‘that guy?’ If by that you mean ‘the guy who left for better money, clients, and culture,’ I’d bet it’s safe to say many of us wouldn’t mind being that guy (or lady) too.

Good luck.

You’ve Been Denied by the Big 4. What Next?

Ed. note: Have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Hello Going Concern,

I’m currently finishing my last semester at the University of Kentucky, I’m a fifth year student that will be graduating in December with a dual degree in accounting and economics. The recruitment period for the big 4, regional and local firms are all over and done. I applied to basically all of the positions/internships and was not asked to interview for any of them. At first, I naively thought they just weren’t hiring from my school, but the voice of reason deep inside my head finally convinced me that it was indy own doing. My GPA was simply too low (about a 3.1).

Granted, accounting is a challenging course of study, also majoring in econ certainly steals valuable time and energy towards getting that very good GPA. My problem now, is where to go from here. I can’t change the past and must move forward, from all indications I will graduate in December with no job prospects. Should I continue to push and attempt to network with the larger firms, or should I just try and get a position somewhere….anywhere, accounting related to develop some valuable experience? I didn’t do a good job at all of networking through college, just put my head down and hit the books. I’m not a social pariah by any means, however I know that this shyness of mine will not cut it and has hindered me tremendously at this point. I feel overwhelmed and a little disheartened at the makings of the future. If I don’t land a firm job will I be stuck in a perpetual rut in a dead end job? Is it important to avoid the private industry right out of college to get a taste of what you like in the public industry? How would you go about networking out of college, cold calling? I know I’ve asked a bunch of questions here, and maybe have not provided enough background information. To be outstanding you must stand out, now I’m at the crossroads of trying to do just that, but am a little unsure of how to start.

Sincerely,
Pablo


Pablo,

Playing the “I’m holding out for a job in public” doesn’t pay the rent or student loan bills. Not only are you up against stiff competition due to your lower-than-most-interns GPA, and self-decribed “shyness”, you’re fighting the timelines of every firm’s recruiting schedule. Meaning, the firms are done with their hiring needs by this point in time, especially if you are in a smaller market. You ask in your email to GC if you should “continue to push and attempt to network with the larger firms” only to admit in the next sentence that you “didn’t do a good job at all of networking through college, just put my head down and hit the books.” What the hell happened? Your email leaves me wondering if you simply dropped the ball on putting any effort into your job search, leaning too heavily on the notion that all you need is an accounting degree to receive free job handouts.

If going into public accounting was always the goal, your economics degree was not necessary. As “majoring in econ certainly steals valuable time and energy towards getting a very good GPA,” why didn’t you cut your losses after a few classes and drop the major? If your answer is “because I was interested in the subject,” I’m going to call bullshit. If you were so interested in the topic, one would safely assume you would, you know, do well in those classes.

But enough about the past – given that you are about six weeks from graduating, you need to be aggressive with your job search.

Contact Career Services – Your school’s career services should have resources available to help you overcome some of the interview/social anxiety you might have that has held you back in your efforts to network with employers up to this point. They can set you up with meetings, discussions groups, mock interviews, etc. Take advantage of these free resources now; in six weeks it’ll cost you.

Stop being so damn picky – Your questions above gave me the impression that you’re being too picky (dead end jobs worries, hesitation about entering private industry instead of seeking public accounting experience, etc.). The economy – if you haven’t noticed – sucks. You’re entering a job market that is sputtering around nine percent unemployment and approximately 103 percent underemployment. Your competition is more experienced and potentially has better grades and soft skills than you.

The job market – even for accountants – is a simple numbers game – You apply to 30 jobs. You receive interviews at five. You receive second rounds at three. You hope for one offer. You should be applying to accounting roles in every industry in every sized firm. If they’re seeking an accounting degree, your résumé should be there. Search Indeed, LinkedIn, and the Monsters of the world on your own. Look into your college’s resources for alumni. Get in touch with recruiters in your area to see if they have any entry level or temp to perm positions. Play the numbers and see what hits. Good luck, and keep your head up.

Wanted: Full Set of Dentures for Auditor Watchdog

The dynamics at both the PCAOB and the Big Four are horrible. The incentive at the Big Four is to keep prices down to the point at which it’s impossible for a new entrant to break into their charmed group; after all, if it means they end up cutting corners, the worst that happens is that they get gummed by the toothless PCAOB. [Felix Salmon/Reuters]

Burned Out KPMG Associate Looking to Extend Stay in Public Accounting Purgatory with Another Big 4 Firm

Ed. note: Have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us advice@goingconcern.com.

Dear GC:

I am an associate working for KPMG. During the past 13 months of my career here, I’m just tired of using their outdated office technology, audit tools (an electronic audit system that was made in 2010 when all other big 4s started at least 5 years ago), unfriendly people culture (politics and white-eyes), and stingy meal reimbursement ($14 for dinner). I often work really late hours (utilization rate more than 180%), at the year-end review, I am really unhappy for the rating and raise they gave me.

But still, I want to work in public accounting for the next 2 to 3 years. My question is, do Big 4 recruiters share their employee’s review? Does a recruiter at DTT/EY/PwC know what the employee’s performance is at KPMG (maybe a call to his/her close-friend in KPMG to find-out)? Also, while I’m choosing my next target, which Big 4 has better people-culture so that I will be motivated to work hard for the 2 or 3 years?

Thanks,

An Escaping Klynvedian

Dear Soon-To-Be-Escapee,


Oh, the woes of a being a first year associate: you think the hours/pay/bennies can be substantially better at another firm in your area, but really where you’re at now is oftentimes par for the course. Yes, the audit tools at KPMG are antiquated compared to the others (to their credit: they’re desperately playing catch up now), but with the other areas of complaint I doubt the GC crew has much sympathy for you. Your $14 Per Diem rate is not a KPMG decision but rather based on rates set by IRS. As someone who has traveled extensively for my firm (and uses the IRS rates), I’ve never had a problem ordering in or dining out within the rates set for any given city. Hellz, you could live on $14 a night in NYC if you had to (street meat, anyone?). On to your other concerns:

1. Hours – going to be bad wherever you are. 180% chargeability bad? I don’t know. Talk to anyone you know at the local offices of your competitors and ask about their busy seasons. Also ask if they’re hiring.

2. Unfriendly culture – I think we can all agree that this is different for every office, for every firm, for every city. Best way to find a better one is to look around.

3. Sharing employee reviews – it’s unlikely that one HR professional will call up his/her counterpart at your firm and inquire directly about your reviews. However, they will most likely ask that you provide copies of past reviews before making you an offer. This is a legitimate request and you should be prepared to cooperate. Based on your expressed concern, I’m going to guess that your reviews are not that…great. If this is the case, be prepared to explain any average/less than review points made by your manager(s).

GC’ers – who has some advice for our fleeing first year? Hit up the comments below.

Brits To Give Big 4 the Full Monty

Britain’s top accountants are to have their own books scrutinised after the consumer watchdog referred the business of checking companies’ figures for a full-scale competition inquiry. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said it had been concerned for some time that the audit market is highly concentrated with low levels of switching and substantial barriers to entry. The watchdog estimates that in 2010 the “big four” firms, PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young, earned 99% of audit fees paid by FTSE 100 companies, while between 2002 and 2010 only 2.3% of FTSE 100 firms changed their auditor. [UKPA]

Report: Chinese Government Asking Big 4 Firms to Take Another Look at Their Audits

The request, sources said, is seen as a direct response to the move by the U.S. regulators in the case of scandal-hit Longtop Financial Technologies Ltd, and to ensure that firms do not succumb to pressure to hand over documents to regulators outside of China. Last month the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) asked an American court to enforce a subpoena it sent to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu’s China practice for documents from its audit of Longtop.Two sources from the audit industry told Reuters that the Ministry of Finance and China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) met last week with the so-called ‘Big Four’ audit firms — KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and Deloitte — along with two smaller firms. The firms were requested by the government to conduct an urgent review of all audits they had done on U.S.-listed Chinese firms in 2010 along with work on U.S. initial public offerings by Chinese companies. [Reuters]

First-Generation Americans’ Parents Need Convincing That Accounting Is a Better Career Choice Than Law

As we all know, the Big 4 are more than happy to market themselves as the melting pots of the professional services world. First in your family to go to college? Great! Not an Ivy League graduate? No problem! Completely devoid of WASPyness? Even better! With the relative success of the firms to market this inclusive culture, however, Reuters reports that the biggest challenge is convincing the parents of first-generation recruits that accounting is just as worthy of a career path as medicine or law:

Accounting has long provided a path for first-generation Americans into the professional classes. Good pay and a focus on numbers makes it an attractive career choice. Still, recruiting the children of immigrants is complex, say some Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). Parents’ opinions are influential and they often don’t know the field, a problem that alternatives like medicine or the law don’t face. Once on the job, first-generation CPAs can face new challenges like decoding the relationship-driven, sometimes self-promotional American business culture.

Makes sense to me. Medicine is easy because doctors are in the life-saving business. Law is attractive because parents hope that they might become Jack McCoy or the protagonist in a John Grisham novel. But accounting? Jesus, numbers are boring, it’s not even a real profession:

When Maria Castanon Moats, PwC’s chief diversity officer, told her family that she planned to be a CPA, she remembers her parents asked “Why not be a lawyer?”

“They did not understand this accounting thing … To them, a professional was an attorney or a doctor,” said Moats, 43. Moats, who emigrated from Mexico at the age of one with her father, a migrant farmworker, said the profession appealed to her because it brought stability. High ethical standards and integrity, strong values in her family, were also important. Now, as part of the firm’s 14-member leadership team, she welcomes young recruits with a similar background. “The first generation really wants to be successful to make their parents proud. They are committed and loyal,” she said.

We’ve had the accounting vs. law debate before and we don’t to call Elie Mystal in here to explain why pursuing a career in a law is a risky proposition. The Reuters article doesn’t come out and say it but it really amounts to candidates educating their parents about the advantages to pursuing a career in accounting. Recruiters at the Big 4 can’t really say, “Clue your parents in,” so they put on aggressive marketing campaigns to tout diversity and inclusion. The students take this message back to mom and dad (along with salary ranges) and they start warming up to the idea. This way, everyone is happy. The kids get a decent job; the parents can beam about the CPA in the family. Sure, accounting isn’t justice but it beats being unemployed and doing this:

Accounting can be door to U.S. professional class [Reuters]

Muddy Waters CEO: There Are Some Big 4 Partners in China Conspiring to Defraud Investors

As you probably heard, the PCAOB officially put out a proposal earlier this week for audit partners to be named in the annual reports of public companies. It would also require “registered firms to disclose the name of the engagement partner for each audit report already requirethe form” and “disclosure in the audit report of other accounting firms and certain other participants that took part in the audit.”

While most Big 4 audit partners are probably feeling a little chapped by this whole proposal, there is at least one person going on record (by way of PCAOB comment letter) that feels that it doesn’t go far enough. That would be Carson Block, the CEO and founder of research firm Muddy Waters. In Block’s letter (in full on page 2) to the Board he writes that not only should the engagement partner be identified but that he or she should be putting their name on the audit opinion because “[it] will decrease investors’ future losses to fraud and gimmicky accounting by billions of dollars.”

That on it’s own is enough to get more than a few people riled up. But as we indicated, there are some conspiracy and fraud accusations as well:

Even the most reputable auditors in China seem to be in a race to the bottom. We believe that there are particularly egregious situations in which some Big Four partners in China offices have actually conspired with their clients to defraud investors. Further, it is a reasonable proposition that the conflict of interest inherent in the Chinese auditors’ business model also affects the quality of US company audits.

Now before your knickers in a twist, don’t forget that this is the guy who called Sino-Forest a “Ponzi Scheme for the 23rd Century” which more or less looks to be accurate. Further, if you consider all the trouble Big 4 firms have had with Chinese companies listed in the U.S. and elsewhere, it doesn’t seem to be that much of a stretch that some partners would just say fuck it and work with their clients to keep a lid on the shenanigans than go through the pain of actually doing their jobs.

Regardless, with these accusations the PCAOB may try to make another run at getting the Chinese to play ball.


Carson Block 102011

Fence-crossing Regulator Wants to Know How to Jump into a Big 4 Firm

Ed. note: Have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

I have a senior-level job with a regulator that has jurisdiction over accounting firms. (Don’t want to say much more, because it would be self-identifying.)

I think my credentials may be good enough to land a partner-level job with a Big Four to help with compliance and whatnot. I’d like to pursue this some time over the next several years.

But how should I make the approach? Should I contact the firms directly at the appropriate time? Or go through a headhunter? If a headhunter, which ones have the best contacts for senior positions?

Thanks for your help.

–Fence-crosser (sorry, I couldn’t come up with a witty name)

Fence-crosser,
Give yourself some credit – your nickname is wittier than most (and by most, I mean people usually sign their first and last names and add their Social Security number for good measure).


After a quick (and confidential) search for your background on LinkedIn, I have a much better understanding of your seniority and depth of experience in the regulatory space. Very impressive. Considering your educational background (for those of you playing at home – very strong undergrad and advanced degree programs), I have no doubt that you’ve made your mark within the inner circles of both your industry and your city (major US market).

Before we talk about how to go about pursuing opportunities within the Big 4, let’s talk about this so-called “partner-like” level where you’d like to land. Without a CPA you cannot be a partner, however principals are a non-certified equivalent and directors are nothing to slouch at, either. You’d most easily transition into either 1) a firm’s internal professional practice, helping decipher government regulation and how said firm’s practices are affected by changing laws or 2) a firm’s advisory group, aiding clients with the same issues. The upsides – both monetarily and network-wise – would be in advisory. But do not overlook being an internal expert; they are paid handsomely for their work.

When it comes to seeking out the Big 4’s interest in your particular skillset, I suggest starting with their in-house Experienced Hire recruiters. All of the firms are hot to hire people with your experience. Look into their publicly posted opportunities first; either you will find something in line with your background or at the very least find a name to contact. Check out last week’s post for links to each firm’s experienced hire pages. Your skillset would be an exceptional value added to a firm’s compliance/regulatory departments. Best of luck in transitioning.

Readers – are you familiar with this kind of transition? Have you made the move yourself? Email Caleb and he’ll connect you with Fence-crosser should you be able to help. Are you a recruiter at one of the Big 4? Do the same – contact Caleb and make this happen.

Are You a Loser If You Don’t Make Partner at a Big 4 Firm?

Good morning capital market servants. Presumably, none of you were on the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday which also probably means you’ve still got a job, a career to think about, etc. etc.

How’s that going by the way? Are you on the partner track or do you have partner tracks on your back? Haven’t given it much thought lately but hey, this is what you’re doing and sure, making partner seems like a sweet gig, amiright?

Well an interesting statement from the Grumpy Old Accountants today got me to thinking about all of you hoping for a seat at the big table:

In fact, in the Big Four accounting firms today, if you don’t make partner, you often are considered a loser.


Now this little snippet comes out of a much larger discussion about why some many accountants are cheaters (it’s because everyone wants to be perceived as a “winner”). That’s a fine discussion as well, and the GOA post is worth a read, but we’ll focus on the notion that “no parter = loser.”

I certainly had my own partner aspirations for a brief point in time and many of you out there in Big 4 land have them right now. For me, my attitude changed when I observed a few partners, saw what their workload and lives were like and thought, “JESUS H. CHRIST, BEING A PARTNER SUCKS.”

The problem is, if you’re appear to be making a career for yourself at a Big 4 firm (I was quite the nomad which doesn’t really work), what is the ultimate goal? No one says to themselves, “I’d be fine with making Senior Manager in 8-10 years and then spending THE NEXT 30 in that same position.” As such, partner is a goal for many of you. However, we all know that Senior Manager is a parking lot in most service lines, so it may not be 30 years at SM but it’ll sure seem like 30. Having said that, if you like your firm, are reasonably good to FUCKING AWESOME at your job, then why wouldn’t you want to make partner? Not all Big 4 partners are created equal but if you’re on the fast track at PwC, would doing anything less than being admitted to the partnership satisfy your professional ambitions? And if you give up on career goals because…well, just because…does that not make you a L-O-S-E-R?

The answer is no. Personally, I’ve seen plenty of people with partner-level talent, hot on the partner track give it up because 1) something better comes along; 2) They want their life back; 3) SOMETHING BETTER COMES ALONG. In fact, many new partners are working harder than ever (i.e. “like a 2nd Year Senior Associate” has been overheard). Does that sound like a “winner” to you? GOA might have it exactly bassackwards. The last thing most Big 4 alums will tell you is that they feel like losers because they didn’t make partner. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s probably more accurate to say you’re a loser if you think you’ve got a shot at making partner at a Big 4 firm.

UDPATE:
Professor Ketz clarifies below (seen via Twitter) that they the GOAs were talking about the culture within the Big 4 firms rather than you individual losers:

As we said, “… IN THE BIG FOUR ACCOUNTING FIRMS TODAY, if you don’t make partner, you often are considered a loser” (emphasis added). We were discussing the culture of the large accounting firms–we were not discussing our evaluations of those who are not partners. After all, we aren’t partners and we hope we aren’t losers!!

I’ll continue my contrary narrative here and argue that this not the case either. As we know, Big 4 firms sell themselves as great places to start careers but they don’t regularly make the case that this is where you want to spend 15-20 years of your professional life. The culture inside has evolved to accept attrition as part of the formula and that younger professionals are anxious when it comes to getting ahead. In fact, things have changed so much that convincing the talented professionals to stay is part of the culture. Hearing “You’ve got a bright future here,” from a pair of partners over lunch is standard these days because they know the “winners” will leave and the “losers” don’t know when to get out.

Will Years Out of the Game Negate the Big 4 Boomerang Effect?

Ed. note: Have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Here’s an issue I rarely see. I joined PwC management consulting right out of my Ivy League school, and have my undergrad degree in Economics. I loved it, worked hard, made manager in five years and worked for some huge clients. I did all of the extras, methodology writing, promotion committees, coaching, proposals, etc. Managed some huge high profile projects too. Was offered a slot at PwC’s new executive MBA program, and was in the alpha class, graduating with a concentration in Marketing (picked by the firm). But then we had huge post 9/11 layoffs, were spun off and bought by IBM. I left soon after to start a family. I was there nearly ten years.

I went back to school and got my MSAT, and now am halfway through my CPA exam, acing it thanks to my teaching and experience. I’ve been teaching accounting and tax at a major university for the past four years as an adjunct, and doing a little private consulting.

Can I get back in to Big 4? Do I do it as an experienced hire? I know I’ve never been a practicing auditor but I know the methodology and how to manage large engagements. What’s the best way for me to work my way back in? My former colleagues are all at IBM or have left. I am not eligible for on campus since I graduated with my latest masters in 2009.
Thanks!

DISCLAIMER: not every circumstance in the history of circumstances has been taken into consideration when making this statement:

Public accounting – you can always come back.

The flow of people out of public accounting is much more intense and consistent than the experienced hire onboards, but that’s not to say it’s impossible. I did a little searching on LinkedIn and realized that you live in the greater New York City area, which is to your advantage. Many of the Big 4’s support staffs are located in NYC, so there might be options in those areas of the firms if a return to client servicing is not possible. so your odds of finding an opportunity and a new home with one of the Big4 improve slightly. Start with searching their Experienced Hire websites for open opportunities. Links are below:

Deloitte

E&Y

KPMG

PwC

Scour LinkedIn for experienced hire recruiters within each firm and reach out to them directly; have them hear your story. Most importantly, be persistent. The experienced hiring model within the Big 4 is can be touch and go, especially considering the recent uncertainty in the economy.

PwC Won’t Allow an Upset in Vault’s Prestige Rankings

Earlier this week, we learned that Grant Thornton was the new numero uno on Vault’s Accounting 50. The VA50 is determined by a number metrics that are weighted to come up with an overall score as to which firm is the best of the best. According to Vault, Grant Thornton was able to leverage their better work-life balance for employees to overcome their lack of prestige to pull this off.

For many people in the accounting world, however, this is meaningless. Reputation is everything and if you’re not working for one of the firms that are of highest regard, you’re simply a chump. Accordingly, Vault still presents a prestige ranking and while there aren’t many surprises, for many, this is the list. And the top firm on the list? P. Dubs.

1 (1) PwC
2 (3) Deloitte
3 (2) Ernst & Young
4 (4) KPMG
5 (5) Grant Thornton


6 (7) McGladrey
7 (6) BDO
8 (8) Moss Adams
9 (10) J.H. Cohn
10 (9) Plante & Moran
11 (13) Crowe Horwath
12 (12) Clifton Gunderson
13 (11) EisnerAmper
14 (22) LarsonAllen
15 (14) Rothstein Kass
16 (15) BKD
17 (18) Baker Tilly Virchow Krause
18 (16) Reznick Group
19 (21) Dixon Hughes Goodman
20 (19) Cherry Bekaert & Holland
21 (24) Anchin, Block & Anchin
22 (17) WeiserMazars
23 (23) CBIZ/Mayer Hoffman McCann
24 (29) ParenteBeard
25 (28) Wipfli
26 (31) Friedman
27 (27) Marcum
28 (34) Berdon
29 (35) Citrin Cooperman & Co.
30 (36) Eide Bailly
31 (26) UHY Advisors
32 (37) WithumSmith + Brown
33 (32) Elliot Davis
34 (38) Margolin, Winer & Evens
35 (33) Marks Paneth & Shron
36 (40) Blackman Kallick
37 (25) Novogradac & Company
38 (49) RubinBrown
39 (NR) Schonbraun McCann Group
40 (50) Kaufman, Rossin & Co.
41 (NR) Lattimore Black Morgan & Cain
42 (45) Frank Rimerman & Co.
42 (48) Habif, Arogeti & Wynne
43 (NR) Buff Pilger Mayer, Inc.
44 (NR) Horne
45 (NR) Rehmann
46 (NR) Schenck SC
46 (NR) Suby, Von Haden & Associates
46 (NR) Ehrhardt Keefe Steiner & Hottman
47 (41) Aronson & Company
48 (NR) SingerLewak
49 (47) SS&G Financial Services
50 (NR) Katz, Sapper & Miller

Oh! and probably most importantly, the prestige ranking is what we use to seed the brackets for the Coolest Accounting Firm in the spring, so it’s doubly important. Commence bickering.

You May Now Commence Wild-ass Theories as to Who Wants to Break Up the Big 4

“Breaking up the Big Four audit firms would make them more susceptible to be taken over by emerging Chinese firms,” a UK audit official said on Tuesday on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivities involved. [ET via Francine McKenna]

Will a Floundering GPA Doom a Recruit’s Big 4 Hopes?

Ed. note: Have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Hi GC,

I am interviewing with multiple big four firms but I am a little worried that if I receive an offer it may be revoked later on. I graduate in December with my masters and due to recruiting season and studying for the CPA exam I have not focused much on school. My current GPA is 3.5 and I feel that after this semester it will be in the 3.3-3.4 range. Have you ever heard of a CPA firm revoking a new graduate offer due to their grades slipping? I am getting a little worried. Thanks.

Sincerely,
Scared

Scared,
Welcome to the trials and tribulations of recruiting season. Unfounded rumors. Random interview selection. Lost sleep over imploding GPAs. Epic amounts of money wasted on free schwag*.

Rest assured, the drop in your GPA should not affect your eligibility. Consider this: your candidacy for a spot at a Big 4 firm consists A) your undergraduate GPA/degree B) any relative internships you’ve landed C) your first semester of grad work (the 3.5 GPA) and D) your CPA eligibility. I say “should not” without making a promise because the world could end tomorrow (Greece! UBS! HPV shots!) and recruiting could dry up but it’s not likely. Okay, UBS could be toast…

I’m not suggesting that you let things slide, either; you will need to provide a final transcript upon graduation. Assuming you took an equal amount of credits across two semesters for your Masters program, your first semester of a 3.5 GPA will be match up with a second semester of 3.2/3.3. Not the end of the world.

Keep interviewing, keep studying, and keep us informed of how things play out. Good luck on campus this fall.

*GC contributors will gladly accept schwag.

What’s Your Motivation for Leaving a Mid-tier Accounting Firm for a Job with Big 4?

Contributor note: if you have a question for the Going Concern audience at large (including the useless dbags) or our team of accounting drop outs and degenerates, please get in touch.

Here’s a tip if you guys are thinking about submitting a question: it helps to know your motivation if you are asking for our advice. It’s difficult to tell you what you should do without knowing why you’re trying to do it, unless you’re asking us an obvious question like “should I take X position to make way more money?” because in that situation we obviously assume you’re in it for the money. There’s nothing wrong with that.

That said, this indentured servSo let’s commence to helping.

I’m currently working for a large mid-size firm as a Staff II and will become a Senior I next year on a relatively large public client. However, I’ve been debating whether or not I should follow up on opportunities to work at a Big 4 firm if it means I have to wait an additional 2 years to become a Senior I?

I know from my friends currently working in the Big 4 firm that new hires work for 3 years at the staff level before being promoted to Senior I. In addition, I may also slip one level from Staff II back to Staff I when I change firms. I’d essentially be 2 years behind my peers as a result of going to the Big 4 so I don’t know if making this switch would help or hurt my career. Is it really worth losing that much time in order to get the Big 4 name on my resume? Should I wait until next year in hopes that I could be recruited as a Staff III instead?

Surely I’m not the only one struggling with this decision, does anyone else have experience with this problem?

Thanks and Best Regards,
-Staff II(?) Auditor

Well, Would-Be Staff II, as you are probably already aware, the Big 4 item on your résumé is going to blow any of that mid-tier nonsense you’ve got going now out of the water (don’t get butthurt, mid-tier-ers. It’s not personal). The actual practical application of what you’re learning at a mid-tier firm versus what you might learn at the Big 4 is irrelevant here; it’s all about marketing yourself, and you’re better equipped to do that with bragging rights slapped all over your work experience. You’re pretty much only going to get those rights from the Big 4.

That isn’t to say you can’t gain valuable experience from your current employer, so it comes down to what you want to do career-wise and in what time frame you would like to accomplish it. Have you passed the CPA exam already? Are you itching to get out of public altogether? It’s pretty hard to try and push you in the right direction without knowing what that direction is. What do you want out of your career? Money? Prestige? Experience?

Why did you start mid-tier in the first place? Are you happy where you are? Do you enjoy the work and feel fulfilled? What is it you think Big 4 can offer that you aren’t getting at your current firm?

If I were you, I would wait it out, gain additional experience, keep those Big 4 contacts and try to make the jump when you have a little more leverage. The more secure you get in your skill set, the better equipped you’ll be to leverage that experience into a more ideal gig with a Big 4 instead of starting at bottom a level above the clueless interns.

I would also have a candid conversation with whomever you’ve been speaking to at the Big 4 about your concerns. Don’t come off as a money-grubbing, work-averse dick but definitely express an interest in being involved with work on par with what you’ve been doing with your firm, not taking a step back. Feel free to embellish whatever paperwork you’ve been assembling up until this point into a full-blown PCAOB-compliant masterpiece.

I’m sure any number of mid-tier grunts who read this site religiously can talk you out of making the jump, and for good reason, while others will tell you to jump now and worry about how quick you ascend the Big 4 ladder later. A smaller firm allows you a better chance at truly learning your trade instead of simply going through the motions and checking boxes; think of mid-tier as stripping at the pole as opposed to mopping up the floors. You probably won’t put stripping at the pole on your resume but you’ll be gaining practical experience you can segue into a better opportunity.

I’m not clear on the opportunity you’re after here. Can you clarify?

What Can a Big City Big 4 Auditor Expect at Small City, Second-tier Firm?

Back with another edition of “Decide My Life for Me – Public Accounting Edition.” Today, an antsy Big 4 employee in a large city wants to know if moving to second-tier firm in small city will mean a demotion or cut in salary.

Do you have trouble matching your socks? Need help making sense of your cryptic performance review? Are you worried that someone with a bun in the oven is also capable of doing their job? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and someone will try to straighten you out.

Back to our “Should I Stay or Should I Go” du jour:

Hi,

I was curious if you had any information on employees jumping from Big 4 firms (auditing) to upper-mid-tier (i.e. McGladrey). Do you find that they are often promoted? I am currently in a large city and am uninterested in staying in the city long-term. I was thinking of moving to a 300,000 person city with some firms like McGladrey, Grant Thornton, etc. If I am jumping ship as a senior or manager, where should I expect to come in at? Same level? Same salary?

Thanks
Jumper

Dear Jumper,


Had it with Big 4 life, eh? Let me guess, the groupies got to you, didn’t they? Every damn time.

As to your inquiry, here’s the deal – you won’t be promoted if you decide to accept a position with McGladrey or Grant Thornton. Why? There are a few reasons: 1) You don’t have the experience; 2) You don’t have the experience; 3) You don’t have the experience. We all know that Big 4 auditors think they’re pretty special and that anyone who doesn’t soil themselves after looking at their stellar résumés followed by an immediate job offer is simply stupid. So it comes as a shock to many when this scenario doesn’t play out. As far as second-tier firms go, they definitely want Big 4 talent when they can get it but they’re aren’t about to throw you a bone because you worked at E&Y Chicago or PwC New York.

What you can expect – if you’re senior associate or a manager at a Big 4 firm, you can reasonably expect to be offered (not a guarantee, obv) a similar position at GT or Mickey G’s that you currently have. If you’re moving to a smaller city, you could see a similar salary but you should not expect a raise. You’ll receive the market rate for your position in your new city. The firm may put you at the high range of pay for your group but be prepared to be reminded of that fact come merit increase time.

Anyone made a similar move with different results? Share below.

Big 4 Recruiting Season: Career Fair Tips

Got a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Good afternoon, GC’ers. I’m going to be devoting posts to general campus recruiting advice this week. College students – listen up. Already-employed cohorts – chime in with your own advice. Today I’m going to cover Career Fairs, everyone’s favorite meat market.


Questions you should be ready for – “Did you submit your resume through Career Services? Did you submit our firm’s additional paperwork? When do you graduate? What office are you interested in? Will you be CPA eligible up graduation? What practice are you interested in?” If you know what practiced you’ sure to have your paperwork submitted through the necessary online means. Don’t know what you’re applying for? Read below…

Know what you’re applying for – Nothing worse than talking to a student who is, “Uhhhhhhh, you know, I’m open to anything.” To me, that means you are unfamiliar with my firm’s services and you’re standing in line like a lemming because you know it’s good for you. Do you homework ahead of time about what practice groups are being targeted on your campus. Here’s a hint – focus on the job posts that are on your Career Services site; this is what each firm is focused on and actively recruiting for from your particular school. Don’t see Transaction Advisory Services listed? Probably ain’t gonna happen.

Suit up – Take a piece of advice from Barney Stinson and rock a suit to the Fair. It doesn’t need to be an expensive suit; heck, it doesn’t even have to be yours. Personally, I’m not a fan of the trend of suits becoming the norm at career fairs but it is better to match your competition than to assume “different is better.” Accounting firms are not Google; they breed a conservative culture. Play along, at least until you have an offer.

In an effort to avoid this becoming an Esquire-like blog post, I’ll keep my suit advice simple.

Ladies: Make sure your blouse is comfortably but securely buttoned, and take the potential of taller recruiters (aka wandering eyes) into consideration. Also, avoid hot magenta or any other color that would be included in a pack of highlighters.

Gents: That Calvin Klein tag on the outside of your jacket’s left sleeve? Yeah, that’s supposed to come off. Also, be sure to open your pockets and jacket vents before going to the Fair. It’s always awkward to see a guy trying to stuff a business card into a sewn up pocket.

Relax. Don’t sweat it. – Really, I mean that. Few things are more repulsive than shaking the moist hand of an anxious student. It can get hot at career fairs, I know. You can do a couple of things to chill out if you have a sweating problem: 1) Hold you résumé folder in your left hand and keep your right hand out of your pocket. This will let your hand breathe. 2) Small talk the person next you – it will help both of you relax. 3) A good swipe of your right hand on the back of your leg when you know your turn is coming up is totally fair game.

Always mints, never gum – There’s a good chance you’ll have to wait in line at the Big 4 booths. As you’re waiting in the mass herd of people, pop a few Tic Tacs or mints (avoid Altoids – too strong). They’ll help you relax and will be gone before you start speaking to the recruiter.

Business cards = cheat sheets – Ask for business cards when you meet with the professionals at the career fair (note – if they don’t have any, just remember to get their name so you can take notes later). Generally speaking, they are alums from your school and are excited to be back on campus and they can be a great resource going forward. They will also be at other events, even as early as the same week as the career fair. In between visiting booths, take two minutes to scribble notes on the back of the business card to help you remember who they were. “Black hair.” “Red glasses.” “Talked about baking.” “Mentioned she was an Eagles fan.” Reviewing these cards prior to next week’s firm-sponsored social event on campus will help you remember the connections much better.

Find out when they’ll be back – The five minutes you spend with the recruiters and professionals at the career fairs are not enough to earn yourself an interview. It is imperative you make personal connections with members of each firm. Beta Alpha Psi presentations. Cheesy happy hour mixers. Whatever. Go, shake hands, and laugh at their jokes. Earn yourself an interview.

Remember your manners – Thank everyone for their time. As happy to be on campus as they may be, many of the professionals will put in hours for work back at their hotels later that night. It is not always easy for them to take time off from work to make the trips back, so have a little respect for their time and their neglected inboxes.

Have anything to add? Email us or leave your comments below.

Are the Big 4 Starting to Demand Higher GPAs From New Recruits?

Ed. note: Got a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Hi GC,

I am a longtime reader of this website and it has never failed me so here I go once more – some Big Four positions just got posted to our school’s résumé submission website here at University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. PwC internship and full time positions have a minimum required GPA of 3.4 while EY is 3.2 and KPMG is 3.0. Deloitte’s have not been posted. I know our school isn’t the greatest in accounting [Ed. note: huh?]and the public accounting profession pales in comparison to investment banking and management consulting but a 3.4 MINIMUM GPA to apply??

Last year’s minimum GPA was 3.0 to apply which was understandable but this new recruiting team from PwC increased the GPA by 0.4. Do they feel like someone is throwing out GPA points like Bernanke is throwing out dollars? Would it be kosher to change my 3.37 GPA to 3.4/4.0 on my resume to qualify for on campus interviews?

Best,
Drinking Beer in Champaign

Dear DBinC,

I’m always glad to throw a loyal reader some freebie advice. Thanks for checkin’ in with us.

First of all, forget that last year’s GPA requirement was 0.4 points lower; last year is irrelevant. Put your game face on and rise to the challenge.

Yes, absolutely round your 3.37 up to a 3.4. That’s fair game. In fact, this is a non-issue.

Also, take two minutes of your time to figure out what your major-specific GPA is. Should that be higher than the 3.4 cumulative GPA, add it to your résumé as well. There’s no reason that Intro to Woodcarving should hurt your chances of interning with one of the Big 4.

Why are the GPA requirements rising? To weed out résumés, obviously. Why look through 500 when you can whittle things down to 400 by cutting out the bottom? If you fall into this range, beg, borrow, and NETWORK your way to an interview. Circumstances are individual – if you have a story or reason as to why you’re on the cusp, track down the recruiter (not a audit/tax professional) at the career fair and state your case. Hard work can be rewarded in cases like this.

Big 4 Senior Wants to Know If Her Family Planning Scheme Is Crazy

Ed. note: Are you in the middle of a career conundrum that could use some third-rate advice? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we just surprise you with some sensibility.

Hi!

I work in audit at a Big Four firm in Europe. I’m starting my second senior year and I’ve received good evaluations so far (B+ on my first year,
and then A’s on my second and third years). I love the job, but I know I won’t stay forever (too many long nights, plus I just don’t think
I’d like to be manager). I’m 25, I’ve been married for 2 years and I want kids. I want to start trying, keep working through pregnancy, take the usual time off after birth (paid by government), and return to work part-time. Then after some time I’d probably look for a job elsewhere to work full time (but not Big Four hours).

I haven’t heard of anyone being pregnant during their senior years. How crazy is my plan? Will my senior manager have a heart attack when
I tell him I’m pregnant? Should I wait to try to get pregnant and look for another job with more normal hours?

Thank you!

Hi Europe,

Greetings from across the pond. I’ll do my best to help with your questions, but seeing that I am neither a) pregnant nor b) part of the busy season cycle, I hope the GC.com community can pitch in their own advice. My advice is based on a combination of what I’ve seen here in New York, my general knowledge of Big 4 firms, and what I think (or hope) is common sense.

EU: I haven’t heard of anyone being pregnant during their senior years. How crazy is my plan? Will my senior manager have a heart attack when I tell him I’m pregnant?

DWB: The timing of your pregnancy and pending childbirth will determine how your senior manager takes the news. Generally speaking (again, from what I see here in the States), it’s better from a career move perspective to be pregnant during busy season than to give birth and be out of the office during final reviews, sign-off’s, etc. So, conceiving in the next few months shouldn’t pose too much of an issue.

Let’s say your nine month clock kicks off in October; you’re looking at a July baby. Like the rest of your life, working through busy season will require an adjustment on your part and open communication with your team will be essential. Summer babies are a very common and oftentimes planned with busy season in mind.

EU: Should I wait to try to get pregnant and look for another job with more normal hours?

This question contradicts with what you said earlier in your email, so I’m going to say stay where you are for now. You’re doing well at your firm, and your job there might even act as a rock as you transition into parenthood. I suggest taking advantage of the support groups your firm has in place, and seek out the advice of senior employees who balance work and parenting already.

Good luck with starting your family! GC’ers – what kind of advice can you provide to our hopeful accountant-and-mother-to-be?

Vault’s Consulting Prestige List: Big 4 Stays Respectable

On Wednesday when all anyone could talk about was a little earthquake, we shared with you Vault’s Consulting 50. All of the Big 4 managed to make this year’s list after last year’s only featured Deloitte and P. Dubs, so everyone’s happy.

One list that the Big 4 always seem to do well is the ranking of prestigious firms. Granted, this is the consulting list and the likes of McKinsey, Bain, and Boston, per usual, dominate the top spots but the usual accounting suspects held their own. This list is far less interesting than the Vault 50, which saw a lot of jumping around by various firms but this is all about the prestige and closer your firm is to the top, apparently the less your shit stinks. Here’s the top with previous year’s ranking in parenthesis:

1 (1) McKinsey & Co.
2 (2) Boston Consulting
3 (3) Bain & Co.
4 (4) Booz & Co.
5 (5) Deloitte Consulting


6 (8) PwC
7 (7) Monitor Group
8 (9) Ernst & Young
9 (6) Mercer LLC
10 (12) Accenture

And some notables:
14 (13) KPMG
16 (22) Capgemini
18 (19) Navigant Consulting
21 (26) Roland Berger
25 (27) Huron Consulting
26 (28) Grant Thornton
28 (23) FTI Consulting
33 (30) PRTM
45 (48) BDO

The gang at Vault let us know that we can expect the accounting rankings in a couple-ish weeks, so stay tuned.

The Best Consulting Firms: Prestige [Vault]
Earlier:
All of the Big 4 Land on This Year’s Vault Consulting 50 List (2012)

All of the Big 4 Land on This Year’s Vault Consulting 50 List (2012)

Back with more lists that include your favorite accounting firm. Today’s edition is the Vault Consulting 50. Mostly this list consists of firms that you wish you could work for but you can’t because you either have no pedigree or are dumber than a sack of hammers. That said, all the Big 4 are represented with Deloitte Consulting breaking into the top 5 (2011 ranking in parenthesis):

1 (1) Bain & Co.
2 (3) McKinsey
3 (2) Boston Consulting Group
4 (6) Deloitte Consulting
5 (25) Monitor Group


6 (8) A.T. Kearney
7 (7) Oliver Wyman
8 (5) The Cambridge Group
9 (4) Analysis Group, Inc.
10 (16) Booz & Company

This is a pretty fun list mostly because there was a lot of jumping around by the firms (*ahem* Monitor Group, where did you come from?). Other notables that you’re probably curious about include:

11 (32) Accenture
12 (13) PwC
21 (19) PRTM (who PwC just purchased)
36 (44) Navigant Consulting
42 (45) Capgemini
45 (42) FTI Consulting
47 (NR) Ernst & Young
50 (NR) KPMG

Jump over to the full list if you’re interested to see the rest of the Top 50 and here’s Vault’s methodology for those curious about that sort of thing.

Vault Consulting 50 [Vault]
Last year’s coverage:
Big 4 Have Big Presence on Vault’s Prestige List, Less So in Top 50

Is a FASB Internship the Path to Prosperity?

Ed. note: If you’re desperate for career advice from a couple of Big 4 refugees or someone who won’t bother sitting for the CPA Exam, shoot us an email at advice@goingconcern.com. Thanks for your support of Going Concern.

A reader asks on behalf of a “friend”… right:

GC,
A friend of mine was accepted as one of the FASB interns right out of his master’s program, and was wondering what he can expect regarding salary/perks when he is done with the internship. They choose 12 total people per year. His email would give away his name, so I had to send it.

We are not looking for specific numbers, rather, with your past experience, would you expect firms to offer higher salary and perks osed “elite” position? He merely wants a 2nd year salary and to get his CPA bonus and materials paid for (since he lost these benefits by declining his current offer from one of the Big 4.

Thanks again,
Young and Naive.

First off, Y&N, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out here that we don’t make a habit of publishing email addresses under any circumstances, so in the future, your “friend” is welcome to get in touch directly and we will not blab to everyone about “his” business. Then again, with 12 folks entering this “elite” position, it’s not that hard to narrow down the choices and figure out who is who. But who cares?

You mentioned that your “friend” turned down a Big 4 offer (presumably to take this FASB internship) so what are you, er, he thinking is going to happen when the internship is over? All Big 4 firms pay for CPA review, most of the larger firms offer some sort of CPA bonus so he’d be wise to get as much done as he can during the internship so he can knock out that last part just after the ink has dried on his offer letter and get the larger bonus offered.

That said, not sure if you’ve heard but FASB isn’t exactly the elite accounting standard setting body it once was back in the days before mark-to-market. It’s hard to tell you – er, your “friend” – how valuable this internship will be without knowing more about what it entails. If it’s some legitimately elite program that only a handful of accounting students qualify for every year that will teach your “friend” the ins and outs of accounting standard setting under the watchful guise of seasoned pros, perhaps your “friend” will have a little leverage when it comes to negotiating a better payout in public accounting after leaving FASB but I wouldn’t expect to be pulling 6 figures or anything. In fact, I wouldn’t expect much at all beyond the usual salary bump one gets for being a high performing MAcc student with skills beyond binge drinking.

Could this be the Postgraduate Technical Assistant Program, by chance? You don’t have to tell us, lest your “friend” get put on blast, just asking.

Obviously this valuable experience will put your “friend” a step above slackers, and will teach your “friend” all sorts of marketable skills such as time management, prioritization and critical thinking in the scope of accounting, not to mention offer all sorts of networking opportunities should your “friend” decide to stay or return to the realm of policy over public drudge work. In the long run, these skills will probably be worth more (figuratively, not literally in the sense of buckets of cash delivered to this person’s front door just for being such a talented human being) than any imagined huge salary perk your “friend” is expecting for coming into public with this experience.

This experience will get your “friend” into the Big 4 if that is the route “he” wants to take, and “he” may even be able to play “make the firms fight over who gets to have me” but “he” will likely have to put in blood, sweat, tears and – most importantly – time just like the rest of the grunts to make the big money.

Will “he” have a competitive advantage? Yes. Is that worth more money in the big picture of things? Yes. Is your “friend” going to be offered $30k more than his “average” MAcc classmate just because he went through this program? Doubtful. Is his lifetime earning potential slightly more due to the experience, knowledge and connections he will gain through this program? Totally.

Why did you write us to ask this? Just to have people congratulate you – er, your “friend” – for nailing such a “supposed ‘elite’ position?”

Tax Intern Wants to Know What Job Opportunities Exist After a Three Year Stretch at a Big 4 Firm

Ed. note: Willing to take some advice from three strangers and peanut gallery full of overworked, underpaid paper pushers (aka spreadsheet jockeys)? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com with your problems.

Hi!

First I just want to say that this website made all the down time during my Big 4 internship bearable!! Seriously, there are no words to express my gratitude!

I’ve learned a lot from your site, and I’m kinda hoping you can give me some advice…

Right now I have a full time job offer in Tax, but lately I’ve been questioning if this is the right move for me.

Honestly, I don’t think I can handle more than 3 years of public accounting, so I was wondering what job opportunities there are in the private sector for tax professionals with only two to three years of public accounting experience? (I feel like the focus is usually on audit, so I’m finding I don’t really know a lot about the tax world outside of the Big 4).

Also, I would eventually love to work for a nonprofit…would I have better luck at finding a job in this sector with an audit or advisory background, as opposed to tax?

Thanks a million!!!!

Clueless

Dear Clueless,

Thanks for stopping by GC this summer and squeezing us into your “busy” internship days. (Shameless plug – remember to talk about this site when you return to campus this fall. We’ll be talking about recruiting on a regular basis).

Let’s assume that you are going to accept the offer for Big 4 tax. Maybe you have an MS in tax. Maybe there are not any audit positions available for campus hires. Maybe you have a crush on the lead engagement partner. Not my biz. Whatever your situation, you should be focusing on making yourself as merlo-rounded as marketable as possible. A few ideas:

1) CPA – Not even a question. Get it done immediately.

2) Request an audit rotation – As you experienced this summer, there are times when things get a bit slow for tax professionals. Request short term rotations into audit where you can receive additional exposure. This will be marginally easier to do if your CPA is already completed.

3) Seek out non-profit clients – It does not matter if your experience is on the audit or tax side; the goal here is to receive client exposure for a look at the culture/business model/workplace environment at some of your local NFP’s.

4) Volunteer – If NFP clients are not an option, try to find time in your schedule to volunteer. Like any new job possibility, you should research what life is like at a non-profit before jumping into the career move.

As for private sector jobs, with 2-3 years tax experience you’ll have little trouble, as many businesses are trying to do more tax work in-house as opposed to contracting it out to their CPAs. I’d encourage you to stick it out until Senior Associate if you can, since this will give you ample opportunities outside the firm (and maybe a nice get-away). Good luck.

GCers – your thoughts?

Who Has Thoughts on Mandatory Auditor Rotation?

Because the PCAOB is giving you until December 14th to make your views known.

“One cannot talk about audit quality without discussing independence, skepticism and objectivity. Any serious discussion of these qualities must take into account the fundamental conflict of the audit client paying the auditor,” said PCAOB Chairman James R. Doty.

“The reason to consider auditor term limits is that they may reduce the pressure auditors face to develop and protect long-term client relationships to the detriment of investors and our capital markets,” Chairman Doty added.

Don’t fret anti-rotaters, the Board did invite everyone to weigh in on the idea that they “should consider a rotation requirement only for audit tenures of more than 10 years or only for the largest issuer audits.”

[PCAOB]

Military Man Needs Help Transitioning into Public Accounting

Ed. note: Have a question for one of our Big 4 refugees or the perma-ink stained wench that has never passed the CPA exam? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Thank you for taking the tide to address my concern. I am a 10 year veteran looking to transition out of the military and into public accounting. I have a BSAcc from a private school and am looking at potentials for a Grad degree. My enlistment expires in the next few years, and I am really lost on the direction I should go with a Master’s degree. I have heard some say that I should do MBA with a finance interest so that I am more marketable. I have also heard others mention that I should specialize. I have some marketable qualitiSCI clearance, 3.9 GPA in undergrad), but I feel like I have lacked in networking due to my military service. I do have several contacts in the space business, specifically with Lockheed Martin, Aerospace and Boeing, but nothing on the accounting and finance sides (my current job is in military space communications). My undergrad school is in Colorado Springs and the networking events do not have any real attraction from accounting firms. Because of my military commitment, getting accounting experience is not possible (short of small things like running finance for my local HOA and VITA tax stuff for my base).

My dream is to work for a large accounting firm (doesn’t have to be Big 4, as I am not nearly as marketable as a 22 year old), but I am finding Internet research and local conversation to not hold enough for me. I am a student member of my local IMA, but management accounting is not the direction I want to go. I prefer audit, and would even consider tax (or if I am desperate I would even consider compliance), but I feel stuck in a hole about how to get my foot in the door. It seems until my military commitment is up I don’t have any place to start. I am in my early 30s, but my military career has taught me how to work long hours, so I am not opposed to Big 4-like treatment. I really want to make this change in my life, and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Given that you have a few years left in your enlistment, I commend you for planning ahead. Your situation could lend itself to being a difficult one, but with some patience and enduring networking, I don’t see a reason that shouldn’t be able to break into a career within public accounting. For the reason you mentioned above (young blood), you might not be able to start out at a Big 4, but regional/midsized firms should definitely be on your radar.

Couple of things to consider:

Education: You have a great foundation with your BS in accounting and high GPA; however, you will be removed from the classroom by almost 15 years when you’re applying for accounting positions. Consider a Masters in Accounting program, as it will compliment your undergraduate work well, refresh your memory and skillset, and look attractive to HR reps at the public firms. I suggest staying away from the Masters in Finance because it won’t be the strong refresher you need to impress the hiring managers.

Network: Definitely check in with your contacts at Lockheed Martin, Boeing, etc. Sure, they may not be in the finance/accounting departments you’re interested in, but they should have access to the internal job boards. Have your contacts formally introduce you to the HR hiring rep responsible for the accounting positions now, just to initiate contact. Stay in touch in the coming years, seeking advice and providing feedback about your situation. Keep these doors open even though they are not direct links to the public accounting career you seek.

Spread out: Make a list of the geographic areas that you’d considering move to when you return to the States, then do your due diligence on what accounting firms are in the area. Reach out now to their HR/hiring managers (if not listed on company’s website, search LinkedIn) to establish contact now, and ask them straight up what they think of your candidacy.

Feel free to email me your résumé or any follow up questions should you have them. Stay in touch.

Would-Be Audit Noob Struggles With Picking a City (After Already Picking a City)

I’m pretty sure this isn’t a troll and this guy actually wants to know if this is OK. I have some location-based advice having lived in that area for over a decade, hoping you guys can fill in the rest. What would be the etiquette on this?

I am starting with a Big 4 firm in a little over a month in their San Jose office. However the more that I think about where I want to be and the housing options available I am more interested in San Francisco. Would I be risking my offer by asking to transfer so late in the game?

If it matters at all, I have heard from a friend in the SF office they are still looking to fill a few entry level audit positions.


Are you kidding me? You’re trying to kick off your career as “that guy” (don’t think recruiters aren’t tweeting amongst themselves all the time; you will get talked about) over the difference of a 45 minute drive. I could understand if you were struggling between New York and Los Angeles (with tail and good salary potential in both relative to cost of living and actually being able to enjoy the apartment you pay too much for) but you’re within the same metro area. San Jose isn’t that bad and you have the advantage of being able to “escape” city life to some extent when you are not actually at work.

Would you be risking your offer? Did you sign it? Did you feel like it was right at the time but now think a handful of miles will be worth considering that bridge burned?

But living in San Jose means you don’t live in the thick of it. San Francisco is fun to visit and great on paper but after a few years, it gets really old. You’re already putting yourself through life in the Big 4, why make that worse by also subjecting yourself to guys peeing on the Muni and those damn grey speckled recycled blankets everywhere? What makes you more interested in San Francisco?

In your copious amounts of free time, you can drive near San Francisco, BART in, enjoy yourself a paper-bagged PBR and BART your ass back to the San Bruno parking lot and retreat back to your San Jose lair. It’s practically like being in San Francisco.

If you haven’t actually signed the offer, you could try to get a lead on “your friend’s” firm; tell them unsubstantiated rumors are one thing but calls from HR are another. I’d advise against rejecting the San Jose firm’s offer without having some sort of reasonable assurance (bleh) that the San Francisco office actually wants you but with less than a month to go, you better have started pursuing that yesterday. I assume you don’t have the luxury of doing this in person; if you were local, you would know San Jose and San Francisco are pretty much the same thing if you are talking about money but there’s also a quality of life issue here that you need to look long and hard at.

If you still like this idea, please go read So You’re Moving to San Francisco by Twitter API lead Alex Payne. I’m not trying to talk you out of it, I’m just asking you to really think this through before you screw yourself in San Jose. If you signed the offer, you should do the grownup thing and suffer through it for two years like everyone else. Then once you are sufficiently jaded, have passed the CPA and have the work experience to get the actual license, you are more than welcome to bail on the firm after the competition in San Francisco poaches you.

The market is not that good to allow you the opportunity to get this picky unless you are an Elijah Watt-Sells winner, 4.0 MAcc superstar or putting out. A lot.

Philosophy Major Considering a Big 4 Career Needs a Reality Check, Better Grades

(Acting) Ed. note: if you have a question for our team of highly knowledgeable monkeys, email advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll be happy to make fun of you in front of your peers, superiors and the Internet-at-large, unless it’s a good question, in which case we will do our best to give you awesome information.

Hello!

I found the advice column on your blog so I thought I would ask you this question:

I recently graduated from a state school in the California State University system as a Philosophy major. My original plan was to go to law school, but I am now thinking I may want to go into accounting instead (due to the terrible job market for lawyers and the 150k debt I’d be faced with). Parike to work at a Big 4 firm. Is this change possible? I found a “Post-baccalaureate Accounting Certificate” at Portland State University (I’d like to end up in Portland if possible). Does that program have any chance of helping me land a Big 4 job, or does it lack prestige? If you’d like to suggest the best post-bac/master’s program for me you should know that the only math I’ve taken is statistics 1, and I’ve taken micro econ and macro econ, but aside from that I’d be starting from scratch. My undergrad GPA is 3.13, which I believe is a little low for the Big 4. Could I make up for that with a good post-bac certificate GPA, or perhaps a good master’s GPA if that is the route I should go?

Thank you for your help!

Listen, Ambulance-Chaser-cum-Capital-Market-Hero, you need to slow down and do a little more research on the Big 4 before you even attempt this stunt. The Big 4 don’t want some 3.13er who originally picked a different profession and then just kind of stumbled upon accounting as a more “viable” option due to the long-term (or even short) career opportunities. Sorry the law school plan didn’t work out but no allegedly prestigious firm is going to want you with your “certificate” (unless it is one of these) and low GPA. So if I were you and actually attempting this, I would be sure to spin those particular details into as much gold as possible. Don’t lie but don’t be so upfront about it either.

You admit that you’re new here so I won’t rail on you too but hard I will highly recommend you catch up on some advice columns (and especially their comments) we’ve done before. If we can sniff out your “well looks like you’re the only viable option” attitude via email, I can only imagine which method recruiters will use to avoid your emails and talk about you behind your back.

You still have a chance here if (and that’s a huge if) you actually want to do this, get yourself into a real program and not some funky certificate program, you might as well get a degree from some adult college advertised during Maury Povich for as much good as that will do you. And for Christ’s sake, at least try to pull a 3.8.

Fast track the CPA exam if you can but I get the sneaking suspicion that you are one of the candidates who will end up having to take BEC 7 times based on the fact that accounting is not your background and you don’t seem all that excited about the prospect of ticking and tying your good years away for “The Man,” but are instead focused on making a few bucks in an industry that’s still actually hiring because your first choice is a really awful one. In my experience, those who do best on the CPA exam are those who actually want to do it (shocking, I know). The ones who are forcing themselves because of the economy, their parents, their boss, etc are the ones who fail miserably over and over, usually with infuriating 74s. If you managed 4 years of philosophy, you’re probably too right-brained for the CPA anyway.

Big 4 recruiters do hit Portland State but you’re going to have a hell of a time explaining to them what you did with the last four years of your life and convincing them that you’re in it for the long-term and not just to have a job ’til the economy looks better.

We’re not going to do your job for you and recommend “the best” program for you, but nice try. We recommend Google, it’s a pretty helpful career tool. That’s how you found us, right?

I’m not saying it can’t be done but you need to be realistic here. The industry has already reached its quota of useless, mediocre assholes who don’t know which side debits go on. If you’re OK with being an AP clerk or working at a smaller firm I say go for it but with your “credentials,” I wouldn’t count on having to beat off the Big 4 recruiters with a stick any time soon.

What If 20 Percent of Audit Work Was Performed Offshore?

You may have heard that accounting firms – primarily Big 4 firms – have been slowly transitioning work to countries like India and Sri Lanka. This particular topic of discussion typically results in a heated/subtly racist conversations about “foreigners taking American jobs” which eventually evolves into a more overtly racist conversation, not unlike what happens on some Deloitte forums.

ANYWAY, just how much work is being sent offshore? The FT reported some recent projections that the UK’s Financial Reporting Council (“FRC”) found for PwC in the UK:

In an annual inspection report, the FRC said the UK arm of PwC might move as much as 20 per cent of its core audit work to Calcutta by 2014. Less than 2 per cent of its work was offshored in its last financial year.

“On the face of it, 20 per cent of an audit being done without any face-to-face contact with the client seems high,” [FRC Director of Audit Paul] George said. He added that all the large UK audit firms were considering offshoring to cut costs but had so far only shifted a tiny fraction of work overseas.

That “20 percent” has a few people concerned and the FRC is looking into it. Granted, this is just an isolated example to audits at PwC, so obviously your offwhoring experience would vary from audit to audit and also for tax and advisory services. And lest you think this is all about money, the article quotes a flak from P. Dubs as saying, “The driver for us was not a reduction in costs. It is an improvement in quality.” O RLY?

Since many of you have worked directly with this process, you may have a difference opinion with this statement and one tipster – who is interested in hearing other people’s offshoring tales – details his:

My experience with this process has been horrendous. Don’t let comments in the article fool you, we are required to send a set amount of hours overseas to be performed by our shared service center. A process that would originally take 1 hour to start and complete (think bank reconciliations) now takes 6 hours. Nothing like writing instructions on how to perform a simple process and receiving a phone call from someone who barely speaks English to ask you how to perform the test. Or receiving a bunch of garbage and re-doing the work yourself.

Teaching someone how to do something, who has presumably never done it before, is difficult. Teaching someone how to do something, who has presumably never done it before, over the phone is worse. Teaching someone how to do something, who has presumably never done it before, over the phone, whose first language is something other than English is maddening.

Arguably, offshoring has benefits but if this trading 1 hour for 6 hours is fairly standard, then quality certainly isn’t one of them. Of course for a firm flak to say otherwise is grounds for a severe beating from his/her superior. The mere idea of trading 1 hour of work for 6 hours is enough to make a manager lose their shit unless the 6 hours are significantly cheaper. Then there’s the whole “client service” thing which is tricky from the get-go. How do you best explain the increased hours and/or the fact that you’re waiting on something from “the offshore team” that’s ordinarily slapped together in a few minutes?

Clearly, this “20 percent” is a shot in the dark but it’s definitely enough to make someone say, “OH HELL NO. NOT ON MY ENGAGEMENT.” But it’s not impossible that some of you have a grand time with the offshoring, so either way, you should let us know.

Watchdogs probe ‘offshoring’ of audit work [FT]

Happy Birthday to Us! Going Concern Enters the Terrible Twos

Yes, today happens to be the blogoversary/birthday/whatever of this here fine publication. Back on this date in 2009, I woke up unusually late on a Monday only to discover that the site was live. I somehow was able to pull myself together and bang out a few posts sans pants without anyone – including David Lat – noticing that I was officially late for my first day of work (not the first time) day since then we’ve managed to come up with enough content to distract/keep you occupied throughout the week.

What have we learned in the past year? Let’s take a quick look back.

Well, for starters an email at PwC Ireland got a little out of hand. Adrienne’s lack of a CPA has come up a few times. Ernst & Young got sued over that Lehman Brothers thing. KPMG got sued for being a boys club. Lots of partners at Deloitte are unhappy. We learned that Rothstein Kass is officially the coolest accounting firm. BDO pays snitches in caffeinated beverages. And we gave lots and lots and lots of career advice. (Jesus, that Dear Abby must have wanted to keel over.) There was also de-pantsing by an accounting professor and now an accounting student. That doesn’t cover everything, obviously – Grover Norquist and Susan Coffey obsessions, Adrienne tells EVERYONE what they’re doing wrong on Twitter, DWB’s scotch-fueled advice, etc.

UPDATE:
I shamefully forgot this:

It’s all been pretty fun and we have you, dear readers, to thank. We really appreciate every single one of you. Especially you, John Veihmeyer. If you don’t email us, Tweet us, FB us, we don’t hear about these funny, disturbing and sometimes pathetic stories. KEEP IT UP. Thanks again for your support!

But now that we’re 2, where do we go from here? We’ve already managed to go from crawling to toddling, learned a bunch of naughty words (okay, we knew those) and quit drooling on ourselves. Basically, as Grover is fond of saying, ONWARD!

Big 4 Newbie Wants the Scoop on Choosing an Industry

Welcome to the whose-missing-fingers? edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. Today, a fall new hire is asking about industry placement at his Big 4 firm. How to choose, what to avoid, you know, the ushe.

Feeling violated? Is your firm’s macho culture cramping your delicate sensibilities? Need to get something off your chest and want a partner to be the one who hears it? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll share some magic words.

Meanwhile, back at school:

Dear Going Concern,

I’m going to be starting as a college [i.e. new] hire in assurance at a Big 4 firm in the fall (I was not previously a summer intern). I still haven’t heard any information about what industry I will be placed in. Which are the most desired industries, and which should be avoided like the plague? Do the firms have any methodology in in placing new hires in industry groups?

Thanks,

Procrastinating Exam Studier

Dear Procrastinating,

Why you felt the need to hint at your lack of CPA exam preparedness is curious but that’s AG’s beat, so take it up with her but prepare yourself for a verbal assault.

As for the question at hand, you have to look at this like you’re choosing from a lineup of people with whom you’ve gotten biblical to be your significant other. None of them are perfect but there are definitely pros and cons to each. It’s best to experience a few of your interests before you jump in head first with one particular option. Then, after playing the field a bit, you can determine: 1) Are you pursuing one possibility knowing that it’s a dead end? 2) Is one option hot for you but things aren’t mutual? 3) Is another choice easy but doesn’t have much going in the way of intellectual stimulation? You get the idea.

One other consideration is the city where you live. If you’re interested in the energy business, New York City isn’t going to have much to offer. Likewise, if you would like to explore things in the entertainment industry, you won’t find much in Kansas City. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Most cities will have the following industries: Financial Services, Consumer and Industrial Products, Information/Communciations/Technology, Healthcare/Public Sector/Governmental. Of course certain places have a higher concentration of these industries (e.g. NYC and Financial Services, DC and Governmental), so that will determine demand for particular areas. Lots of people get roped into F/S in places like New York and Chicago because there is lots of work, thus the need for warm bodies. That’s basically how firms decide who goes where – the need. Managers tell schedulers that they need a body and your name just gets thrown on a job. Unless you speak up, to your career/performance counselor. Be sure they know what you’re interests are, otherwise you’re just a new name that will end up wherever there is demand.

I’ll leave the “good industry v. bad industry” debate to the peanut gallery, as that varies by city but I will tell you that if you are in a market like New York, working in Financial Services is the best route simply because you’ll have many options when you decide to leave your firm. The work is hard and it’s competitive but it’ll be worth it long-term. Choose wisely.

Should/Can Big 4 Employees Unionize?

Though the following inquiry from what we assume to be a Going Concern reader was addressed to my dearest, most lovely editor, I’m hijacking it because I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time. While the idea of CPAs unionizing seems ridiculous to some, I’m sure more than a few of you have dreamily drooled at the prospect of collective bargaining power while two months in to the most horrendous busy season ever. Is it that silly of an idea?

Hi Caleb,

I am a Big4 Tax Senior and had a question regarding the possibility/benefit of having a union. To my knowledge, one currently does not exist, but why? Entertain me for a second.

If every staff through manager (there ing managers in, so maybe just staff and seniors) were to band together and create a union across all service lines and all of the four firms, what would stop us from getting fair compensation and slightly better hours? If the threat of a strike of 70% of each of the firm’s workforce (who probably actually do 90% of the work on any given engagement) could happen at any time, would the partners really treat their subordinates the way they currently do? Maybe there’s something written somewhere that CPAs can’t join a union?

Imagine if this raise/bonus season were to go poorly, and the union decided that on March 1, 2012…every staff, senior and manager FROM ALL FIRMS would stage a walk out and go on strike until our compensation demands were met. What could the partners do? Could they realistically try to do all the work themselves? Could they really try and replace 60,000 employees (I am guessing on that figure)? Could they try and get all the work done out of India? I HIGHLY DOUBT ANY OF THESE WOULD BE REALISTIC OPTIONS. I can’t imagine the possibility of replacing a dozen auditors overnight with Accountemps personnel in the middle of an audit for a fortune 100 client.

I understand that the possibility of being able to coordinate such a union across all the firms would be next to impossible, but can someone tell me why/how it wouldn’t work assuming it was legal for us to do? Could you post up a poll of those who would be interested?

Wait a second, are you trying to tell us that you don’t feel you are fairly compensated? Are you prepared for the burden of union fees and the inconvenience of having to picket your downtown Big 4 office chanting “Hell no we won’t go!” in business casual should it come down to that?

Why stop at the Big 4? Second-tier capital market servants are just as mistreated as you are (or at least feel that way, and who are we to tell them they don’t get enough engagements to feel burned out?). Think of the collective bargaining power then.

I think part of the reason why anyone you suggest this to might think you’re one tax season away from the funny farm is that CPAs already have a large, powerful trade association which allegedly exists to serve its interests. Granted, the AICPA does more lobbying in Washington than it does to accounting firm partners about easing up on you poor shlubs who have to do all the work, but it’s still a trade association.

In an article about the recent showdown in Wisconsin between teacher unions and Governor Scott Walker, Ann Coulter wrote “the need for a union comes down to this question: Do you have a boss who wants you to work harder for less money? In the private sector, the answer is yes. In the public sector, the answer is a big, fat NO.” Well shit, there’s your answer. We already know how most of you in public accounting feel, no need to elaborate.

Former Congressional candidate and CPA Krystal Ball is all for unions, especially when it comes to balancing the gender inequality that still exists in this country. If criminals in Canada can unionize, why not CPAs? Well for starters, though it may not feel like it, most of you are paid pretty fairly compared to, say, McDonald’s cashiers, Starbucks baristas and Walmart greeters. It may not feel fair based on the service you provide (understandably) but in the big picture, making $50,000 a year fresh out of school in middle America ain’t too bad of a gig. You get vacations, safe work conditions, bonuses, insurance and even free CPA review materials if you’re lucky. I bet OSHA has never seen the inside of a Big 4 office to investigate a fatal Excel accident or random intern decapitation at the coffee machine.

Let’s keep in mind that, if necessary, the Big 4 probably could scrape up a motley crew of Indian and Sri Lankan accountants and reluctant partners to do the work while you’re out front calling Raj a scab. Is what you do all that difficult? Look at the moronic intern in your office… a little training and that guy is going to be doing your job in a few years.

Lastly, there’s the legal issue. With all the money the Big 4 throw at lobbying and keeping some of the country’s best lawyers on payroll, do you really think you stand a chance? Someone has to give you the OK to unionize and I just don’t see the Big 4 lawyer machine slipping up and letting that one through. You really are one busy season away from the funny farm if you believe otherwise.

But I’m 100% behind you guys if you try to go for it anyway. Si se puede!

Can a Tax Senior from a Local Firm Make the Jump to Big 4?

Welcome to the I-still-don’t-know-who-Casey-Anthony-is edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a tax senior was just laid off from his local firm because of a “lack of work.” Can he jump to a regional or a Big 4 firm without any trouble?

Is your latest raise an insult? Need some rumors debunked? Thinking of giving it all up for your dream of creating the world’s best burrito? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll give you the best average advice you’ve ever gotten.

Back to ranks of the funemployed:

Dear Going Concern,

I’m a tax senior and was just laid off from a local accounting firm with about 50 employees due to a “lack of work.” The firm has been losing clients and a lot of the staff has been sitting around lately with nothing to do.

How difficult would it be to move from a small, local firm to a larger, regional one or the Big 4? Thoughts?

Sincerely,

A Loyal Reader

Dear Loyal Reader,

Sorry to hear that you got the axe. That’s never a good feeling. If lots of other staff are sitting around twiddling, they’ll probably be joining you before you know it. But forget about them; you’re thinking about your options which is good, so let’s try and sort this out.

You’re a senior associate, so that’s a plus. Most firms, regardless of size, are hurting for seniors so that puts you in a good spot. You’re also in tax which requires a more specialized knowledge base than audit, so that’s a benefit too. Depending on what kind of clients you have served (I’m guessing individuals and small businesses), your best bet is start with the regional firms in your area. Odds are your experience will match up better with a regional firm, so they’re more likely to take an interest in you.

As for making the jump Big 4, this is a little trickier. I’m not saying it can’t be done, as I made the jump myself but it’s really dependent on your experience. If you’ve mostly prepared run-of-the-mill 1040s, chances are they won’t give you much of a look. On the other hand, if you have a lot of work in a specialized area (e.g. transfer pricing or M&A) on your résumé that will catch their eye.

Bottom line is that if you can find a firm that offers services and has clients that match up your experience, you’ll be a good fit. Good luck.

Engineering Consultant Lands a Big 4 Gig, Now What?

Ed. note: Have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Going Concern received not one but two emails from a contributor in recent weeks. Aptly named Enginerd, P.E., this fine gentleman had hopes of joying a Big 4 firm with Enginerd’s background is as follows:

I come from a technical background, 8-10yrs of consulting in engineering and regulatory roles, and am being courted by a B4 to join up with a technically minded advisory/consulting group. You may not know, but engineers are a forgotten bunch earning far less than many of our other professionally degreed brothers. I’m anticipating a very healthy offer, but I don’t have much to base it on; Bologna is better than SPAM, but that isn’t saying much.

For the doubters out there – yes, the Big 4 occasionally hires engineering experts in niche markets when expanding their advisory practices. These experts may work with Transaction Services teams in markets heavy with M&A activity (think technology, energy, environment, etc.). Even at that, they don’t hire C.A.D. experts but rather individuals with previous consulting experience, like Enginerd.

Admittedly, Enginerd’s original email sat unanswered in the advice box [Ed. note: you should see the backlog!]. He recently followed up with positive news:

No response from y’all, but I did get a response from B4. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

So the last questions still hold, Any thoughts on breaking into B4 consulting (done), not getting lost when you get there, and behaviors which will help make my stay a long and profitable one? I’m listed at about 85% billable, which isn’t bad, but is still a lot of hours. Short of rereading How to Win Friends and Influence Others, what is my Modus operandi?

Thanks,

Enginerd, P.E.

Dear Enginerd,

Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of direct advice for you as I do not work regularly with employees in your position. That said, I suggest continuing to do what made you successful up to this point:

1. Network every day of your early career. Meet with the group leaders not only in your office, but in other offices as well (as it applies). Have a regional/national meeting coming up? Make plans to connect with your peers in other offices. Connecting faces with email addresses is extremely important as your responsibilities inevitably expand.

2. Find a mentor. Chances are you are not the only person in your group/office that has a background similar to your own. Feel the group out over the first few months, evaluating who you feel stands above the rest. Find someone with a background similar to yours (and senior to you in ranking) that has a strong future with the firm, and build a professional relationship with them. You shouldn’t hesitate in asking him/her to be a mentor for you. Generally speaking, people are flattered by such a request and can become excellent resources for you down the road.

3. Read advice from the Going Concern peanut gallery. I’m sure there are people with similar backgrounds to yours that are regular readers here on the site. With that said, I open it up to the group – what advice do you have for Enginerd as he joins the Big 4 consulting circus?

Big 4 Summer Intern Open Thread

Let me just say first off that this will not be an exclusive thread to the Big 4, I simply have to appease my SEO fanatic co-workers. That means if you’re interning at Grant Thornton, BDO, McGladrey, Moss Adams, Rothstein Kass, it doesn’t matter, don’t be afraid to jump in with questions or comments or respond to any of the regular commenters out there (“GT Partner” is a treat).

Anyway, it’s not technically summer but DWB encouraged me to drop an open thread on you all so that A) interns can share their skyrocketing anxiety and B) the veterans can bestow some of their wisdom upon these coffee gophers so that they don’t get in the way too much. Since I saw my fair share of interns pass through my time inside the House of Klynveld, I’ll jump in first.

For starters new interns, you need dress nice. If you show up in baggy Dockers without a belt and a Nike golf shirt and scuffed-up shoes – I hate you already. And unless you can do back flips (as it relates to your work) and buy me coffee once a week, my mind is made up about you already. For the ladies, since the dress code is a little more subjective for you, all I ask is you not show up in your pajamas. That said, your female superiors will be eyeing your attire much closer and they will be judging the shit out of you. And if they’re really offended by your fashion forwardness, they aren’t above tattling on you. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen.

As for work – find it. Sometimes you may have to act busy by reading god-awful training manuals or diversity literature or something else that makes you want to bathe with a toaster but FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR MEDIOCRE BIG 4 CAREER, I suggest you don’t look bored. I don’t care if you have to grovel to the lowliest A1 on your team, if you’re not working (or at least appear to be working), someone will notice and that doesn’t bode well for your chances at fulltime offer.

Finally, make some friends. Can you carry on a conversation that doesn’t revolve around your Beta Alpha Psi chapter or the bitch of an Intermediate mid-term you had? Excellent, you’ll be fine. Someone will like you. If you like talking about those things, I strongly suggest you find a hobby fast. The Mets are driving you crazy? Great, talk about that. You just saw the Arctic Monkeys in concert? Wonderful, music is rad. Outdoorsy type? Talk about some camping trips. You’re into Brazilian Jujitsu? Okay but don’t show off your injuries. That’s just gross.

Bottom line: be yourself. Unless yourself sucks. In which case, email the career advice brain trust and we’ll turn this around. Now if you’ll excuse me, some of us don’t have interns and I have to fetch my own coffee.

Should a Big 4 Associate Leave the Cush Life in Bermuda for an Opportunity in a New City?

Ed. note: Have a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com

Dear Caleb,

I really need some advice with a career decision I have to make. I currently work for one of the Big 4 offices at the staff level in Bermuda and have been offered the opportunity to move to a bigger office in a major city in America. While I am excited at the opportunity to move to a new city and experience everything there is to do there, I am hesitant about the increased workload that would entail. Here in Bermuda we work about 60 hr weeks for two months during busy season and then work around 40 hr weeks for the rest if the year. In addition, because of the no income tax in Bermuda, this new job would actually mean a pay cut. So is the prospect of a new city and new experiences worth being overworked and underpaid?

– Undecided

Dear Undecided,

Ahh, Bermuda – beautiful place.

Your situation is not unique by any means. I have spoken with a number of people within Big 4 audit groups that are stationed in Bermuda and are being “encouraged” to return to the States via internal transfers. This has been due mainly to the loss of offshore work on the asset management industry. Seeing how the firms are all on hiring sprees, it’s not surprising that leadership is looking to capitalize on your generous work/life balance for the sake of the Greater Good.

The main difference that I sense in your case is that you refer to the transfer to “a new city” and not “home.” Either you are originally from one area in the US and were offered a transfer to a new city, or you are native to Bermuda and this would in fact move you away from your established roots. If it’s the former, consider asking to move to closer to “home”? Would you even want that? If you’re from Bermuda, then you have more to details to weigh.

You also raise two red flags that damn near every commenter on this site will tell you ARE major concerns: more hours for less money. If we polled the audience for their responses to your question of “is the prospect of a new city and new experiences worth being overworked and underpaid” – the response would be a resounding “no.” After all, you’re listing the two main reasons people leave public accounting. But you’re still young in your career. Think about your long term plans – where do you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years? Not firm-wise, but geographically. What is the long term career potential if you stay in Bermuda? Do you want a career in public? What city does your firm want to ship you to?

Let’s open it up to the Peanut Gallery: has anyone been in this situation before?

PS – If you do transfer to the States, please sneak me a bottle of cologne from your local perfumery. Amazing stuff!

(UPDATE) Future Big 4 Advisory Associate Wants to Negotiate a Better Salary

Ed. note: Got a question for the career advice brain trust? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Caleb –

“Long-time/first-time, love the show.” I was hoping you and the gang could help; I have received an offer from Big 4 Advisory as a Senior, and considering the current market, and that firms are expanding advisory quickly and trying to capture market share and increase revenues, I am wondering if I would be able to negotiate my salary north. I did not receive a signing bonus, but I know the Big 4 can be touchy about your salary, so maybe I should look into getting a signing bonus? I wanted to get your expert panel’s opinion, as well as your millions of readers. Thanks for your help.

Signed –
Sleeping well in San Diego

San Diego Napper,

Welcome to the show. It’s great to see that Caleb is getting more advisory professionals reaching out. We’re all one underpaid, overworked professional services family so keep the emails coming.

Regarding your question, the timing is probably too late for you to maximize your bargaining power, both with your firm and in the greater job market. Being that you’re a senior (now a newly minted graduate) the window of opportunity has probably passed. You most likely received your fulltime offer either after completing a summer internship in 2010 or during the fall semester of your senior year. Then would have been the ideal time to “shop around” to the other Big 4 to see if you could earn yourself a competing offer. By this point in time, both the Big 4 and the major players in the consulting market have met their entry level hiring needs.

Similarly, without a competing offer in your back pocket, asking for a sign-on bonus now is the equivalent of looking for a free hand out. From browsing this website you know that’s generally not the way things work. Not to mention the fact that your firm wants its new hire class starting at the same monetary level; should you receive a sign-on, they’d be inclined to throw something to everyone. Why? Because all it takes is a team happy hour and you drunkenly blurting out, “I called up HR, spoke my mind and landed five grand, suck on that,” to stir up all kinds of angst within your practice.

Unless new hires are reneging on their acceptances and jumping ship for much lucrative (and last minute) offers, they will not be shelling out additional cash prior to your start date. The best thing you can do is work your tail off during your first year, positioning yourself well for the first year-end reviews in order to scoop up the heftier of the raises.

UPDATE: Blame the sun.
Apologies for missing the mark on this one, ladies and gents. As I sat in my corner office parents’ basement enjoying a nice Cuban Phillies Blunt cigar, I debated which way to take this piece. Let’s look at the experienced hire route – like many of you have commented, there is definitely wiggle room for SWiSD to negotiate.

There are number of intangibles in play here: where SWiSD is now; what practice line they are in; if the firm they are moving to is an “upgrade” in market position for their practice line. Generally speaking, SWiSD should be receiving a bump in base from their current salary; a conservative estimate would be 4% – 10%. When negotiating for more $$$, SWiSD would be better off asking for a sign-on bonus. HR would prefer to position compensation as a one-time lump rather than have a new hire be significantly above their established staff in salary.

Great feedback everyone. Has anyone recently made the jump from one Big 4’s Advisory line to another firm’s? Tell us below.

Should a Content Big 4 Associate Jump Ship for a Controller Role?

Welcome to the Rapture fire sale edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a perfectly happy Big 4 associate has the opportunity to land a controller position with a small company. Should he leave the friendly confines of Big 4 and take a pay cut for the growth potential?

Looking for semi-sound career advice? Need to deflect some blame? Dealing with crazies in your office? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll make sure you’re ready for whatever might (but 100% sure won’t) happen.

Meanwhile, back to opportunity knocking:

I’m in a great spot with a Big 4 firm on a large client in a growing market. I’ve “exceeded expectations” on all my performance reviews the last two years and am up for promotion in July to Sr. Associate. Pay is good, I’m not actively searching to leave, but I don’t feel I’m on the partner track (I’d like to see my family and raise children while staying involved in their lives). At some point I’d love to have my own business – CPA firm or other small business partner.

That said, I’ve also been offered a job with a former small business employer which I interned and worked at for 2 years. They’d like me to come back in a Controller role, with ongoing career development in the position. The position also comes with a potential grooming track to CFO.

What are the pluses and minuses of leaving now for the opportunity? There is a salary sacrifice and I have job security where I’m at with my firm. There’s great growth potential at the small firm and it allows for a great (proverbial) work/life balance.

Thoughts?

Sincerely,
Tough Spot

Dear Tough Spot,

You wanna tough spot? Try finding a couch on the Upper East Side when you’re accused of rape. You’ve simply got simply have to make a choice about where you want your career to go. And in your case, the decision is easy: take the controller gig.

Here’s the thing – opportunities like this don’t come around every day. You have the good fortune to already be familiar with the company that is making you the offer. If you had little or no idea what this company was about, I’d say this would be a riskier move, especially since you’re being offered a controller position. But because you know the ins, the outs, the whathaveyous, that makes this an easier decision, in my opinion.

I will warn you, however – you will not have a “work-life balance.” You will work. A lot. If the “controller role” is a true controller role, you’re going to quickly find out what that means. You’re going to be in charge of the accounting department; you’re going to have people working for you; you’re going to be answering the C-level execs of the company. That’s not typically conducive to work-life balance. I’ve known people that have taken controller roles at your experience level and there is, without fail, a big learning curve that involves putting in tons of hours. Even people that have triple the experience that you have, realize that running the show involves way more work than they anticipated when they left Big 4. And you’re going to a company with “great growth potential.” Since when does “growth potential” equate “really don’t work that much”?

But from the sounds of it, you’re up for, and capable of, handling this type of challenge. Go for it like there’s no tomorrow.

Jeremy Newman Would Prefer if the Big 4 Would Just ‘Allow Real Competition’ But Regulatory Action Will Do Just Fine, Thank You

Perpetual fusspot and BDO Global CEO Jeremy Newman has not been shy about how unfair he thinks the dominance of the Big 4 is. The majority of his blog posts are tagged “Global Accounting” and several consist of bellyaching about Big 4 this and the Big 4 that. Of course, since the mainstream media has finally picked up on the idea that the concentration of auditors could be a bit of a problem, Newman has lots of articles to jump from and since the UK’s Office of Fair Trade has said something needs to be done about this, he had another opportunity this week:

Under the headline “Antitrust watchdog urges reform to break audit grip of Big Four” the FT states:

“Regulatory action may be required to break the dominant grip of the Big Four accounting firms on UK audits of leading companies…”

The only word I would challenge is “may” – it should say “will”.

Presumably this article was in the print edition because Newman doesn’t link to it but suffice to say he’s concluded that the government needs to either break up the Fab 4 like Yoko Ono or put some laws in place that mandates non-Big 4 firm inclusion. Either way, Newman laments to the Big 4 that it doesn’t have to be this way:

At long last it seems that something might now be done to open up the audit market. It is a shame it has taken so long and that it will require regulatory intervention – though it is not too late for my colleagues in the Big Four, and others, to act on a voluntary basis to create the environment necessary to allow real competition.

Judging by the statements from the firms, they seem more or less going along with it but these firms aren’t conscientious objectors. Don’t expect them to play nice.

I Hate it When People Say “I Told You So” But… [BDO]

BREAKING: Big 4 Firms Compete for Talent

For those not previously aware:

A talent war is among the top concerns for both the accounting profession and their corporate clients, says Jim Henry, managing partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in San Francisco. Even as the nation struggles with persistently high unemployment, those with the right skills and credentials are in demand. “We’re seeing a hot market for those with the relevant skills,” said Henry. “It’s a sign of the economy improving over the last 18 months.”

Since this is a BizJournal publication we hit the paywall but can presume that Diego discussed PwC’s successful competitive poaching campaign (which included picking up James Draper in San Fran).

Accounting firms battle to attract the best talent [SFBJ]

Let’s Try to Match Big 4 Firms to Their Statements About the OFT Inquiry

As we mentioned this morning, Britain’s Office of Fair Trading has determined that the Big 4 isn’t playing fair in the audit market and that it’s time everyone sat down (at roundtables, preferably) to sort this thing out. You’d expect the Big 4 to be a little rankled by this, accused of being benefactors in a game played with a stacked deck but actually, they’re quite comfortable with the situation. Accountancy Age got statements from various people at all the firms in the UK but just for fun, let’s try and identify which statement belongs to which firm. NO PEAKING.

STATEMENT #1:

A […] spokeswoman said the firm was “happy to co-operate” with the inquiry, outlining its ideas on opening up the marketplace.

She said: “We support increased choice in the audit market to enable audit committees to have a wider range of audit firms to choose among in meeting their audit needs and obtaining a high quality audit.

“To this end, we support a number of measures to increase choice, including reinforcing the audit committee’s role in auditor appointments; publication of independent inspection results for all audit firms that are active in listed company audits; removing Big-Four only restrictive covenants from loan agreements; liberalising audit firm ownership rules; and the creation of a single market for audit services in Europe.”

STATEMENT #2:

“We welcome the opportunity to cooperate with the OFT and participate in relevant discussions.

“We welcome all measures that enhance the quality and value of audits and we are supportive of measures that can increase competition and ensure there is – and is seen to be – a level playing field for market participants.”

STATEMENT #3:

“We welcome the OFT’s announcement today, in particular to engage all stakeholders in a programme of round tables and bilateral talks. [The firm] plans to play a constructive and active part in these discussions.”

STATEMENT #4:

A […] spokesman said the firm “welcomed” the inquiry, but said it believes there was already effective competition and pricing in the UK audit market “and look forward to hearing from the OFT its reasons for believing otherwise”.

“It is important to bring to a head the long-running debate on competition and choice, and we support calls for progressive and practical change within the industry.

“In carrying out its work, it is important that the OFT puts audit quality at the heart of the debate. We support a level playing field for all parties, and market-based – not regulatory – intervention.”

First correct answer in the comments will get GC luggage grips (yes, that’s what they are) and other swag that our publisher will gladly send you along with a recipe for Chicken Kiev.

Big Four welcomes OFT inquiry [Accountancy Age]

How Does an Overachiever Stand Out From Other Overachievers During Big 4 Recruiting Season?

Ed. note: Got a question for Dan Braddock or anyone else on the GC advice team? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll get to your query in due time.

Dear Going Concern,

I am currently a sophomore in college and am interested in a Big 4 internship (Chicago) for the summer of 2012. This means that I will be
involved in the heavy recruiting season this coming fall. I have a 4.0 GPA, am on my way to becoming Executive VP of Beta Alpha Psi, am a member of the Accounting Club, and have done some volunteer work. Any tips on how to stand out from the sea of other students just like me? Should I do anything else before recruiting season besides networking? Any advice would be appreciatedver

Big 4 Lover,

Glad to see that GC has some young people in the audience. Take what you read here with a grain of salt and shot of tequila – adulthood makes people cranky, not just public accounting.

Be cognizant of the fact that there are two versions of you that every recruiter sees: the version of you on paper and the version of you in real life. Either version can make or break your candidacy. Let’s break it down:

You on paper: At first read, the “résumé” you describe seems just fine – you’re maintaining strong grades while being involved in extracurricular activities outside of the classroom, even holding a leadership position. I wonder if your “volunteer experience” was only due to the Beta Alpha Psi volunteer requirement or if you do it on your own; either way, this is minor and I’m nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking. Any Big 4 recruiter will have your résumé sitting in their “yes” pile going into the fall recruiting season.

However, your résumé is strong on the “I am just trying to land an internship at a Big 4 firm.” What are your interests outside the realm of debits and credits? Unless you are a living, breathing calculator, I’d like to think that you have hobbies other than what is described above (this is assuming you did not leave any experiences out when describing your background above). I encourage you to diversify your experiences in college – not just for the sake of your résumé but for the sanity as well. VP of the Wiffle Ball Club? Great. Part of the campus sewing circle? Fantastic. Genuine, non-accounting extracurriculars will not only enrich your life but they’ll be great conversation starters when you begin meeting with recruiters and Big 4 professionals on campus.

You in real life: As you mentioned, you’ll be in the thick of the recruiting process this fall. Being that you’re only a sophomore (and probably on the 5 year track due to Illinois requiring 150 credits for the CPA), you’ll be interviewing for the “leadership” programs at the Big 4. These lead to internships which lead to job offers which lead to high-fives and back slaps for everyone. Here’s what you need to do when you meet the firms:

Do not regurgitate your resume – let your strong résumé speak for itself. No one likes a bragger, not even your mother.

Do not be too transparent – 99.99997% of Beta Alpha Psi members join the society because it looks good on a résumé. DO NOT TELL THE RECRUITER THAT. Unless you want to come across as an internship-chasing fool, then by all means go ahead and say so.

Do not suck up – There is a subtle difference between saying, “I’m only a sophomore, but I have heard positive things about your firm from my professors and older classmates and I’m hoping to learn more,” and “OMFG your company is so cool!!!”

Be yourself – you are more than accounting. The best people you’ll ever work with in the industry will also be much, much more than debits and credits.

How Should a Ex-Big 4 Intern Explain That He Snubbed a Full Time Offer?

Welcome to the Animal-Kingdom-to-Win-in-the-Preakness-edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a former Big 4 intern who turned down a full time offer wants to know how best to explain this snub to his new prospective employers without dragging his old firm through the mud.

Need help with a busy season break-up? Dealing with some crazies at your job? Do you feel ignored for your effohref=”mailto:advice@goingconcern.com”>advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll help you get some attention (or, at the very least, create a diversion).

Back to the Big 4 snub:

Hello,

I interned at a Big 4 tax recently and got a full time offer. My internship experience consisted of little work aside from fighting boredom and trying to find work. I was very disappointed with my experience, and to an extent, felt cheated. I was not expecting much as an intern, but I was expecting to learn at least a few things. Long story short, against the advice of people who say they have my best interest in mind, I turned down the offer.

I have a bad habit of not using my rear view mirrors when I drive, so I am not seeking advice as to whether I should beg for my offer back. My question relates to how I should approach recruiting in the future. Rule #1 is not to speak poorly of a past employer. Not sure how to get around that. Advice? Also, would saying that I was not happy with my internship hurt future opportunities due to the fact that it seems that few people full time seem to be happy (proven flight risk)? Should I leave this experience off my resume? My mother always told me honesty is the best answer, but then again she has been telling me I am special for the last 22 years of my life. Depends how one defines special perhaps.

Anyhoo, I am confident that I will land interviews in the coming season and I have connections with many firms who had extended me internship offers. I am just unsure how to go about explaining this little snag in a beneficial and professional way.

Thanks for any help.

Dear Momma’s Boy,

This is the first instance that I can recall hearing about an intern turning down a full time offer without another one in place. Your confidence in your decision is impressive but we can’t help but think that you had a slightly itchy trigger finger. But as you said, we’re not looking back. Onward!

You are correct that you should not speak poorly of your previous employer. Slamming your former firm for asking you to spend all day at the copy machine will make you sound petty, unprofessional and any prospects will immediately wonder how you’re talking trash about them once you’re out of their presence. Rather than get all mysterio about the experience, you should listen to your mother and be honest about it. But don’t focus entirely on the negative aspects of the internship; there has to be something you took away from it. Once you’ve described something positive (no matter how petty), you can explain why you turned the internship down. Just be careful to not make the situation personal. “It wasn’t a good fit” or “It wasn’t what I expected” is a far better than saying, “I was bored” or “I was smarter than everyone else” OR “I should be running that firm.” Keep it constructive and thought-provoking in when discussing it. Also, I would not leave the experience off your résumé simply because that misrepresents you. Best to go with honesty all the way.

So just keep your ego in check; did you turn a prestigious firm? Yes. Why? It was a decision made based a variety of factors and it wasn’t an easy one to make (even though it might have been). You’ll come off as contemplative and your integrity will be intact. Those aren’t bad qualities to have.

Big 4 Senior Associate with ‘Offers in Hand’ Wants to Ask for a Raise Without Sounding Like a Greedy Bastard

Ed. Note: Give DWB a warm welcome back to regular posting. If you’ve got a question for the advice column, email us at advice@goingconcern.com.

Good afternoon, everyone. Caleb must have tripped and knocked his sombrero-wearing-head last night, because he has invited me back for a weekly post. Regardless, I’m excited to be back. Let’s knock the rust off, shall we?

I am a 2nd year senior associate at a Big 4 firm. I like doing public accounting but am thinking that at my level and performance I am underpaid. I’ve several offers in hand but I do like what I am doing.

Now this does seem like a silly question – how do I go about asking for a raise without making it sound like that all I care about is money? In this economy…what are the chances that I am gonna get what I ask for?

Thanks a bunch!

You don’t specify whether your “several offers in hand” are for positions in the private sector or with other public accounting firms, so I’m going to address both.

Private sector – why are you interviewing with companies if you “like doing public accounting?” Turn these down.

Public accounting – you should be considering these offers if they are with another Big 4 firm. Do not go from Big 4 to mid-tier. Don’t have any offers with the other Big 4? See your own comments above and interview with the other firms. All four have problematic staffing issues this spring as the young guns continue to burn out. Sure, you’ll receive a nice little bump in pay when you transfer from one firm to another, but remember you’ll be down at the bottom of the networking food-chain.

Considering both the fact that you work at a Big 4 and it’s only a few months away from mid-summer raises and/or compensation restructuring, asking for a raise now will probably not lead to much. You work for an international firm responsible for more than 100,000 employees…you are one person. Granted, you are a second year Senior, which is one of the areas that all firms have a shortage at.

It also depends on your what practice line, your performance rankings and industry, as all of these factors play into how much leverage you will have. If you’re a top-ranked staff member with your CPA and on track to be a lead senior in the fall, your firm may toss you a $1,500 bone to keep you salivating for summer raises. If you’re more of the middle-of-the-road-and-I’m-studying-for-BEC type it would not totally surprise me if you were not given a raise or even shown the door. It would take the length of an episode of “30 Rock” for the word to spread through your office that all it took to get a bump in pay was to claim you had an offer from another firm. Leadership isn’t stupid.

Regardless of where you stand when compared to your peers, be absolutely certain you’re comfortable taking one of the offers you have should the latter situation happen. Your best bet is to wait until summer raises come through. The other firms will still be hiring experience staff in September.

Are the Brits Getting Serious About a Big 4 Antitrust Probe?

Now that everyone (well, not everyone) has fully recovered from Royal Wedding 2011, it’s time to get to the bottom of this.

A U.K. House of Lords committee investigating the financial crisis said in a March report that the firms, which audit 99 of the 100 largest U.K. companies, should be probed by the London- based Office of Fair Trading to determine whether their market dominance wrongfully limits choice. The probe could be the most high-profile for the agency since it investigated banks’ equity underwriting practices — an inquiry that closed without any action being taken.

The OFT would help determine whether loan terms unfairly favor Deloitte LLP, Ernst & Young LLP, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and KPMG LLP, said Robert Bell, an antitrust lawyer in London with Speechly Bircham. The agency, which has kept the industry under review since 2002, will make a decision on the probe later this month, said spokeswoman Kasia Reardon.

‘Big Four’ Audit Firms May Face U.K. Antitrust Investigation This Month [Bloomberg]

Hypothetical: Mid-tier Intern Concerned About Breaking News to Her Firm About Big 4 Internship

Welcome to the Justin-Bieber-is-trending-on-Twitter-again edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a young collegian has an internship with a mid-tier firm next busy season but still dreams of the Big 4. Currently, she’s in talks with one B4 for a shot at a coveted summer internship. If she lands it, how does she break the news to her firm?

Does your partner get bent out of shape over weddings and other fun things? Are you single, fat and a hypocrite? Looking for a big change in your career? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we do know of a terrorist organization that’s probably taking applications.

ANYWAY:

Hi GC,

I signed to do an internship with a mid-tier firm next busy season, and I’m pretty grateful for it. That being said, I still want to go the Big 4 route if possible. I have one recruiting season left before graduation, and I’ve been in some talks with one firm in particular that suggests I might have a chance at interviewing for a summer internship.

Should they make an offer, and I accept, how do I go about sharing (or not sharing) this with the other firm come next January? Should the mid-tier make a full time offer, how long can I wait before telling them yay or nay, just in case the summer one falls through? Am I shooting myself in the foot on this one?

Dear Two-timer,

We should all be so lucky to have a shot at two internships. Although your chances with the Big 4 firm aren’t a lock, this situation could prove tricky so I’ll go on the assumption (per your request) that you get the offer.

Now, then. My inclination is to advise you to not tell the mid-tier firm that you have a summer internship coming up, as it does not really your ability to perform work for them. Plenty of people have done two internships, so your case is not unusual and in my opinion, not necessary to tell them that you’re doing another internship in the upcoming summer.

That said, if you do decide to tell your mid-tier suitor about your Big 4 summer internship (I’m sure my advice has been ignored in the past) it could go one of two ways: 1) The firm likes you and they try hard to convince you choose them over those smug Big 4 bastards; 2) They’re on the fence and they reason “she’s got another opportunity coming up” and you’ll get cut right away.

So assuming you’re a likable, hard-working and don’t look like an absolute troll (you’ve got the internship, so this is unlikely), you’ll be in the enviable position of being able to choose exactly what you want. If the mid-tier firm makes you the offer, you won’t have a lot of time to decide (e.g. 30 days), certainly not before your summer internship is over. So if your experience at your mid-tier firm wasn’t so great, then your decision is easy. If you – gasp – really enjoyed it, then you’ll probably write us another email. And I’ll tell you to read this post.

Tax Intern Wants the Lowdown on Opportunities After a Stint in Big 4

Welcome to everyone-whip-out-those-birth-certificates edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a Big 4 tax intern is thinking about life after public accounting, just in case, you know, he hates it. Are there real options out there or will it be a choice between being a Big 4 partner and opening a H&R Block in a strip mall?

Looking for career advice from a complete stranger who may mock you in the process? Is a co-worker questioning your intelligence? Thinking about taking your talents to an archrival? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll help you with your Benedict Arnold impression.

Back in tax:

I’ve accepted an offer for an internship in tax this summer with a Big 4 firm, because I’ve always preferred tax to audit as far as a career within the firm. However, I am starting to have concerns over my potential career outside the firm should I decide that I hate public accounting. Unless I were to make partner, it is likely that I will have to look elsewhere to continue my career.

What are the career options outside the firm for someone working in tax at the manager/senior manager level? What can I do to make myself a more attractive candidate? Should I try to get into a specialty tax group? Would my career in tax give me the skills to open my own CPA firm down the road?

I apologize if these questions have been answered, I’ve spent the better part of two days trying to get answers to some of these questions. Feel free to direct me to the answer if this is the case.

Dear Tax Intern who seems to be getting ahead of themselves,

You’re having career concerns and you haven’t even been shown your cubicle? That makes me think that you might also be stressing over the Mayan calendar but since you mention making partner, I suspect you’re not that crazy (or this crazy).

Anyhoo, I’ve got good news – there are plenty of opportunities for you both inside and outside your Big 4 firm. Hopefully you’ll get exposure to various groups within your tax practice during your internship and that will get you thinking about what aspects of tax you enjoy best. If you like compliance – wow, are you in for a treat. You’ll probably start out there but at some point you may be able to jump into state and local (aka SALT), an international tax group or M&A. There are lots of options, which is why tax is such a great career path. Personally, I feel a speciality group can be great experience but you may limit yourself for opportunities outside the firm. That said, there is something to be said for being considered an “expert.”

As far as opportunities after your career in Big 4, you’ll be able to take any expertise you’ve obtained to clients in their own tax department. Remember GE’s department is the best tax law firm known to man and other corporations strive for similar tax savvy; you could fit in nicely. Similarly, if you’re confident you can go out on your own and start a tax boutique firm, you might be able to provide specialized services for a fraction of the cost of other firms. You’ll probably need a couple of colleagues to take the risk with you and some capital wouldn’t hurt but it could pay off in spades in the long-term.

Any tax mavens with some years behind them are invited to share their experiences. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to mocking birthers.

Some People Take Exception with the Idea That Investors Don’t Care About the Lack of Audit Firms

That said, it’s not as if investors can be everywhere at once. Audit committees could stand to get better at sharing information.

Liz Murrall, director of corporate governance and reporting at the Investment Management Association, strongly refutes this claim. “Investors do care”, she insisted, saying “no one wants to see an auditor in place for 50 years”.

However, Murrall warned that investors cannot engage with every company, and therefore cannot be expected to watch over audit committees’ shoulders to check every appointment. “Shareholders want the option of being involved, but don’t want consultation to be mandated – they don’t always have the time or resources.”

Transparency is the order of the day, according to the IMA. If audit committees increased disclosure about the tender process, shareholders would be more motivated and able to engage, boosting choice and competition in the market.

Investors ‘do care’ about audit competition [Accountancy Age]

Why Is Utilization Such a Big Deal at Public Accounting Firms?

As it’s only been a few days since we learned about the death of Pan Jie, the PwC auditor who died in Shanghai, many people are questioning everything, from high pressure culture within the Big 4 to this most recent contribution from the mail bag wanting to know why utilization is such a BFD:

Hey Caleb,

Been reading all the comments on the Shanghai PDub girl perhaps overworking to death, and everyone seem to have the same opinion on the same thing: overworking, but undercharging. And, this topic of utilization has really been troubling me since the first day I joined public accounting. So can someone care to explain why utilization is such big deal at the Big 4s??

I really don’t get it. Because ultimately, in my opinion it is purely a [key performance indicator] that is on paper, and is not a real depicting of a company’s financial performance. From when I last checked, the concept of OT pay is no longer applicable. So it’s not like by charging more hours, the firms are not paying me more and thus impacting their bottom line. Of course, if I need to bring on more people to the team to complete the audit, it may impact the bottom line for that engagement. And, also maybe there are the out-of-pocket expenses that you need to consider for employees beyond 8 hours. But I am sure [out-of-pocket expenses] during busy season will not break for audit budget. But besides that, everything is pretty much fixed, from the audit fee, staff’s salaries, expenses, etc. So I really don’t get this utilization game that management is playing.

Is my mind too simple, or can someone explain it to me?

Here’s my take on utilization – it partially factors into how firms determine if they’re getting their money’s worth out of employees. Say you’ve got two employees that are effectively the same (hours, performance, etc.) except one takes all five weeks of their PTO while the other doesn’t take any PTO. The difference of two hundred hours – on paper – shows that one employee is one creating 200 additional hours of value for the firm versus their co-worker who does not. If both of these individuals met their utilization goals for the year, then there’s really no issue. But if the five weeks of PTO taken by the first employee causes them to fall short, a friendly HR professional or performance counselor will have an easy decision as who should be crowned a top performer at evaluation time. Regardless of firms saying “we want you to take vacation” they want you to meet utilization goals first.

As for budgeting, depending on the engagement you may have wiggle room and you may not. If you’re serving a small client, regular late-night dinners could easily blow the budget and zap the realization, especially if you’re billing all the hours you’re working. So if you’re trying to make utilization goals but have a tight budget, you may have to cave on either charging all the hours or starving to death. Not an easy choice and is one reason why serving small clients can be a double-edged sword.

So essentially I agree with you, utilization is primarily a performance indicator and not much else. It simplifies the ability to determine someone’s value on paper. Low utilization indicates that you suck at your job or no one likes you. High utilization means you’re a workhorse and a team player. When it comes to cutting the weakest link, the decision is pretty easy. I admit that I’m far removed from the latest trends in determine valuable employees so veterans of the utilization game and people in the know are invited to chime in with theories on utilization and its usefulness (or lack thereof).

‘Satisfied,’ Possibly Deranged PwC Employee Describes Unfamiliar Work Environment

From the mailbag:

Hi Caleb,

I’ve been perusing your website for about 5 months now and I cannot believe the amount of complaining people do and still stick it out in public accounting. If it is that awful, why are you trading away your life for this job? I’m in assurance in New York Metro with PwC and everyone that I work with is pretty pleased with their jobs.

Yeah we work a lot and probably could get paid more working in industry, but for whatever reason public accounting is the career we choose. All my teams have a pretty good time even during busy season. I have yet to work for a manager or partner that I didn’t like, and interestingly enough I’ve had multiple interactions with managers where eriods of time out of their day to chat with me about things unrelated to our current work. I’ve referred a number of college prospective auditors to your website and their response as always been to the effect of, “the articles are interesting, but the comments people leave make this sound like a horrible career choice.” Just wondering if we could get some positive articles and comments going about the good things that come out of working in public accounting!

Sincerely,

A satisfied PwC employee

Okay, so it sounds like a few people are happy with their careers – thankyouverymuch – and are a little put off by the loud bellyaching and articles that aren’t “positive.” I’ll address the latter concern first by simply pointing everyone to a post from February where I presented my answers on the “Career Value of the Big 4 Experience” and wrote the following:

I’m very grateful for my Big 4 experience. It was unimaginably valuable, I met a lot of great people and have no regrets (except for a few brutal hangovers at national training). So, I’ll give it a 5 [that means super-duper satisfied!].

Not to the mention the two to three posts that we dish out a week (despite complaints from some that they’re all the same) giving career advice, that often highlight the benefits of the public accounting path, frequently featuring Big 4 firms. If you find these articles to be “negative” or displeasurable in tone, I can’t help you. Adrienne and I both believe in presenting a straight, no-bullshit style. If you want something that resembles a town hall meeting, then I suggest you go read the latest list from Fortune, Forbes or just look around your office for all the benefits to working at your firm. The marketing people certainly aren’t shy about plastering them everywhere.

As for “getting […] positive comments,” you’ll have to call on your equally satisfied Big 4 brethren to speak a little louder in the comments section. If you and others find the comments on a particular post offensive or misleading, TRY RESPONDING. It’s not our responsibility to convince the happy people to speak up and we’re not going to tell haters to calm down. Everyone has a voice here and if some are louder than others, so be it. There are plenty of constructive discussions happening all over the site so go find those and ignore the noise if it bothers you. If snark and bad words offend you, then perhaps you should avoid the comments altogether. We’re not going to create a “Family Section” of GC just because some people’s ears are burning.

I think it’s great that you enjoy your career at PwC (“deranged” is simply a joke, in case you need briefed). It’s a great firm with plenty of great people and kudos to you for doing what you enjoy. You’re lucky to have figured out what’s important and write, “I cannot believe the amount of complaining people do and still stick it out in public accounting. If it is that awful, why are you trading away your life for this job?” which is the same question I ask of people on a regular basis. Regardless of where people fall on the satisfied scale (I’m a “5,” don’t forget) we’re going to continue covering the industry and the firms like we always have. When a firm does something worthwhile, we will call attention to it, Tweet it or link to it. When something gossipy or juicy comes our way, we’ll do the same. If you don’t like it, you’re free to express your opinion as much and as loudly as you like.

Blind Item: Which Big 4 CEO Sent This Poorly Timed Email About Working in the Wee Hours of the Morning?

In light of recent events, the following email was forwarded to us with our tipster admitting that intentions were good while the timing was not.

I recently met with a [BIG executive] who formerly served as a Former Big Four partner and [some hotshot internal group (I think)]. Most of the discussion was focused on how we might help [BIG executive’s company] with their global HR transformation. Quite unexpectedly, he began our meeting with a story about a senior manager on our team, [Sally Worksherassoff].

Just a day earlier, he had asked [Sally Worksherassoff] if she could find any information explaining the relevance of Dodd-Frank legislation to Human Resource leaders. When he woke up the next morning, he noticed that [Sally Worksherassoff] had emailed a whitepaper outlining exactly what he needed…at 2:00 am. The timing was critical, as he needed to deliver a presentation to [BIG executive’s company] leaders later in the day. After I left [BIG executive]’s offices, he sent an unprompted note to our project team recounting this story and remarking that “seemingly small things like this can add significant value to [BIG executive’s company].” The subject header of his note: How to “wow” a client.

My takeaway: small things, big difference. It can be easy to get lulled into reserving our extra energy and special effort for those situations, requests, and issues that seem like “big deals”. But as our client pointed out, there are no small things when it comes to delivering an exceptional client experience.

— [Big 4 CEO]

Did a PwC Auditor Work Herself to Death?

Pan Jie was a 25 year-old auditor in PwC’s Shanghai office, starting her career with the firm last October. She died of acute cerebral meningitis on April 10th, having “ignored the illness until a fever surged,” after catching the flu on March 31st. Reports have stated that Jie told a friend that “she had been working up to 18 hours a day and about 120 hours a week,” prior to her death.


A doctor quoted by one of the reports explained the cause:

Dr Wang Guisong, an expert in the neurosurgery department at Renji Hospital, said overwork can make people more vulnerable to infections. “Based on her symptoms and her low white blood cell count, it’s reasonable to conclude that overwork led to a weakened immune system, which makes her more vulnerable to infections,” Wang said. “When an infection worsens over time, people can develop acute cerebral meningitis.”

According to the story, PwC has denied that Ms Jie died from work-related fatigue but it’s hard to argue that her fatigue was caused by anything else. The firm is providing psychologists for employees, has sent a “team” to comfort Jie’s family and has even offered to assist with the cost of her funeral and this kind of outreach is admirable but the overarching culture within Big 4 firms is really what is of concern here.

Fatigue from overworking is not uncommon in the Big 4 life but when someone dies as a result of the fatigue, that’s will obviously get some attention (even if it’s just for a little bit). At some point it became acceptable for sleep – and health in general – to become of secondary importance when it comes to having a successful career. If you don’t believe me, look around you; everyone is exhausted and that’s part of the life inside a Big 4 firm. The pressures of performance in the name of client service are so great that people regularly come to work when they should be in bed or, in some cases, an emergency room. Of course there’s the macho contingent inside these firms that say “sleep is for the weak” and that’s the kind of attitude that perpetuates the culture of “getting the job done.” How is this acceptable? Not only can lack of sleep kill you, it doesn’t really do much for job performance. We’ve all seen people make big mistakes when they’re lacking sleep and yet no one considers the root cause. If you think skipping a few hours of sleep a night is worth to a few thousand dollars a year (at best) then you’ve got some seriously fucked up priorities.

I admit that people aren’t dropping left and right inside these firms due to lack of sleep but let’s quit pretending like working hours upon hours, putting your health at risk and coming into work looking like – pardon the expression – death warmed up is some kind of badge of honor.

Big 4 Employee with an Itch to Jump Ship Wants to Know What His Options Are

Welcome to the the-shutdown-will-probably-last-45-minutes edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a Big 4 senior associate has a hanker to jump ship. Problem is, corporate accounting and internal auditing don’t sound like appealing life-preservers. Are there other options or is our hero doomed for permanent Big 4 burnout?

Nervous about a promotion? Back on the hunt for a co-worker to canoodle with after an unfortunate experience? Concerned about where your bonus is going? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll sort you out one way or another.

Meanwhile, back on the Titanic:

Hello there,

So I’m a senior associate at a big 4 accounting firm and needless to say, I’m getting the itch to leave this gig. The problem I’m facing though, is that I don’t know what job I want to take when I leave.

While the hours may be better, going into corporate accounting and doing journal entries / reconciliations sounds just as mind numbing. Likewise, doing the same old routine in internal audit doesn’t really sound riveting either. So outside of those, what are my options? What jobs are out there that will let me put my CPA to good use while actually enjoying my career?

– Not sold on corporate accounting

Dear NSOCA,

Ah, you’ve come to see that the grass isn’t always THC-ier on the other side. It’s important that you’ve come to this realization, so I don’t have to give you a sermon about that. However I should say, you seem to have your priorities a little backwards: “The problem I’m facing […] is that I don’t know what job I want to take when I leave.” This sounds like you’re ready to leave your Big 4 firm with virtually no plan; that would suggest A) your “itch” is really a full-body rash and B) you’ve only had preliminary thoughts about what life after Big 4 can really be like.

In addition to the plethora of corporate accountant and internal audit gigs, there are many opportunities for various analyst positions – cost, budget, financial – if that’s something that would be of interest to you (check out this post on cost accounting positions from last summer for more details). If you’re the wonky type, a SEC reporting or a technical accounting position may be up your alley.

With all that in mind, don’t dismiss all senior accountant job. If you find a company that’s the right for you (i.e. size, responsibilities, money, etc.) you’ll end up learning a lot and in addition to your Big 4 experience, you’ll have a nice skillset that will prepare you for your next move. As far as internal audit is concerned, I personally never had much interest, simply because I discovered that auditing was nothing I wanted to do. If you do like auditing (God help you), then I wouldn’t dismiss all of those opportunities but like the senior accountant positions, I’d be pretty selective.

Just remember, don’t get anxious to leave just because you’re miserable. Figure out what your real interests are and then start your job search, working with a recruiter or pounding the pavement yourself. You might discover that you need to get of this accounting thing altogether. I’m a living, breathing example of that and there are plenty more out there like me. You may be one of them too but I admit, you have to be willing to make sacrifices (mostly money). The worst thing you can possibly do is take any old job with a fancy title and a bigger paycheck to only hate it in three months. Good luck.

Should a Regional CPA Give Up Work-Life Balance for a Shot with a Big 4 Firm?

Welcome to the that’s-the-last-time-I’m-getting-up-at-5-am edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a perfectly happy CPA at a regional firm wants to know if giving up his work-life balance and other intangibles for a Big 4 gig is a smart move prior to hitting the dirty thirties. Should he stay or should he go?

Trying to make sense of your career? Want to know your firm’s cool quotient? Worried that the axe will fall right after April 15th? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll give you a either an ego boost or a reality check.

Back to our friend who’s considering trading work-life for work-for-life:

I am currently debating on whether I should make the move from a regional firm to a Big 4, for assurance. Pros about my firm: it’s local and has minimal travel; there isn’t much intensity/pressure; I only have overtime from February until April, and other than that I work about 40-45 hours a week. However, the variety of clients is lacking and salary increases are pathetic. Granted the current economic climate, I think that I can get a 10K increase if I make the switch.

My biggest question is: “Is it worth it to give up the intangible benefits of the easy audit life for the higher salary and pressure of a Big 4 firm?”

I’ve got a masters degree and have my license. I’m also in my late twenty’s and figure that if I want to try the big leagues, now is the time.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks,

An indecisive CPA

Dear Indecisive CPA,

Your biggest question shouldn’t be “Is it worth it to give up the intangible benefits of the easy audit life for the higher salary and pressure of a Big 4 firm?” rather something to the effect of “Does a crazy person know they’re crazy? And am I that crazy person?” But forget self-reflection for a second, I’ll attempt to make sense of this for you.

I was in a similar situation myself at one time, although it was earlier in my career. I was working at a smaller firm, had a decent work-life balance but felt bored and the money wasn’t great. At the time I wanted to experience life in the Big 4 and found the opportunity to do so. You sound as though you have an itch to figure out what life inside the Big 4 is like but also know that you’re giving up the intangibles that you mention.

The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you’ll regret not trying to land that coveted Big 4 gig. If you read the comments here regularly or talk to your friends who do work for one of firms, you know what to expect. If your reaction to these anecdotes is somewhere in the range of “That sounds like pure hell,” to “I’d rather scrub the floor at Penn Station with my bare hands” then your decision has already been made. If, on the other hand, the curiosity is still too much to bear, I say it’s worth exploring the opportunity. If you don’t pursue it, you’ll likely never fully get over the fact that you didn’t at least go for it and find out for yourself what life at Big 4 is really like. Plus, you’ll get a nice little bump salary and you’ll meet some new people. Could be worse. And if all of the Big 4 cast you out like a leper you’ll be better off. Good luck.

In Case You Forgot, the Big 4 Are Hiring a Small Army of People This Year

CNN/Fortune managed to dig up this corpse of a story: “Bean counters wanted: Why the Big 4 are in a hiring frenzy.”  This refers to the hiring bonanza that Deloitte announced last September that was followed by various announcements by the rest of the Big 4:

[T]here’s one unlikely place where the help wanted sign is up, big time: Accounting firms.

Deloitte plans to hire 17,000 professionals in the U.S. and India in 2011, according to Cathleen Benko, its chief talent officer. It’s seeking accountants, auditors, consultants, and IT staff. Hiring is split evenly between experienced and entry-level applicants.

Ernst & Young has stepped up recruiting. It’s looking to hire 7,000 employees from college campuses — 4,500 full-time and 2,500 interns — and 6,000 experienced staff, totaling 13,000 people in 2011, says Dan Black, its director of Americas Campus Recruiting. Experienced staffing is up 80% from last year and campus recruits are up 20%.

Both firms compete for talent against PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG, and large consulting firms such as McKinsey and Bain. The hiring confirms a 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics report that predicted employment in accounting and auditing would spike 22%.

For starters I don’t know why accounting firms are an “unlikely” place for the “help wanted sign” but don’t forget that this is the same outlet that told us that the firms were making money hand over fist back in the Fall of ’09. Also, why CNN/Fortune is now reporting Deloitte’s India’s hiring numbers as part of this story is a little confusing. Plus, if “hiring is split” between experienced and new hires that is a change in the breakdown from what was reported last September. Again, maybe the India numbers change things up a bit and I lost my 10-key long ago.

And we’ll also mention that the E&Y numbers are slightly better than what they initially reported last September so make of all these stats what you will, the rainbow and unicorn PR machine is in full force and CNN is happy to scoop them up spit them out.

Bean counters wanted: Why the Big 4 are in a hiring frenzy [CNNMoney]

Should a Big 4 Audit Associate Ditch His Firm for a Client?

Welcome to the I’m-just-sick-about-the-Mad-Men-situation edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a Big 4 associate wants to apply for an analyst position at his client and wants to know if there will be backlash or independence issues that would accompany such a move. What’s in store for our turncoat? Let’s find out!

Have an interesting career dilemma? Need some ideas to cheer up the troops? Looking for some ways to offer some constructive criticism without resorting to veiled insults? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll help you squash any temptation for name-calling.

Meanwhile back at traitor island:

Dear Going Concern,

I’m an Associate at a Big4 looking to do something more exciting. After checking out at my clients website, they seem to have a lot of entry-level analysts positions that interest me.

I was curious as to what your thoughts were about applying to one of your clients, and how my team might react if I get the job before busy season. Also, do I have to worry about independence issues if I’m only an Associate?

Thank you,
Extremely Bored Associate

Dear Extremely Bored Associate,

You think an entry-level analyst position sounds more exciting than Big 4? Your bar for thrills is awfully low, my friend. Never mind that you lack an inner Indiana Jones, I’m here to help you.

For starters, I’m not really sure what you mean by “just before busy season” since it’s March and busy season is all but over. However if you do ditch your team prior to busy season, some will sneer at your timing and then forget about you. And then there are the people that will hate you just on principle. You simply have to accept that as a cost of doing business. As far as independence is concerned, I don’t see any issues since you’re pretty low on pecking order but your firm may have a cooling off period or some other policy that forbids you from taking a position for a certain amount of time, so consider that your homework assignment.

Have said all that, I should tell you that it’s possible that your client may not be interested in offering you a job simply because you worked for the audit team. The argument being that maintaining a good relationship with their audit provider trumps any cog in the wheel so poaching you from their professional services firm is something they simply won’t do. Now are there exceptions? Probably. So the only the way to know is find out; run it up and see what happens. Good luck.

Brits Call Big 4 Auditors ‘Disconcertingly Complacent’ During Financial Crisis

Not exactly what you would call a compliment. And while they were at it, the House of Lords would like the Office of Fair Trading to investigate why the “Big 4” isn’t a “Global 6” or “Universal 8” or “Dirty Dozen” or something similar.

Of course auditors have claimed that did everything they were legally obligated to do and the HoL admits that’s kindasorta true but not really:

Its report said: “We do not accept the defence that bank auditors did all that was required of them. In the light of what we now know, that defence appears disconcertingly complacent.” It added: “It may be that the Big Four carried out their duties properly in the strictly legal sense, but we have to conclude that, in the wider sense, they did not do so.” Bank auditors and regulators had been guilty of a “dereliction of duty” by not sharing more information with each other on an informal basis before the crisis, the committee claimed. Auditors were either “culpably unaware of the mounting dangers” at banks or they were at fault for not sharing any concerns with supervisors, it added. Either way, auditor complacency had been a “significant contributory factor” in the banking meltdown, the committee said.

So in “the wider sense,” auditors best step up their game. Go forth.

Auditors criticised for role in financial crisis [FT]

Choosing Between a Big 4 and Mid-tier Firm Part XXIII

Welcome to the upset-special edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a future public accounting foot soldier has to make a decision between a Big 4 firm and “GT/BDO type firm” but is stumped on what to do and can’t find a two-sided coin anywhere. The next best solution was, obviously, emailing us.

Want to know if you’re in a dead-end job? Trying to deal with stress in the waning days of busy season? Anxious about changes in your job? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll help you pull through.

Back to the indecider:

Hi Going Concern,

I have an offer from a Big 4 and a GT/BDO type firm and am having a tough time deciding. I wanted to ask which option will be better in the long-run if I want to start in public accounting, but then might want to move to a large publicly traded tech company? I guess my question is which route would give me better exit opportunities and long-term benefits should I decide not to stay in public accounting? (If I leave, I have a good idea of where I’d like to work on the corporate side.)

1. Mid-Tier Firm experience — having taken lead on small projects by my second year, more interaction with clients etc. Having experience with mid-sized (not public) tech companies, and experience with large, public companies that are not tech companies.

2. Big 4 — staying a little more than 2 years (enough to move up to Sr. Associate level but not staying too long beyond that) – and having worked on large, public tech companies. Having the Big 4 brand name on my résumé.

Also, there’s a chance that I might enjoy staying at the Mid-Tier in the long-term, but without being sure, I want to keep my options as open as possible.

Thanks. Any advice is appreciated.

Stuck in Indecision

Dear Stuck in Indecision,

I’m impressed that you’ve managed to cover all the angles here. You could possibly like each scenario without considering what it is actually want with your career other than “might want to move to a large publicly traded tech company” or “might enjoy staying at the Mid-Tier in the long-term.” You’re basically saying that you’re up for anything – hence, ” I want to keep my options as open as possible.” Your options are open all right since you’ve committed to exactly nothing. However I’m here to help, so here goes.

To keep it brief: all things being equal, go with the Big 4 firm. Here are some details – it’s likely that you will have the opportunity to work on smaller clients at a Big 4 firm, thus giving you the chance to “take the lead.” If you also have experience working for larger, publicly-traded companies (not as likely at a mid-tier), your experience will be more vast and allow you decide what it is you actually want to do (because, at this point in time, you don’t seem to have a clue). GT, BDO, McGladrey et al. are fine firms but you have a Big 4 offer – take it. You didn’t mention the people (a big selling point at most firms) so I’ll assume you’re indifferent or that they were all equal on this front. The network you build in a Big 4 firm will benefit you the long run and the experience will as well. Just don’t expect your firm to do well in “cool” contests. Good luck.

Chart of the Day (From Yesterday): Audit Failure Edition

As if the combination of March Madness and St. Patrick weren’t enough, this slide from yesterday’s Investor Advisory Group meeting should drive many to drink.


After yesterday’s findings on the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the auditor’s report, we bring you “The Watchdog that Didn’t Bark … Again.” It’s not as caught up on surveys and whatnot, as it is just pointing out some of the well, failures by auditors during the financial crisis.

The presentation was prepared by The Working Group on Lessons Learned from the Financial Crisis of the IAG and includes past comments from critics like Francine McKenna and Jonathan Weil on the expectations gap between auditors and basically everyone else. But don’t worry, it also presents the audit profession’s defense of itself including past statements from the Center for Audit Quality and PwC’s Richard Sexton the head of audit it the UK, who said this:

Now, one could come to the conclusion that Mr Sexton works for his clients first and not investors but you might not agree with that.

Now before all the Big 4 auditors get in a huff, the presentation has some criticisms of the PCAOB as well, specifically on the report the Board issued in September 2010:

If you can manage to stop drinking your breakfast for two, check out the full presentation below and discuss.

The Watchdog That Didnt Bark

Should a Big 4 Auditor Jump Ship for a Rival After Four Months on the Job?

Welcome to the you-better-get-work-done-today-because-no-one-is-doing-shit-tomorrow edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, an experienced Big 4 auditor has recently gotten the interest of a rival firm after just four months on the job. Does he risk a disloyal reputation if he jumps ship again?

Have a career question? Trying to deal with a troublesome co-worker? Concerned that your firm isn’t offering you enough chances to crush some Chardonnay at the office? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll attempt to find you a firm that isn’t full of teetotalers.

Back to our Judas-in-waiting:

Hi Going Concern,

I recently made the move to a Big 4 firm after completing two full years at the largest mid-size firm in the U.S. I was promoted to Senior right before I left my old firm but was offered a position as a Staff 2 (with a nominal increase in pay). I am in the middle of my third busy season (assurance) and I just got an e-mail from one of the other Big 4 firms I was in communication with when I was looking to split from my previous firm. The e-mail is describing an open position that they have in a client acceptance specialty group, based in the NJ office (I currently live and work in NY).

I have only been at my current firm for about four months – is it too early to contemplate considering the opportunity? Of course I would have to go through the whole interview process so this could be a moot point but I can’t help wondering if the move would be a bad idea? Would it limit my ability to work in the private sector later on? Would my résumé scream DISLOYAL? My main incentive would be a pay/title increase (opening is for a Senior position) and what I would hope would be a less stressful “busy season” but at this point I have no clue what to do.

Thanks,

Ship Jumper in NY

Dear Ship Jumper,

Simply put: when given an opportunity, I a big believer in making a run at it. I don’t see anything wrong with going through the interview process with your prospective firm and seeing where it leads. If you don’t get the job, what have you lost? The answer is “nothing,” and you won’t wonder whether or not you should have gone on that interview. I’m not really sure how you feel about being an auditor but joining a speciality group could be a nice change of pace.

Scenario B is that you land the gig and you’re worried about the appearance it will have on your résumé. First of all, you make it sound like you’re one of those bounders who jumps around because they hate every job they’ve ever had. Two years here; eighteen months here; six months here. If you end up going down that road, the answer is yes, that is a warning sign to potential employers. If this opportunity is really the direction you want to take your career, then there’s very little risk of that. In the future when discussing the brief stint to an interviewer (if they even ask), you’ll be able to explain it this way, “The opportunity came up and I went for it. I’ve been working in this group for X number of years and have enjoyed my time there. This is just another opportunity.”

I think future employers should be interested in someone who recognizes opportunity when they see it as opposed to someone who is content to sit back and wonder what might have been. This goes for aspects in your work, not just career moves. As long as your intentions and ambitions about this opportunity are sincere and not simply opportunistic, employers won’t be worried about the brief pit stop at your current firm.

How Bad Are the Odds of Making Partner at a Big 4 Firm?

If you’re a (senior) manager at one of the Final Four horsemen of the accounting firm apocalypse, you may have asked yourself this very question. A reader recently dropped some quantitative analysis on us, writing, “I tried to step past anecdote and see how bad things really were.” This is specifically for the audit practice and is fairly large office, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

Using commonly available data from my firm, I decided to create a quasi-statistical analysis of the likelihood of senior managers making partner in the near future.

There were, as of the date I pulled this data, 843 senior managers in our audit practice. It’s too time consuming to divide these among starting classes, so I’ve made the following simplified assumptions:

Tenure:
9 year – 30% of the population, or 253 senior managers
10 year – 25%, or 211
11 year – 20%, or 169
12 year – 15%, or 126
13 year – 10% or 84

Let’s consider half of year 11 and all of year 12 and 13+ to be “in the pipeline”. That’s 295 senior managers competing for a given number of partner/principal/director (“partner”) spots.

Our tipster used a sample of approximately 200 partners (out of an assumed total of ~1,000) to conclude that approximately 14% of them would retire in the next five years (assuming 30+ years with the firm, mandatory retirement at 62) and assumed a 6% growth rate (which he/she admits, is on the aggressive side).

Here’s an extrapolation of open spots based on turnover and growth:

1,000 partners x 14% turnover = 140 partners turn over due to attrition, or 28 partners per year
1,000 partners x 6% growth = 60 partners per year, ignoring compounding

84 new partners sounds like a lot of partners. That’s because it is. Those in the know put our planned crop of partners at ~50 for 2011. At best, you’re looking at 1 in 4 of those high performing senior managers making partner, based on our assumptions. More realistically, it means that 1 in 6 can make partner.

Maybe you’ll take those odds, maybe you won’t but like we said, if you’re working in an office that is a fraction of the size in our tipster’s pattern, your odds could be worse depending on the situation in your office. Our tipster continues:

These odds are much worse than anyone is willing to admit, and simply making promotion a war of attrition by extending the partner track to 15 years isn’t going to do much to clear up the pipeline, since very few senior managers are going to find an opportunity that presents the chance of making $300k plus within 2 or 3 years. The situation gets even more grim for senior managers in their 9th and 10th year, who have a huge backlog in front of them and a glut of peers who were hired in the SarBox days of senior managers leaving for 30-40% raises and expect the same in their own careers.

Experienced seniors and new managers should very carefully consider the extended consequences of this data, and what it’s going to look like in 7-9 years when they are trying to make partner. The days of 15% growth in our industry are over and aren’t coming back, and the reality is that many Big 4 senior managers simply are not employable in industry at their current salary levels. Think through your career decisions in the coming 18 months very carefully.

As we’ve discussed, the firms know full well that not everyone has the goal of becoming a partner but if you do have partner ambitions, you’re in a pretty select group. The problem is, the odds still seem to be against you. Now with busy season winding down and three of the four firms closing in on fiscal year-ends, this year’s performance (and prospects outside the firm, depending on how promotions fall out) will be weighing heavy on the minds of many.

Chinese Companies Want the Big 4 Magic

“Companies are under pressure from investors to get the best auditor they can,” said Paul Gillis, an accounting professor at Peking University in Beijing. More than 200 Chinese companies are listed on U.S. exchanges, and hundreds more trade on over-the-counter bulletin boards. In the last five months, at least 15 have upgraded to a Big Four auditor — Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers or KPMG — from a smaller firm, according to an analysis from Audit Analytics. [Reuters]

Weary Big 4 Auditors Are Invited to Live Out Their ‘What I Really Wanted to Be’ Dreams This Saturday

As busy season trudges along, some of you may be looking for a second wind. For many of you, any chance that you can reach down into your soul and conjure up a little more energy to help you reach the finish line passed with that blown deadline.

However, for anyone on the Isle of Manhattan that is looking for a little pick-me-up this weekend, we’ve been informed that there is a fiesta in the making (invitation art at right) and it invites you to harken for the days when your aspirations weren’t so practical:

My friend is having a party this weekend with what I think is a pretty clever theme. On Saturday, we will be attending “Fuck! We are Auditors (How did that happen)”. Description:

“Have you always dreamed of becoming an Auditor?

If so, this party is not for you. For everyone else, come celebrate the (nearing) end of busy season! The theme of FWAA is to dress up as something you wanted to be when you were a kid. So call up your mom or flip through your diary to see what aspirations you had when you were young. Points (more alcohol) will be given to those who have a very convincing outfit.

So don on a lab coat, leotard, or tiara, bring a little somethin’ somethin’ (alcohol), and come get your drunk on. Feel free to invite other auditor or drab job related friends. Perhaps this theme will inspire other auditors to put their life in perspective and go for it…or just drink more to our unachieved dreams. We obviously don’t mean any disrespect to our jobs (or firm. no need to bite the hand that feeds you) seeing as we just started, but any reason to drink/dress up right? It’s been a long busy season. One down, and god-knows-how-many to go.

And good news, the party-throwers (who wouldn’t share their firm with us) have deemed this all-firms-are-created-equal event, “we’re willing to look past those corporate labels and invite all auditors to party.” Of course if you’re not in the Tri-state area, you’ll have to organize your own dashed-dreams rager but the theme has been set. Cowboy, pro athlete, Miss USA, movie star, whatever you failed to be, you’re invited to pretend for a few awkward hours this weekend. As long as you’re not working of course.

How Should an Ex-Big 4 Manager Broach a Possible Return to the Firm with His Boss?

Welcome to the this-ashes-made-me-break-out edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a former Big 4 manager wants to pursue a chance to return to this old firm. How does he handle this with his current employer?

Got a question about your career? Do you have an interesting opportunity but not sure if you should pursue it? Need a new nickname for your special, super-secret team? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll help you avoid anything lame (or possibly racist).

Back to the Big 4 Boomerang:

Hey Going Concern,

About a year ago, I left Big 4 as an audit manager and now work for a client of my former firm (though not one of mine, Paul Sarbanes and Michael Oxley made sure of that). Lately, I’ve been seriously considering a return to my old Big 4 stomping grounds.

My questions isn’t whether I’m crazy or not, it’s how to handle the issue with my current company. It’s not a slam dunk that I will return to my old firm, but I want to at least pursue it. On the plus side, I have a good relationship with my current boss (we’ve known each other for several years).

If I come clean to my boss but end up staying, that’s a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there. If I reach out to my firm on the sly and leave, I threaten to restart my audit career by angering a client.

Help me Going Concern, you’re my only hope…

Thanks,
The Once and (possibly) Future Auditor

Dear Oa(p)FA,

A Seinfeld and a Star Wars reference? Obviously this is keeping you up at night. I’m on this. Since you’ve made up your mind that you are pursuing a Big 4 boomerang situation, I won’t pass judgment there but knowing a little more about your situation might be helpful. I’ll be making some assumptions in order to help you with your ordeal.

Personally, I’m a “honesty is the best policy” type, so telling your boss about your ambitions is the way to go. It sounds like you’ve got a good relationship with him/her and if you do the march in, drop the news and are gone in two weeks, I feel like you’re torching that bridge. The best thing you can do is explain your reasons for pursuing a return to your Big 4 firm. If it’s because you really miss auditing, I think you need your head examined. If it’s because you think you want to make a run at partner, the odds are against you. If it’s because you think it will better prepare you for a return to an industry for a management position, then you can probably explain this to your boss (assuming he/she is level-headed person); your honesty will be appreciated and your integrity will remain intact.

And if you don’t get the job, what then? Well, that is a bit awkward but if you and your boss have a good relationship and are the only two people aware of the situation (which I recommend), you don’t have to worry about others getting all judgmental on your ass and you’ll eventually get back to business as usual. If your boss knows you well, he/she probably is aware of your long-term career ambitions and knows that a move (regardless of whether it’s a return to your old firm) is inevitable at some point and situations like this will come up occasionally. And if your boss isn’t aware of what you want out of your career, this is a perfect time to start talking about it. May The Force be with you.

What Exit Opportunities Exist for a Big 4 Transaction Services Professional?

Welcome to the maybe-we-should-start-pointing-out-who-really-isn’t-winning edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, a future advisory professional wants to know what kind of exit opportunities he’ll have when he’s had his fill of Big 4.

Need some career advice? Concerned that you’re being unfairly portrayed by someone? Have you recently found a mistake at work and aren’t handling it well? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll, at very a tie score.

Onward:

I will be starting at a Big 4 firm in TS this fall. I have seen posts and comments on GC primarily about KPMG’s TS group, and commenters mention a “mass exodus” from TS.

I was interested to know what the exit opps are for people in TS? I have been searching around banking blogs and it seems that TS is not held in high regard in I-banking, so what offers are they receiving?

Sincerely,

Interested Viewer

Dear Interested Viewer,

The advisory space isn’t my strong suit but I’ll take a stab. You’re starting with a “Big 4” but then mention KPMG so I’m not exactly sure where you’re ending up so I’ll keep things fairly general. All of the Big 4 have various services within their TS practices including due diligence in various forms, restructuring, accounting advisory and valuation among others. A common exit opportunity for many in Big 4 TS people is to go to…wait for it…another Big 4 firm. None of these firms have a monopoly on the services offered so if you’ve heard good things about Deloitte as opposed to your living hell at PwC, you may jump at the opportunity to join a rival firm. And we know how the firms like to poach from each other, don’t we?

If that’s not of interest to you, the top consulting shops like McKinsey, Bain & Co., Boston Consulting et al. (check out Vault for their list of the top firms) are a possibility but in reality, not a very good one. These firms like their people with smarts – frightening smarts – and Ivy League degreed. If you’ve got both, you probably already work at one of the best firms. If you’re lucky enough to have one of those two, you might have a chance. If you’ve got neither, than you have virtually have no chance.

You mention I-Banking and again, the odds are against you here if you want to work at the top firms, for the same reasons as we mentioned above. Some more realistic options include due diligence, acquisitions or analysis work for a private equity or hedge fund shop or working in the finance group of a firm with M&A aspirations or that needs other complex transactional analysis.

The other option is that you work for awhile, get an MBA and then try to land the BSD job at McKinsey, Goldman or wherever. Of course hitting the big time after going to a prestigious B-school doesn’t mean your dreams of rainmaking are a lock, so it’s a big risk but obviously many have taken this road and made a decent run.

So, there you have it, Interested Viewer: some ideas, at the very least. Any Big 4 TS types out there with some first-hand accounts of the comings and goings are invited to weigh in at this time. I’ve got to get caught up on the #winning Twitter feed.

Let’s Discuss: Beards in the Big 4

From the mailbag:

Caleb –

Just curious what your thoughts or GC readers’ thoughts are on male facial hair in the public accounting world. Personally, I hate shaving. I shave once a week but am sure to keep a clean line under the chin. (I also dress well and don’t believe that business casual means khakis and a golf shirt.) A friend of mine told me that his manager at his big 4 firm was asked to shave his nicely groomed beard by his partners. Is this normal? Petty? A generation thing?


Let me address your questions one at a time:

1.a. Q: “Is [partners telling managers to tell someone else to do something, like shaving] normal?” A: Yes. Some partners can’t believe they have��������������������general vicinity as the staff, let alone talk to them, so when an awkward conversation needs to be had, a manager often gets the privilege. That said, ambitious managers who want to become partners will often take it upon themselves to inform the beast in question to break out the Bic.

1.b. Q: Is [frowning on facial hair] normal?” A: As a general rule, yes. Some smaller firms are known to be pro-beard but As far as I am aware, the Big 4 state that they allow mustaches and beards if they are kept “neatly trimmed.” However, the reality is that most partners don’t like facial hair. Whether you are growing it for charity, you lost a bet to a broheim or your spouse thinks it’s hot; they don’t give a damn. They want your faces clean shaven.

2. Q: “[Is this] petty?” A: Well, we are talking about the Big 4, now aren’t we? Petty annoyances are part of the deal. In fact, a beard could cost you a promotion if you’re working for the wrong person. That said, I personally don’t think making an issue of facial hair is that petty. The reason being, that despite your well-trimmed beard, it is the exception rather than the rule. I share your hatred of shaving (not to mention your anti-khakis/golf shirt stance) but this is one of those “a few bad apples” situations. Lots of men in the Big 4 are flat-out slobs and if you give them an inch on facial hair, they’ll take a mile. Now, if you happen to have snuck in a well-groomed beard or mustache and kept it that way, you may get a pass but if you’re just letting the 5 o’clock shadow extend an extra day or two and it’s disgustingly obvious, you should get a talking to.

3. Q: “Is this a generational thing?” A: No. There are anti-beard people at various ages who simply equate facial hair with hipsters, hillbillies and the Taliban. I think it’s more of an accounting firm culture thing. So if you’re sporting one, it puts you at odds with TPTB and squarely in the “counter-culture” camp. But on a more practical level, you work in a professional environment for crissakes. For advisory and audit professionals staff who are in client-facing roles earlier than their tax counterparts, partners and managers don’t want you looking like a hobo in front of clients. It doesn’t seem logical to let the gents in tax let themselves go, so the rule applies across the board.

The “beard or no beard” question is now open for debate. Sorry about the gender-specific topic ladies. Your thoughts and unfiltered judgments on the matter are certainly welcome and encouraged.

Another Future Big 4 Associate Wants Advice on How to Best Ruin Their Life Prior to Starting Work

Welcome to the cancel-your-holiday-in-Libya edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, another Fall 2011 Big 4 associate would like to nail down a certification in addition to the CPA before starting work. Can I keep my head from exploding long enough to formulate a coherent response?

Caught in a ethical jam at work? Need a shredding service-provider that also has a knack of taking care of “problems”? Want to challenge your firm’s dress code but need an objective opinion? Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll make like Anna Wintour.

Back to our overachiever du jour:

Caleb,

I am about to pass the CPA exam and have 8 months until I begin at one of the “Big Four” firms in Florida. I am excited to start at the firm as it was my first choice however, I am not certain I will be in public accounting for the long run (like most people). My question is, being uncertain about my career path, what other certification should I obtain before I start in 8 months?

I have considered the CISA, CFE, CMA, CFA, Six Sigma but, I am not sure as I am not certain of my long term path. I want something that will give me an edge if I leave the firm and/or switch careers.

What certification would you recommend?

Any suggestions are helpful.

Dear Overachiever Du Jour,

After murdering the remainder of Stranahan’s in the house, I’m better prepared to answer your query.

I appreciate your ambition and we definitely think that obtaining additional certifications is a good idea for those that move on from public accounting but I fail to see how this benefits you now before you have an inkling of what kind of career you want. HOWEVER, I’m here to help sort you out as best I can, so I’ve put aside my judgments for two.

Based on your “considerations” listed, you seem to have a case of accounting certification ADHD which is fine but there’s no clear pattern as to what your interests are. I’m not going to recommend you do something just because it may be a hot area (forensics) or in-demand (information systems) but I am going to recommend you rank these certifications based on your level interest. Want to eventually be a CFO? Then go for the CMA. Want to pile up the financial reporting bodies? Get the CFE. You get the point. The important thing is to pursue a certification you find interesting rather than one that will just puts a few letters behind your name that may (but probably not) impress someone.

But really, do you want to spend the summer prior to starting work studying for a test? Get the band back together, take a trip, something.

Some Companies Willing to Drop a Big 4 Auditor Like a Bad Habit…For Another Big 4 Auditor

Auditor musical chairs isn’t something that happens too often but Reuters reports that more and more U.S. companies are looking to save a little extra scratch on their audit fees:

Bucking a long-standing preference by most companies to stick with the same auditor for years, some companies are putting their audit work out for competitive bids to win better deals on fees, or to get fresh teams looking at their books. “It’s a change in the competitive landscape among the audit firms where they have the ability and desire to take on more clients,” said Mark Grothe, an analyst at consulting firm Glass Lewis. Public companies also seem to be more willing to switch auditors, as long as one of the “Big Four” firms will be doing the work, he said.

The article cites Apple (dropped KPMG for E&Y) and Tysons (kicked E&Y to the curb in favor of PwC) as two prominent examples. We’re also aware that Credit Suisse is slowly transitioning a good portion of the audits performed by KPMG to PwC, according to sources familiar with the situation. Companies of this size willing to change their auditors demonstrates that some companies aren’t too concerned with the learning curve that may face their new auditors. In fact, some CFOs are more than okay with it, including Linster Fox of Shuffle Master who claims, “There’s no degradation in service — the service is actually higher.”

PwC’s Tim Ryan, however, doesn’t buy the idea that fees are the driving force behind the auditor switcheroo, “When a company does go through a change, it is almost always driven by something other than fees,” he told Reuters. Instead, a change is more likely to happen when, for example, a major fraud gets missed or there’s a difference of opinion on a crucial issue OR the CEO is a finicky character OR some other mysterious reason unbeknownst to all of us.

Regardless, the real concern is that all this auditor swapping puts a lot of pressure on fees:

Fee pressure has been intense worldwide, but especially in the United States, according to the International Accounting Bulletin, which tracks global audit fees. “The U.S. is a very competitive market, easily the largest audit market in the world, and the Big Four have competition from a much larger pool of firms,” said IAB editor Arvind Hickman. “Last year we received reports of fees being cut between 5 and 15 percent on average on audit work, and there were extreme cases where fees were being cut up to 40 percent,” he said. Fee pressure appears to be easing somewhat, “but there will still be fee pressure this year and we don’t predict it will go away any time soon,” he said.

This has Big 4 firms undercutting regional competitors and is no doubt, partly responsible for the parking lot at the Senior Manager level in some markets. With this level of competition and, as a result, a slowly decreasing portion of the Big 4 revenue stream, it doesn’t necessarily mean a career as an auditor is a dead end but it sure doesn’t help.

Auditor shopping helps U.S. companies cut fees [Reuters]

Big 4 Firms Shouldn’t Count on Government Help If Things Take a Turn for the Worse

Just something for the ol’ memory bank, Big 4 risk managers.

[Professor] Michael Power from the London School of Economics told the conference that big audit firms were “probably” not “systemic” in nature, in the same way as banks, and that it was unlikely government would step in to save one on the edge of going bust. Power said the lesson from the collapse of Andersen was that the crisis facing the audit market was relatively shortlived when a big firm collapsed, and that a global firm in trouble will break up into its national components to find a solution. He added there was no real evidence of market failure as a result of Andersen’s demise.

Big Four are ‘not too big to fail’ [Accountancy Age]

Apparently This Video Is a Hit with Big 4 Auditors in Asia

A tipster from Manila sent us this video telling us “[it has] got us laughing over here.” And based on what we see, it seems that being an auditor in the East isn’t really that different from being an auditor in the West. That said, if you detest subtitles or Disney you should probably just move along.

And Now…We Try to Keep Three Prospective Accountants From Freaking Out About Not Having Jobs

Welcome to the Lindsay-Lohan-prison-jumpsuit-fitting edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition, we’ve received a flurry of emails from Big 4 hopefuls who can’t land interviews and are FREAKING OUT. Are they doomed to the breadline and/or parents’ basement or can their CPA firm dreams still come true?

Are you working for the devil this busy season? Are you looking for a summer activity that doesn’t involve three letters? Need an excuse for not passing the CPA exam that will pass the mustard with the Email us at advice@goingconcern.com and we’ll try to come up with something better than, “The dog barks whenever Peter Olinto is on screen and I can’t concentrate.”

Now, then. Today is a little bit different in the ol’ advice column. And since everyone out there seems TOO BUSY to engage in any busy season chicanery and tell us about it, this thing will be a tad lengthy. In the last week, we’ve received three emails from people who are borderline having panic attacks because they can’t land interviews. Obviously, this is a problem worth these pages but if you think we’re writing three columns on the same damn thing, you’re all a bunch of mental cases. And for those of you thinking that this sounds like you, don’t even try giving us the “well, this doesn’t address my specific situation,” story. Sure, everyone is special but not so special that you need the delicate intricacies addressed. [BREATHE]

All right. Let’s do this, shall we?

Here’s a portion of email #1:

I interned at PwC with an internal position during Summer 2008 and I did audit with them in Spring 2009. I wasn’t given an offer for full-time employment and I have been looking for a job since. I tried recruiting with Ernst and Young last year and they kept saying they did not have any positions and then last summer they hired another candidate from my school with whom I graduated. Just about everyone I’ve graduated with has a position at an accounting firm. I’ve applied nearly everywhere (other big 4, mid-tier, local acct firms, industry, and even Craigslist). I can’t help but start to take it personally. Career services at my school doesn’t seem too interested in helping me…in fact one of the counselors actually was a recruiter at PwC when I worked there and she just recently left a voicemail that we should stop talking. I have one professor that still keeps in touch. I knew I wasn’t going to get an audit position even though I still applied but I’ve even been turned down for staff accountant positions. Last September I passed all four sections of the CPA exam. I’ve been told that I’m either “over-qualified” or I don’t have enough years of experience.

That should be enough but if we suffered through them, then you are too. An excerpt from email #2:

I have been to numerous career fairs since then and I’ve made significant contacts with some big 4 recruiters and other regional firms. But after sending my carefully prepared résumé by mail and continuous attempts to get some information about an interview, I‘ve been always getting the usual “we are looking at other candidates and wish you the best” reply or none at all. The only significant feedback I received was from a regional firm that was really interested, but was drawn back when I told them my college GPA. I take full responsibilities for my shortcomings in college, but I have invested the needed time and effort in doing what EVERYONE IN THE WORLD TOLD ME TO DO, which is passing the CPA exam. I have also gained significant and progressive experience at my current workplace, but I still have not even gotten an interview! I am 25 and I feel time is running out for me. I’m even thinking of getting other certifications like the CFE or ACCA (Association of certified chartered accountants), to make me a more desirable candidate.

Sick of it yet? Here’s a bit from #3:

I’m in my last semester and will have my 150 hours at the end of this spring. I am also preparing the the CPA exam (have started Becker, taking my first section, AUD, at the end of February). As a student in these times, I have never been able to find an accounting internship or any part time accounting work as all of my job inquiries wind up unanswered. It’s not for lack of trying, but my GPA isn’t spectacular (3.2) and my résumé is average. At the college job fair a few weeks ago, I put in resumes with all big 4 and all mid tier firms and was NOT INVITED TO A SINGLE INTERVIEW. I became an accounting major because I thought there were jobs available to qualified students. I have an accounting and finance degree, 150 hours and will have the CPA under my belt in a few months…what the hell am I missing. Am I really not qualified to become a slave to the Firms?

Good Lord. Let’s see if I can do this without LOSING IT.

For starters, we’re making the assumption all three of you are socially capable individuals. If you’ve noticed people responding to your typical conversation with “That’s awkward,” or “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” then we suggest engaging a life coach or some other professional that can help you with your awkward tendencies. Secondly, all three of you need to stop freaking out. Sure, you’ve got responsibilities and school loans and whatnot but thank your lucky stars you’re not a lawyer. You have a good educational skill set, a job market that is thawing out and your debt is probably under six figures. CALM DOWN.

Now. If the Big 4 isn’t interested in what you have to offer, you have to get over it. Somewhere in your gray matter, you knew striking out with all of them was a possibility. Now that it has become a reality, you need to move on. If you’ve managed to do that and say you’ve gone to Grant Thornton, BDO, Rothstein Kass and McGladrey and you’ve been denied there too. And maybe you’ve gone to regionals like Moss Adams, BKD, Clifton Gunderson, Plante & Moran, WeiserMazars, Dixon Hughes Goodman et al. [ugh] At this point, it’s natural for frustration to start creeping up on you. But if you want to work in public accounting, you can’t get discouraged. Next thing you should do is to knock on all the doors in your geographic location. The Vault 50 is a good place to start. Firms from every part of the country are on the list and you can specifics on them over at the Vault website. Pound the pavement, people.

If that doesn’t work, then we suggest calling some reputable recruiters in your area to find out if they have any entry-level positions at CPA firms. Keep things cool, don’t act desperate and put your best qualities forward. The recruiters should be able to help you polish your résumé if needed and find you an interview or two. IF ALL THAT FAILS and you simply need a job, look for an in-house accounting job to get your career started. Just because you don’t start in public accounting doesn’t mean you’re doomed to work a dull job and have a lackluster career. And who knows, you might – gasp – like the work.

Any words of encouragement from the peanut gallery? I need a drink.

Measuring the Career Value of the Big 4 Experience on a Scale of 1 to 5

As most of you are acutely aware, your humble editor is a KPMG alum. By virtue of said alumni-ness, occasionally, I’ll receive an email from the old firm informing me of this or that and the occasional invitation to an event of some sort. Recently, I was asked to participate in a survey called, “The Career Value of Big 4 Experience” and since the firm said that for my participation they would donate a brand new children’s book to First Book, I figured it was worth my time. ANYHOO, since it’s a painfully slow day out there and you guys aren’t making squat happen (with the exception of tax returns, audit workpapers, due diligence and whathaveyou) I thought I’d share my answers with you and put Big 4 career value idea out .


Apologies for the various sizes, clipping these screen shots were a bitch. And full disclosure: there were six additional questions to the survey that asked about my salary, my company, etc. that are of little consequence.

Now then – the 1 to 5 scale was only offered for the first six questions:

Now, let’s be honest – I wouldn’t be where I am without my experience at a Big 4 firm, so answering #1 was easy. Question 2 on the other hand is a little tricky, as my “current skills and experiences” involve reading blogs, figuring out WordPress, tweeting and stringing together mildly amusing run-on sentences with the occasional quip or pun. Some of my friends describe it as “shit-stirring” but I prefer…well, that about covers it. Is this valuable in the current job market? Sure. But probably not in a way any a Big 4 firm would have imagined. For question 3, it’s simple – I’m satisfied with my job. I don’t make as much money as a Big 4 baller but I don’t have a second job, my work/life is good and it’s fun. Not much else matters.

Moving on:

Career advancement isn’t really an issue since I only have to deal with TPTB if the lawyers come calling. Again, not exactly typical for a Big 4 alum. Question #5 is more or less a joke. Question #6 was interesting. Many people argue that manager is the ideal point to the leave the firm and I suppose if I had become a manager maybe I’d have a little better perspective of the management team but I know enough people at that level to get the gist and if I have questions, they can give me the lowdown. So had I stayed at KPMG a couple more years (I wasn’t given the option, btw) perhaps I’d be marginally better at my job.

And finally:

Okay, so #7 – had I not been shipped off in the fall of ’08, would I have stayed longer? Probably not. I was burned out and had explored as much of the firm as the bureaucracy would allow so it was a good run. Question #8 – after talking to MANY people who have gone on to new careers, I’ve concluded that leaving as a SA is best but I should qualify by saying that you should at least be an SA2 and SA3 is probably ideal. Sure you might be on the cusp of manager but by becoming a manager, you’re fully saturating the Big 4 indoctrination and some employers would prefer if you still have a shred of impressionableness in you. With the manager title and experience, your ideas (right or wrong) about audit/tax/advisory are pretty steadfast and you may be an old dog already. That’s not to say that you people aren’t flexible but I’ve been around enough of you to know that getting into mental ruts is a specialty.

So wrapping up, I’m very grateful for my Big 4 experience. It was unimaginably valuable, I met a lot of great people and have no regrets (except for a few brutal hangovers at national training). So, I’ll give it a 5. But most of you aren’t me so feel free to discuss your own experiences. I need to get back to ignoring AOL/HuffPo headlines.

Big 4 Aspirant Requests Some Myth Busting

Welcome to the first Friday in February edition of Accounting Career Emergencies. In today’s edition a future Big 4 soldier isn’t sure what to make of all the myths and rumors swirling around the quad about said four firms. He’s asked me to debunk.

Are you in desperate need for a regime career change? Have a gassy cube neighbor? Need some tips on how to turn that frown upside down during busy season? Email us at advice@goingconce serve you better than Dr. Phil (or his dopplegänger).

Back to our Big 4 mythbuster:

Hey GC,

I was wondering if there were any truth to the rumors/legends that seem to percolate through campuses about Big 4 accounting. Here’s a short list of stuff that I’ve heard while attending accounting job fairs, business frat/club meetings, and associates from Big 4 and regional firms that come back to campus for recruitment events.

1. During their respective busy seasons, new tax and audit associates at a Big 4 work so many hours that their monthly salaries break out into an hourly rate that is less than minimum wage.

2. It is nigh impossible to study for and pass any portion of the CPA exam while simultaneously working at a Big 4.

3. Internships are virtually the only way for new graduates to break into a Big 4.

4. Becker is better than Kaplan is better than Bisk.

5. Beginning a career at a Big 4 will open more doors down the road than starting at a mid-tier , regional or local firm.

6. At Big 4 firms, advisory associates make more money than audit associates make more money than tax associates.

7. The average Big 4 associate leaves/quits/defects before their 3rd year.

8. Evan after taking raises into account, Big 4 associates that were hired during the brunt of the recession will actually be paid less than new hires this year.

So is there any truth to these rumors? I’m guessing that there’s quite a bit of embellishment that come from associate ‘war stories’ so I’ve tried to take everything with a grain of salt.

Thanks,

Big 4 Mythbuster

Dear Mythbuster,

There’s a lyric in “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” that goes, “People say believe half of what you see, Son, and none of what you hear,” which we find to be generally a good rule of thumb (with the exception of what you read at this fine publication…most of the time).

ANYWAY, we’ll tackle these one at a time:

1. During their respective busy seasons, new tax and audit associates at a Big 4 work so many hours that their monthly salaries break out into an hourly rate that is less than minimum wage. – Let’s keep this simple: if you calculate an average salary based on this year’s starting salaries and 2,000 chargeable hours, it’s pretty difficult to get down to the federally mandated minimum wage of $7.25. Now, can you work far more than the 2,000 hours? Of course but even if you doubled the hours, you’re still above the minimum wage. MYTH.

2. It is nigh impossible to study for and pass any portion of the CPA exam while simultaneously working at a Big 4. – Is it difficult to balance a work schedule, studying, arranging to sit for a section, having a shred of a personal life, finding time to take out the dog AND still pass a portion? Yes, absolutely. “Nigh impossible”? No. People working at the Big 4 pass portions of the CPA every month. MYTH.

3. Internships are virtually the only way for new graduates to break into a Big 4. – When the Big 4 firms were hiring everyone and their dog back in the mid-Aughts, this would have been a myth. These days, with hiring budgets being a little tighter, the internship route is a must. Most interns end up taking the full-time offers which leaves just a few spots, so that doesn’t make for very good odds for any outsiders. TRUTH.

4. Becker is better than Kaplan is better than Bisk. – God, sorry to say but this is fruitless exercise. I don’t endorse any of the CPA review courses (FULL DISCLOSURE: I used Becker and passed and some companies happen to advertise with us.) out there. The companies will present stats that presents their pass success rate in the best light possible. That said, ranking the review courses in some arbitrary order like you’ve done above is meaningless. If you hear from someone on campus that Becker is the best because that’s what they used (Tim Gearty’s handsome wardrobe notwithstanding) or that Roger is the best because that’s what they used (and not because they have a thing for hipster chicks) that doesn’t mean you will necessarily have the same success. And if someone tells you that they’ve tried more than one review course, you should know that this person probably just sucks at taking tests. MYTH.

5. Beginning a career at a Big 4 will open more doors down the road than starting at a mid-tier, regional or local firm. – As a general rule this is true. Having the exposure to the most complex accounting systems, transactions and business models will allow you to work at these companies if you so choose. Working at Big 4 firm (and in some markets, mid-tier firms) will give you that exposure. Does that mean you’re doing yourself a disservice by accepting a position with a regional or local firm? Of course not. It all depends on what your career goals are. But does a Big 4 firm name on your résumé get more attention than a non-Big 4 firm. Yes. TRUTH.

6. At Big 4 firms, advisory associates make more money than audit associates make more money than tax associates. – In my experience, I’ve found that salaries for tax and audit associates are extremely close with a slight edge to the tax side, so you’ve got those two backwards. But yes, Advisory associates are paid the most. ONE-THIRD TRUTH.

7. The average Big 4 associate leaves/quits/defects before their 3rd year. – Again, the “average” number of years that an associate works at a Big 4 firm is a complete arbitrary statistic. I’m not sure when people started throwing numbers like this but it’s pretty useless information. Typically when people state an average number of years that an associate stays, it’s not backed up with any stats. I’d be surprised if the firms themselves even know what the average shelf-life of an associate is. I may be wrong about this and would love to see some stats if they’re out there but for now we’re going with: MYTH.

8. Evan after taking raises into account, Big 4 associates that were hired during the brunt of the recession will actually be paid less than new hires this year. – Pay freezes and meager increases certainly put a damper on salaries in ’08-’09 but this past year saw the Big 4 return to some reasonable increases across the board as well as bonuses in various forms. Starting salaries for new associates will always keep up with the market (as is popular to say) but with coverage of salaries being more transparent than it used to be, it will be impossible for firms to allow new hires to earn more than their superiors. MYTH.

Whew! There you have it; discuss as needed.

Best Place to Work Bupkis

Last week we went through the painful ritual of listing out the accounting firms blessed with a spot on Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work. All the usual suspects made an appearance but ultimately a regional firm, Plante & Moran, took the highest spot among accounting firms (but they didn’t get to ring the closing bell, did they?).

None of this is of interest to you and frankly we’ve had about all we can stand when it comes to these lists but Adrienne pointed us to this post by Laura Vanderkam that takes the debunking to an intricate level, starting with something that we all know, that most of these lists are opted into by the companies HR or Marketing Departments (emphasis ours):

To be eligible for a list, you have to fill out whatever paperwork the tabulators require […] This means that not only do you have to be a great place to work, you have to be a company where management cares about being listed in magazines as a great place to work. Only 311 organizations bothered this year, out of thousands of employers in the US. So if you went through the whole process, your odds were pretty good. But that doesn’t means that the 311 employers that did try are better than the thousands that didn’t.

Our resident math genius is on vacay but if you do some rough calcs, your chances are, what, 1 in 3? Decent odds. Then, comes the strange phenomenon of where these companies fall and why:

[I]t’s strange that a magazine with such great reporters as Fortune relies on such a flimsy methodology for creating their rankings. If you believe this list, then Americans prefer to work at Nugget Market (a 9-store supermarket chain) than at McKinsey, at Google vs. Facebook even though some headline-making defections would point otherwise, and we should want to work at Aeropostale because, as one young employee put it “Where else can you talk to the boss over pizza?” (Um, where can’t you?)

The Trouble With “Best Places To Work” Lists [BNet]

Which Big 4 Firm’s New Hires Aren’t Receiving Performance Ratings?

There are clues:

We hope you are settling into your new role and that things are going well!

The purpose of this email is to make you aware of some important information regarding the year end performance management process that applies to all new campus hires and all newly hired associates/administrative assistants for this year.

The firm recognizes that as a recent new hire, your primary focus is to transition into your role and responsibilities and build your network. It is important that you have the appropriate amount of time to learn about the firm and integrate fully before you are formally evaluated on your performance. Therefore, for this performance year, which ends June 30, 2011, you will not be assigned a performance rating.

Even though you will not receive a rating, you will participate fully in all other aspects of the performance process, such as getting feedback from individuals you work with and meeting with your counselor to discuss your feedback, progress, development and goals for the 2012 fiscal year. We are confident that even without a performance rating for this year, you can fully understand how you are doing by asking the right questions and having meaningful conversations with those you work with.

In the meantime, please make sure you are getting periodic feedback and staying in touch with your counselor. As the year end process approaches you can access helpful tools that will help you prepare for a variety of coaching conversations

Further, you can learn more about the Performance Management and Development process by clicking here.

If you would like to discuss this further please contact your counselor or your People Consultant. Thank you for your participation in this important process.

Take a stab in the comments and feel free to speculate as to the motivation and repercussions behind “all (wo)men are rated equal.”