Career options after qualifying with a Big Four accounting firm

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Big Four careers

If you're training as an accountant with the Big Four, the chances are you're thinking of leaving of leaving when you've gained your ACA. You're not alone - plenty of people quit, and completion of a training contract with a Big Four accounting firm offers various opportunities.

From Big Four to industry.

Around half the people who complete a training program with the Big Four move into industry. Those who are interested in a strategic role often become financial planners or analysts.  Increasingly, employers are looking to their finance teams to provide insights into long term business development, so if you are interested in taking on these challenges then you are more than likely to find roles in this field highly rewarding.

Internal audit is typically a less popular route, with much of the role mirroring the work that you would have carried out during your role within the Big 4. However, if you are interested in gaining international experience within your role, internal audit may be the perfect route for you. Many multinational PLCs are keen to move internal audit professionals around the business globally in order to ensure a uniform approach across the firm.

Moving into industry is often beneficial because it allows you to move your career along quickly, with opportunities for promotion common in industry roles.

Staying with the Big Four

Not everyone leaves. In our experience, another third of people stay with the Big Four with the ultimate intention of becoming a partner at the firm.

Staying on at the Big Four is a good option of you like to know where you stand. One of the biggest benefits for a career in private practice is the structured style of career progression; firms are clear about what's required to achieve promotion and many favour giving staff management experience early in their careers.

And if you are a more technically minded sort of person, then this route will also offer opportunities for you to work on increasingly complex internal audit projects, developing a thorough understanding of audit across a wide range of industries, particularly if the firm has a diverse client base.

However, you should keep in mind that if you stay with the Big Four, your salary increases can be slower than in other career paths and it can be difficult to leave private practice later in your career if you decide to make the move into an in-house role.

Moving overseas in pursuit of international experience

A small minority of people move overseas after completing their training. This cab be an effective way to differentiate yourself from other professionals in the market. This can also help to avoid candidate-saturated markets.

Just make sure to consider which locations will help you when you decide to make the move back to your home country. Look for tax systems similar to your own, and markets where you will be able to achieve a work permit with comparative ease.

It is also important to consider the challenges that may come with leaving the country. In particular, employers may be concerned that you do not plan to remain overseas in the long-term, and might therefore be less likely to invest in training and development if you are from abroad. However, you can also turn this to your advantage by pursuing short term contracts and gaining experience across different industries and disciplines, helping you determine which path you want to pursue on your return.

Also bear in mind that many aspects of financial regulation are common across countries, but differences still exist. So pursuing overseas roles focused purely on technical accounting may be less advantageous in the long term, as some of this knowledge and experience might not be applicable when you return home.

Doing something different entirely

What if you don't want to stay in accounting? Having qualified within a Big 4 firm can still be hugely valuable. This background possesses many transferable skills.

Completion of  a Big Four training programme means you have more general skills such a methodical approach to challenges, strong organisational skills and a structured mind-set. These can be hugely valuable in project management roles, or if you decide to start your own business.

Equally, professionals with a technical understanding of accounting are also highly sought after for specialist recruitment roles. As a qualified accountant, you will be in a strong position to assess the skills and experience of finance and accounting candidates, and be able to identify which professionals will be an ideal fit for the role.”

Andrew Murphy, Accounting & Finance Recruitment Manager in Robert Walters Ireland.

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

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