How do I choose between the Big 4 or a smaller practice?

Nicole McNamara 08.05.2018

When comparing a Big 4 role with a smaller practice, many struggle. Here's a comparison of client exposure, personal growth, and more, working in both.

Many accountancy graduates aim to work for a Big 4 but overlook the opportunities and experience offered by smaller practices. When comparing a Big 4 opportunity with a smaller practice, many struggle.  Speaking daily with candidates - both current and previous employees - who have experienced both, here are the selling points of each:

Resources

The resources a Big 4 can offer may often be centred upon a fantastic IT infrastructure, offering technical training courses, industry insights and past literary example papers.
 
While the expanse of the IT infrastructure in smaller practices may be lesser than in a Big 4, it certainly attributes to excellent research skills. Working on the creation and presentation of technical papers often internal and external resources must be combined. This offers employees the opportunity to build their research and analytical skills in terms of working on projects alone and as part of a team.

Level of exposure

As a graduate or a trainee entering in to an accountancy practice, exposure is a key progressing factor. When looking to gain experience and build upon current skills, level of exposure to clients can be an important element. In the Big 4, often, exposure to clients may be limited in terms of team structure and lines of reporting. Direct exposure to clients may be managed by more senior levels of staff.
 
Exposure to clients in smaller practices is something generally introduced from day one. Client rapport-building skills, the responsibility of client interactions and being a direct point of contact can be excellent in terms of professional development for a graduate or a trainee. Being entrusted with this direct level of responsibility is also a fantastic indicator of the level of trust a practice places upon its employees. 

Freedom of movement

Those graduates hoping to see the world will look for a position which may offer them this opportunity, initially or in time. Big 4 firms are known for their worldwide presence and their internal transfer network which is widely available and often encouraged. Allowing employees the freedom to move country while getting to keep their current position leads to higher retention levels among staff and also a more diverse workforce.
 
While having the option to move to an office in another country is not something that a smaller practice can typically offer, by honing in on business development, research and analysis skills and being entrusted to be directly client facing many smaller practices prepare their employees for positions within larger international firms.

Personal and professional growth

The opportunity for personal and professional growth is one which is a common denominator between Big 4 and small practice. Both practices offer their employees exceptional experience, extensive training and clear progression from trainee level upwards.
 
With the current practice employment market presenting many opportunities to those looking to move in to the Big 4 firms, and also for those looking for opportunities within smaller practices, there has never been a better time to look at the options both can offer.
Nicole McNamara's picture
Consultant | Accounting & Finance Recruitment
nmcnamara@morganmckinley.ie

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