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What You Need To Know About Moving From Big 4 to a Smaller Firm

Posted on 7th March 2018 by Parker Bridge

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Twelve hour days, terrible work-life balance, overwhelming workloads and no end in sight. We’ve all heard the horror stories of what it can be like to work for the Big 4.

With the promise of greener pastures, fewer hours and more personal time, it’s no wonder that many Accounting & Finance professionals are looking to make the leap from Big 4 to smaller firms for more exposure and better opportunities. And yet, so many do so unpreparedly or unaware of what this move really means.

So, if you are one of these hopeful professionals, how can you prepare yourself to make a successful move from the Big 4?

Know when it’s Time to Move

The first thing to do is to simply recognise when it might be time to move on. If you decide that you do want to move on from the Big 4, spending too much of your career there can be detrimental. This is because there is a stark difference between what’s expected of a Corporate Finance Manager for KMPG versus a smaller firm. 

It’s often recommended to move on after two to four years’ experience but the key is to wait for the right opportunity to appear before making your intentions public. One of the biggest advantages the Big 4 can offer you is access to industry mentors. Cut your ties early and you can lose access to these people.

When you do decide to go to market, however, make sure you brush up on your interview skills and update your Seek and LinkedIn profiles. Ensuring your online profiles are updated with your recent roles, skills and experiences can dramatically increase your chances of being headhunted. If you’re concerned about your Manager finding out you’re looking for a new job, be sure to turn the below setting off when you’re updating your LinkedIn profile and check out how to privately let Recruiters know you’re open to new opportunities.

Rethink Your Definition of ‘Busy’

The largest difference between the Big 4 and a smaller firm is that you’ll be working with clients that range in various sizes. Your projects will likely be similar but you’ll generally have more visibility and ownership or work in a smaller team. For example, if you worked in the Big 4, you’ll be one person in a large team that makes up an even larger department. You’ll only be working a few processes of the end-to-end procedure and may not even be client-facing. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have less work if you were employed in a smaller firm but that in most cases, you’ll have more exposure to the whole holistic process.

As previously mentioned, if you joined a smaller corporate finance firm, you won’t have the team you had in the Big 4. With that in mind, you will find it easier to stand out but be prepared to quickly pick up new skills after starting a new role. As an example, you may focus on valuations or financial modelling in your current Corporate Finance job but your first role in a smaller firm might require both, as well as some forensic accounting, financial investigations, lead advisory and transactional services. It might seem a difficult leap to make but if you’re open to being mentored and you’re good at what you do, it can be an incredibly quick and rewarding path to an executive or partner position. 

You’ll make a Much Larger Difference

Most of your current clients in the Big 4 will often be known and established multinationals with well trained and resourced Accounting & Finance departments and technology in place. You’ll also usually have a manager and partner leading the project so the opportunity to make any sort of value-adding impact to your clients will be meniscal compared to a smaller firm. In a small to medium sized firm, your clients will be diverse and you’ll likely be client facing in some capacity. This enables you to use your expertise and resources to develop truly beneficial client partnerships.

Prepare to Negotiate Your Salary

It can difficult to reflect on your current experiences and position in the Big 4 to accurately set your salary expectations when leaving for a smaller firm. That said, there are plenty of resources out there, such as our Salary Survey that can help you ensure your salary expectations are accurate. You should also consider other non-monetary benefits that smaller firms can offer, such as four day work weeks and flexi-time, or health insurance. Some companies may even cover your professional membership costs as an added benefit.

Prepare for a Counter-offer

If you’re good at what you do, you may face a counter-offer when you hand in your resignation. If you do, consider that accepting a counter-offer is rarely the right decision for your career. The boost in salary won’t answer the reason you found yourself wanting to move on from the Big 4 in the first place.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re thinking of moving on from the Big 4, having a professional Recruiter on your side can be a huge help. You’ll be the first to know when a great opportunity that suits your skillset appears, and a Recruiter can provide invaluable career and salary advice so that you step into an interview prepared.

The Corporate Finance Manager role I used as an example earlier, was a 'live' role at the time of writing this blog. So, if you thought it may have been a great role for you, please do get in touch as I often have roles of this calibre.

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