What exactly is the first day at Big 4 like? What happens in the weeks after, and how to get prepared to meet your first client? Your adventure is about to begin.
First Day at Big 4
You won’t go through anything technical on the first day. Bring yourself, the necessary paper, and great attitude.
In most cases, you will be going through orientation the whole day. This includes introduction to your new peers and colleagues, ice breaker exercises and training seminars. This may last for 1-2 days.
First, the admin necessities such as getting your picture taken for your badge, hand in the paperwork, order supplies, and reimburse your expenses.
HR will issue the laptop, work assignment, schedules and possibly a company credit card. If they haven’t already, they will provide travel and accommodation details for your national training.
First Month at Work
Depending on the start date, some associates go straight to national training after their first day of work, while others linger in the office for a few days.
Before National Training
The best you can achieve these few days is to fit in socially. This means going to group lunches, group dinners and group social events. Try your best to be outgoing and make friends early, as it will make the experience more enjoyable once real work starts.
Many firms have official programs where they pair you up with a mentor. I had one of those and it didn’t really work. It’s just like relationships — you parents can’t put a boyfriend on your lap simply because he signs up for it.
It’s a good idea to start looking for a second year who has the potential to be your true mentor. If you know someone from school working there, it would be the best. Otherwise, anyone friendly with a bit of things in common would be a good start. This should be a person whom you feel comfortable asking any questions with.
First years across the country take part in 1-to-2-week national trainings held in big cities such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dallas. Hundreds of people get trained in any given time although in most cases they are divided into groups of 20-30. They get together again in team building activities and social events in the evening.
The most (and probably the only) important to do is to learn about the firm’s accounting software and auditing methodology. Specifically, on how to use the audit database, practice documenting your work and go through various case studies. There will be some team building exercise and depending on the group you are with, could be quite fun, lame or a complete waste of time.
The trainers are usually seniors and managers. They are often approachable and helpful, and try their best to make things fun — a mission impossible I have to say.
My suggestion during the training week is to take notes. It helps to retain the information much better, and practically, if your trainer (and later on, the audit in charge in your team) sees that you make the effort in taking notes, they are more willing to help and answer questions that you may have.
Most people zoom out during the actual training, then wake up at extravagant meals and parties afterwards. Don’t go too wild and show up late, hungover, unshaven and without shower the next day. I heard crazy stories of drunk trainees hitting on managers and falling over company yacht.
If you aren’t a drinker, you should still go occasionally in order not to look socially awkward. Life is miserable without a friend in Big 4.
After the Training
Depending how busy your office is, you may get assigned to a team right away and sent off to a client site. Otherwise, you remain unassigned and report to the office. I suggest that you show some initiative early on by offering to help. Don’t creep up on people every morning and beg for work though.
Your First Client
People warned you of dreadful hours and you are still excited for the first job. Typically you will be given a keycard or ID badge for access to the client’s building. For big clients, there is a room for the audit team with printer, a quiet place and use of coffee machine. For smaller clients though expect to crowd around a table… Look on the brighter side — nothing is permanent in public accounting 🙂
For Your Further Reading
You are super pumped to start your new job. Now, what are the qualities to become the top performer in Big 4? Is it through hard work, butt kissing, or pure luck? Here is my finding after talking to Big 4 seniors and mangers who have consistently been rated 1 or 2 in their firms.
1. Never Get Yourself Overwhelmed
Everyone agrees that Big 4 is a stressful place to work. Life as first year is pretty intense, but as you approach your second year, you don’t have excuses of a newbie anymore and it will be worse with mountains of things on your desk staring at you. The thing is, the more you worry about it, the less you get it done.
What you can do is to stop the vicious cycle. Divide the work into smaller, doable tasks. Tackle one small task at a time. Completing one round of tasks means you get some major work done, and it’s a great feeling. It’s the same strategy for any big challenges — such as the CPA exam, when tackling one study unit at a time is the best way to go.
2. Improve Efficiency with Technology
In my previous job, I went through an excellent training on how to manage Outlook. It cost my firm $399 for each participant (and we filled a big room), so you can imagine how well-regarded this method is.
The main takeaway is effective time management using the “4D” system. Incoming emails are divided into 4 categories:
- Important + urgent
- Important + not urgent
- Unimportant + urgent
- Unimportant + not urgent
Then, assign action appropriate to the categories:
- Do the important + urgent
- Delay (file to task list) the important + not urgent
- Delegate the unimportant + urgent
- Dump the unimportant + not urgent
This system has vastly improved my productivity at work and beyond.
I encourage that you find a way to efficiently manage your outlook in terms of email, appointment, to-dos and followups. This way, you can multitask with ease, a crucial skill to excel in professional service environment such as in public accounting and finance.
3. Take Initiatives
Now that you work well under stress (point 1) and are incredibly efficient (point 2), people take notice and request to put you on their teams.
You’ll be really busy, and this is great for your long term career, so don’t be jealous of the few who are constantly unassigned.
Instead, I suggest the opposite and get more involved in other capacities within the firm. Volunteer to campus recruiting events such as Meet the Firms, take part in resume screening and interviewing, lead firm community initiatives, find opportunities to help on sales pursuits, and take advantage of new opportunities and stretch assignments.
4. Jump for Unique Opportunities
As you move on to seniors and managers, there are other unique opportunities such as the international assignments. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth to explore.
5. Learn How to Say “No”
Before we get too excited, accept the fact that we are human beings and can’t work 24 hours. So, don’t be afraid to say “no”. It is easier said than done, but we have to understand what our limits are and what we can feasibly accomplish at the level of quality that we typically deliver.
Under-promise and over-deliver, and build your brand one audit at a time.
People have different ways to achieve success, but all paths centralize around key themes of hard work, perseverance, dedication, and ability to multi-task and prioritize seamlessly. The same rules apply whether you aim for the corner office in Big 4, or for C-level positions in Fortune 100. All the best!
One attraction of working in a global firm is the opportunity to work overseas for a few years without disrupting your career. At the Big 4, they are known as international assignments. Are you ready for that?
Timing of the International Assignment
Big 4 international assignment, also known as international rotation, is arranged when there is a need of technical skills in overseas offices. Because they mostly want US GAAP expertise, only seniors and above are qualified, with most going at manager or senior manager level.
The terms of your global mobility contract is usually negotiated between home country, host country, and possibly also the client. Your home office pays a minimum expat benefits, such as basic relocation and storage expenses.
The better your industry and skills match with what is required in the host office, the more likely they will pay for extra benefits. This may include housing (rent and agency fees), full relocation expenses, meal allowance, education allowance for children, and assisting your spouse to find work in the host country. The higher your level, the higher the benefits.
Nature of Assignment
Given the nature of work, there are more international rotations in assurance than in tax and advisory.
There are exceptions, of course. My husband John started at Financial Advisory Services at PwC at the New York headquarters. A few months into his job, he was sent to Tokyo for a 6-month international assignment. He stayed at the Imperial Hotel for the entire time and ate so much sushi (on company’s account) that he got food poisoning… It was however very tedious work. There was a reason to send him there.
There are two types of international assignments: strategic and non-strategic.
Strategic Rotation: The Pros
Strategic means value-add in the eyes of the firm, but they try to align your interest. This means the opportunity also matches your industry and technical expertise. For strategic assignments, the firm will take care of you in the host country and make sure you come back to broadly what you want to do.
You may express your preference in terms of location, but for top performers willing to be placed in any office to add the most value, the firm has the most incentive to keep you happy with a generous expat package and a good position when you return to the US.
International assignments are great personal experience, and may help your career, particularly after the Big Four. The experience is invaluable from a resume perspective and shows to your firm and prospective employers you are willing to take risks for the right opportunities.
Strategic Rotation: The Cons
This isn’t for everybody, especially those with family and kids.
At the same time, some people have a hard time integrating back to the US office after a couple of years. Lots of client and staff turnover may have happened in past 2 years, and you may not be able to get back to your client and your team.
These are more random temporary relocations without much strategic value to the firm, nor do they offer long-term career development. John’s Tokyo assignment mentioned above is non-strategic.
If you are able to return to your own team after a few months, it could be a cool experience and an interesting stint to mention in the resume. However, you do run a risk of doing random, mundane and tedious work all day, with local staff whom you don’t click.
Compensation and Tax Issues
For most people I talk to, the compensation remains the same, with adjustment due to the difference in cost of living. For strategic assignments, the adjustment is usually favorable. For example, if your children need to attend expensive English-speaking schools in the host country, the firm will pay for that. You may be given a driver and housekeeper if that is the local custom.
For tax, you won’t be better or worst off. The firm pays your actual tax, then calculate the portion you need to pay them using a tax equalization mechanism. HR personnel specializing in expat arrangement will take care of this.
Does Big 4 International Assignment Accelerate My Path to Partnership?
It depends. Most strategic international assignments are jobs with large clients, which is always helpful in your track record within the Big 4. If the client is not only big, but also complex and generates lots of revenue, it is the best one you can get. If you are lucky enough to work under a popular partner in the host office, even better.
On the other hand, if your client isn’t meaningful and you work under an unknown partner in a small office, you are better off just getting to a big market in the US (New York, Chicago, Silicon Valley). From there, get on a high profile client and work as hard as you can.
If you like the idea of traveling, working with large clients give you enough opportunities to travel to their regional offices. Short trips to many different places could be a more interesting experience than one big international assignment.
How to Increase Your Chance of Success
Okay. You still want to do it. What should you do?
1. Strive to be Top Performer
Your are normally eligible to apply with an above-average rating, but those rated a 1 or 2 have the highest priority for strategic assignments.
2. Plan Early
Once you hit senior (or second year for high performers), discuss with your performance development coach, who can get additional information from HR.
3. Make Your Business Case
If you are interested in a specific country or region, identify the strongest industry there. For example, if you are interested in a Hong Kong rotation and banks are the highest-profile clients there, you should start manage your career and get financial services experience. The better you prepare, the stronger your business case by the time you are eligible to apply.
4. Brush up the Local Language
Many offices are fine with English alone, but some do prefer you speak (and even read) the local language. Again, it could only help your case.
5. Stay in Contact with Your Colleagues in Home Office
This is what you should do after getting the assignment, but very important. Keeping regular contact with your team and colleagues in your home office will help your transition back to the US much easier. Simple gestures such as emailing to say hi, sending Christmas cards to important people, and dropping by the office whenever you are back to your home town for vacation… there are many ways to keep people from forgetting you.
Best of luck to your exciting adventure!
For Your Further Reading
Let’s say you met a Big 4 senior manager at a networking event, and through persistent follow ups, you are finally invited to have lunch with her near the office.
You really want to turn this into an opportunity at the firm. How do you make the best use of it?
Informational Interview over Lunch
1. Identify Common Topic(s) in Advance
First, this is a lunch. I bet the senior manager wouldn’t want to talk about accounting principals and latest changes in GAAP. You can let her choose a topic, but it’s better if you can initiate a conversation.
During the follow ups, you should have done something right to lead to this lunch. Most likely you two have something in common — Did you come from the same town? Do you have common friends, favorite movies, kids, dogs, etc. These are all great places to start the conversation.
2. Be Likeable
You never know the true purpose and outcome of this meet up. It could simply be a nice gesture on her part, or this could be an informal first interview.
In any case, present yourself as a likeable person. Everyone wants to hire cheerful, easy going and positive people as colleagues. Also, as a client-oriented business, the Big 4 looks for candidates who can carry a good conversation with clients.
The last thing you want to do is getting too nervous. It looks awkward, and gives a bad impression that you are thinking way ahead of yourself.
3. Be Prepared to Talk about Your Career Goals
Assuming she is older than you, it’s pretty normal for her to ask about your career aspiration. Be prepared to say something for medium to long term. You should definitely express your desire to work in her firm. For Big 4, the standard would be the training, exposure and prestige. You can also talk about the desire to continue your career in audi, tax or whatever you are doing right now.
4. Ask for Advice
A good way to take pressure off your shoulder is to turn the table and ask for her advice. After expressing your interest in the firm, ask for general advice of getting into the firm as an experienced hire (assuming you are one), or any specific tips you would like to get for your own situation. You can also ask for her experience and how she came to be successful. A subtle flattery is fine.
5. Offer Help
You can end the lunch by offering help. It could be anything e.g. helping her to follow up on the vet you mentioned earlier. The main purpose is to create a reason to contact her at a later date, and at the same time leave a great impression as a helpful and likeable person.
What Do You Think?
What are your suggestions? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.
You may be able to negotiate the reimbursement of exam fees and review courses as well.
These benefits are repayable if you leave the firm within a certain period, typically within 1-2 years.
For small and local CPA firms, you will get a pat on the back. Not too sure about the bonus though. Salary increase is always negotiable…
Anyway, the Biggest Bonus is…
You don’t need to study for this gruesome exam ever again!
For Your Further Reading
- How to talk your employer into paying for your CPA exam
- CPA exam preparation tips
You are about to start your career in the Big 4. Lots of things are going on your mind. What to bring, how to dress…
Is There a Big 4 Accounting Dress Code?
There isn’t an official “dress code”, but most public accountants dress in a certain way. There are slight variations across the cities in the US, and the style could be quite different in countries, especially those in Europe. In this post, we focus on the everyday office wear in the US.
You may be told to dress business casual, but I would go a tad more formal, with a tie and a suit. In my opinion, it is prudent to be slightly overdress than underdress.
For women, it’s hard to generalize. I would say dress respectfully, with an outfit that looks good enough in front of partners.
You will be shipped out of town for national training for a couple of weeks. Trainings are done in an informal setting and there are parties at night. The trainers are seniors and first year managers, and the rest are your peers. This is definitely business casual.
Dress Code in Office and Client Site
After the training, you will start working either at the client site of at the office. In a typical office in the US, people usually go with simple button down dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes.
For first or important client meetings, you may want to see how your manager dress on the day, but typically you might want to dress up a little bit — with a tie and full suit.
Junior auditors spend most of their time in the field in client’s offices. For everyday work at the client site, business casual is usually fine. Having said that, depending on the client’s corporate culture and style of your manager, you may have specific instruction to dress otherwise. I have a friend whose general rule for his team is to wear “at the level” of the client’s CFO.
No matter what the guideline is, it is prudent to have a tie and suit ready for any ad hoc meeting with the company’s management.
Rule of Thumb
Rule number one is to adapt to the culture in which you work. This is true for any job anywhere in the world. If the culture only calls for button down dress shirts and slacks, then do that.
If it’s your first day of work and you aren’t sure about the culture, try to recall how your interviewers dressed. The juniors, seniors and managers you saw around the office are also good reference. If you are still not sure, stay on the conservative side.
2. Dress Smart; Not Smarter
It’s pleasing to dress smart with good style and good fit. But you shouldn’t aim to dress “smarter” than your peers in order to stand out. Most people don’t care; for the few who do, it will likely come out as negative.
1. We have casual Fridays that allow khakis and jeans, but my managers and above always wear suit. Should I do that?
Yes, this could be one exception. Try to find out the reason — do the managers wear suits because of frequent client meetings, but is this the preferred style of upper management? I would probably dress something in between — a tad more formal than the usual casual friday outfit (i.e. no jeans, but khakis and a shirt with nice cut and fabric). As you pass your first year, you may dress more like the managers if you wish to.
2. I love wearing vest suit and I wonder if it’s appropriate in the office?
If you are a new hire, I would say no, simply because you don’t want to be called “the vest guy”. People may think you are trying too hard to impress.
If it were me, I would take it down a notch to a regular suit with a tie, or dress pants with blazer, or something just a step above “business casual”. Alternatively, if you can’t live without your vest, maybe once in a while, on special occasions, it’s ok.
3. I look really young and I might look more better with a full suit in the more “mature” style. What do you think?
I suggest to pick a more conservative color (this usually means the darker color), or go for a slightly more upscale look, but I wouldn’t go all the way to a full suit in the old style. You can’t carry the suit well with a young face. Worse, you’ll look like a clown.
As you will be joining the batch with other 22 year olds, I wouldn’t worry about looking too fresh. Colleagues and clients expect you to be young as a first year associate.
1. Be yourself but stay within the code.
2. Dress to impress but don’t over dress.
3. If you want to stand out, stand out as a professional who does excellent work, not one who dresses uniquely.
For Your Further Reading