What Would You Do If Your Boss Quit Tomorrow to Join a Big 4 Firm?

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Hi GC,

I am going into my 7th busy season at a mid-tier ("MT") (2nd as a manger) and a B4 has been recruiting me heavily. Without sounding like a pompous ass, I am a top performer and have all the momentum and backing to make it to partner, as long as I don't screw up anything major. At the MT they are offering to promote me to senior manager at the end of this cycle, and said to plan for 12 years but it might be 11 to make partner (however the specifics were after they found out about B4). There are only 2 SM's really ahead of me. At the MT the focus is broader so I will work in the industry I want, but also on other jobs and it's harder to truly specialize and win business that way (which is the path to partner). Plus I'm concerned about leadership and strategy long term.

B4 is offering to put me in the specific industry group I want and put my name in for senior manager this cycle, but with no guarantees of promotion, but they want me because of industry experience i have, current needs and market facing moves I've made to date, showing my potential. But they have more people ahead of me in line who have been there longer. The big draw is expertise, resources, leadership, growth and client base, as well as brand and partner money.

I am going back and forth trying to make the right career decision. I want to stay in public accounting and be a partner (I know its ridiculous but I have been in long enough to make that decision clearly). The pros and cons make both about even. Is it better to go for the clearer path to partner with all my goodwill intact, or take the risk two weeks before busy season (thereby burning MT bridges with people I care about) to be truly credentialed and have better expertise, focus, branding, and potentially more money at the partner level but lower odds of making it?

Sincerely,

Mid-career crisis.

Dear Mid-Career Crisis –

Apologies for our delay in getting back to you. It’s not often we receive emails on Christmas Day that are for anything other than 60% off of bedding and parka jackets.  But there was your email…on Christmas Day. 

I had a lengthy pros and cons response drafted that I decided to scrap it.  Why? Because I think you’re better than bailing on your firm, partners, and staff of 6+ years. Man up, grow up, and do the right thing.  Do what you've sat and told so many junior staff people to in years past.

Stay at the mid-tier firm.  At least for now.

It’s not every day that I tell someone to pass up a better brand name with great upside and a bigger paycheck.  However, most people don’t look to jump ship moments before their work schedule is bound to hit the annual iceberg.

Look, I get it – jumping to the Big 4 right now would set you up to play the part of B-list action hero, providing the Big Boy with an extra set of talented hands during the most crucial months.  Instead, you will being throwing up a giant middle finger to your current firm.  And like you mentioned, you can kiss goodbye all of the goodwill you’ve worked to build. No one worth being associated with at your current firm would hold a grudge against you if the timing was different.  You have an excellent opportunity on your hands. Said opportunity will most likely be there after busy as well, which is exactly why you should wait.

If you’re going to stay at the mid-tier firm, get in touch with your contact at the Big 4 immediately.  Speak with and break the news to the partner you’ve been in contact with most, trusting HR to communicate your plans is stupid idea. Be straight with the partner – you are very interested in transitioning your career to his/her firm after busy season. Put the situation back on them, in that you hope they can understand that loyalty and respect mean something to you in the workplace and you cannot justify standing up your current firm at (literally) the last moment before busy season.  Assuming you are the caliber employee you claim to be and knowing that the Big 4 constantly has needs, this shouldn’t be a problem.  Does it put them in a bind for busy season?  Meh…nothing compared to what you’d do to the firm you currently call home.  Plus, this will buy you a few more months to weigh the potential of the move itself.

If this becomes a long-term deal breaker between you and the Big 4 firm, ask yourself – is that the kind of soulless firm you’d want to work for anyway?  Keep us updated on your situation.

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