Working as a CPA at a Big 4 Accounting Firm

Perhaps you have been lured in by the excitement that comes along with Big 4 Accounting. Free food, swag, case competitions, networking events, community service, office visits, summer leadership programs, scholarships, internships, build your own internships, global internships, and full time employment are just a few things that can make the idea of working as a CPA at a Big 4 Accounting Firm so electrifying.

Recruiting with firms feels like going through the sorting hat process in Harry Potter. A reddit thread describes KPMG as Hufflepuff, PwC as Gryffindor, EY as Ravenclaw, and Deloitte as Sytherin. Like being sorted into a Hogwarts House, being sorted into a specific Big 4 Accounting Firm in a given city can foster your friendships and your career development for the next several years. Truly finding the right fit for you whether within Big 4 Accounting or outside Big 4 Accounting is instrumental to your success and happiness. To give you better insight into what it is like to work at a Big 4 Accounting Firm, I have interviewed two individuals from Big 4 Accounting firms and compiled the responses below in a question and answer format.
 

Interview 1: Audit Perspective

Q: Can you describe your role at the firm?

A: I’m currently an audit associate at a big four firm.

Q: How has your role changed from being an intern to being a full-time associate?

A: Basically, as an intern they treat you very well, but as a full time associate, they take the red carpet away. You’re no longer being wined and dined. Definitely expect to work crazy hours, more so, than when you were an intern.

Q: How is work different from school?

A: It’s similar in the fact that you still have anxiety. In school, I had anxiety studying for tests; now, I have anxiety meeting deadlines. Although it’s different because you’re working more so for a team and not so much for yourself. You’re not competing against anybody for grades. However, you are competing against your peers for ratings because that ultimately affects you pay, assignments, and promotion.

Q: Why did you pursue the CPA Exam?

A: Honestly, I did it because there was a huge bonus incentive that firms offer, as well as, it’s needed for promotion. Additionally, being certified helps with job movement if you’re considering leaving the big four.

Q: How relevant is the CPA Exam to the work that you do?

A: I think starting out, the CPA exam isn’t relevant at all. Starting out you’re not going to be looking at every single piece when dealing with financial statements. I think as you progress within the accounting field the CPA is definitely worth having.

Q: If you could go back in time and change your major, would you? Why?

A: Yes, I would definitely change my major. Mainly because I feel that the work I’m doing really provides no value. No one really looks at the work we do except for our seniors, managers, and partners. Honestly, our customer isn’t even the client, our customer is the firm. Because everything we do is for internal purposes. I feel like we do a bunch of busy work that no one really cares about. Hence, that is why they call it busy season. I would switch my major to something in the health sciences field. I believe working to help people actually provides value. Sitting at a computer all day trying to figure out how numbers work and agree isn’t appealing. However, the pay is decent.

Q: How busy is busy season?

A: I’d say busy season can be really busy depending on the type of client you get put on. I’ve seen some of my peers get out around 7 or 8 pm. But often times I find myself leaving around 11 or midnight.  Also, some people get the weekends off, but depending on the client you may be working the weekends. In addition, the length of busy season depends. If you’re on a public client you may be on busy season for two months, but if you’re on a private client, you’re may be busy three or four months. It honestly depends on the size of the client, the industry, and the complexity of the accounting.

Q: What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

A: I will say it’s nice when things start to click and realize “oh that is why we do x, y, and z.” It feels like I understand what my seniors and mangers were talking about. Also, the overtime meals are a nice perk.

Q: What is the least enjoyable aspect of your job?

A: Dealing with different types of management styles. It drives me crazy when a senior and manger tell you to do things differently. I don’t like how nit-picky they can be when doing the work. I don’t think the cost-benefit of the time put in for the output matches up well. It’s not worth doing something over again, and it’s not worth the effort to make something look pretty.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: At this point I need to get through the first year in order to really answer this question appropriately. I will say, I don’t see myself at the big four long term.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

A: In 20 years, whether I’m in public accounting or private or not even in accounting at all, I just hope to be successful. I want to feel accomplished.
 

Interview 2: Tax Perspective

Q: Can you describe your role at the firm?

A: I do mostly tax compliance, some consulting for clients, and a bit of data maintenance.

Q: How has your role changed from being an intern to be a full-time associate?

A: I worked in different tax groups, so the work I do is completely different (different return types and types of clients), but the responsibility level is about the same, except I work more closely with managers as an associate

Q: How is work different from school?

A: It’s not very much like school at all. A lot of that is because most tax classes don’t go that in depth in the different kinds of taxable entities outside of individuals and traditional corporations. Also, the technology and programs used at the big firms now don’t match anything you learn in school, except for excel and google docs!

Q: Why did you pursue the CPA Exam?

A: I wanted the greatest range of career choices long term, and having a CPA makes you extremely marketable. Even in just the accounting world, it earns you a lot of respect because everyone knows how challenging it is.

Q: How relevant is the CPA Exam to the work that you do?

A: To the actual work I do, not that relevant. However, it did make me review a lot of topics in accounting I may not have been as familiar with prior to studying for the CPA. It definitely helps to increase your overall accounting knowledge, which is helpful throughout random tasks that I do.

Q: If you could go back in time and change your major, would you? Why?

A: At this point, no. I enjoy making a good salary and working somewhere with lots of young people. I do not know at this point if I want to remain an accountant my whole career, but I see the opportunities it could lead to down the road.

Q: How busy is busy season?

A: It’s definitely busy. The biggest thing that surprised me though is that it has been way more flexible than I would have originally thought as far as working from home and making my schedule. The general rule is get your work done, they don’t care as much about the exact hours you do it in.

Q: What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

A: The social aspects and connections. I love that it’s not all about hiding at your desk all day anymore.

Q: What is the least enjoyable aspect of your job?

A: The work can be boring and repetitive. That and having a desk job. It takes a lot of effort to remain a healthy active person, especially during busy season.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: If I only knew!

Q: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?

A: If I only knew!

 

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