Friday, September 30, 2005

Life After Big Four?

There are two reasons for taking a job at a Big Four firm. One is simply to get it on your resume. Working for a prestigious firm such as Deloitte or KPMG helps significantly in future job searches. Big Four names are universally recognized as purveyors of extremly high quality services. Once you have worked for a Big Four, you have access to other top-tier companies in any industry.

This is why most people go to the Big Four initially. It's just like the legal community. Young attorneys take jobs at places like Davis Polk and Skadden ARps to get two or three years under their benlts before pursuing opportunities elsewhere. Accountants and consultants are no different. They seek the experience and prestige of a stint at the Big Four before moving to another ocmpany for more money, less travel, shorter days, and so on.

But, something happens.

The second reason for working at a Big Four firm is more substantial, and it quickly surpasses the two-or-three-years-and-I'm-out-of-here dreams of young associates. The primary reason for a Big Four career - as far as the Big Four as an institution is concerned - is the partnership. You work at a place like Ernst & Young or PricewaterhouseCoopers because you want to be a partner someday. I went through this as well. I started out looking for some experience and a name on the resume, but my thinking quickly transformed.

Many Big Four professionals, even Senior Managers, are starting to think about alternatives to the traditional Big Four career path. But, finding alternatives is difficult. When you have had your goals tied to the partnership for so long, you tend to lose sight of the alternatives.

Most Big Four professionals, especially consultants, have trouble fitting into the "real world," which makes the transition even more complicated. Normal jobs, where your workload and tasks are more consistent and predictable, differ profoundly from the lifestyles of the Big Four. Consultants are accustomed to having varying schedules, new projects, and different people every few months.

"You mean I have to see the same people every day!" Ouch.

The best solution I have encountered is to forsake the daily grind for the life of an independent consultant. Hang out your own shingle and go freelance.

What makes the freelance consulting market attractive is that you can keep the aspects of Big Four life that you find attractive while shedding those that are more frustrating. You can pick your own projects and turn down those that don't interest you. If you don't want to travel, you don't have to! Just take local work. Generally, you won't have many work weeks that exceed fifty hours. When you do, though, you'll get paid for all that extra time. Speacking of cash, you'll be paid what you're worth. Freelance rates tend to yield higher annual incomes than Big Four salaries.

Yes, there is a considerable amount of risk in this choice. You'll go through periods of lower rates - and sometimes no work. But,if you plan effectively, your rates will compensate for the lulls. The happiest ex-Big Four professionals I know have opted for the freelance route. They only take projects they like, and they usually make a lot more than they did at their respective firms.

There is definitely life after Big Four.

Tom Johansmeyer


JANE said...

Thanks guys for sharing such a wonderful article with us.

Farmhouse Kitchen Sinks said...

well this is life?

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