Four myths about working at the big four?
Some people know they want to be doctors when they grow up and save people’s lives, some people do not figure out what they want until they are in their thirties. Some girls dream of being engineers and some of us grow up with the ambition to work for one of the big four. What is the big four you might think? The big four is a reference to the four biggest accountancy firms in the world: Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG. All four are famous for their professional service networks. Examples of services they offer are audits, consultancy, and accounting.
Working at the big four brings a certain prestige in the consulting world. It is considered to be a great work experience and in some cases, can be the business card to other industries and clients. Like with all things famous and prestigious, stories and rumours get around and spread. Especially during my bachelor degree in Systems Engineering, the stories about working at the big four almost seemed mythical. As for myself, I switched to the construction industry, which I have never regretted for even a second. My curiosity, however, remained. That’s where my dear friend Athina comes along.
Meet Athina Priadi, one of my close friends ever since we were little girls. In her case, she was a little girl who ambitioned to work at the big four growing up. Some years later she has made that ambition into a reality, as she is now a transfer pricing consultant at one of the big four accounting firms. Today she’s helping us out debunking four myths about working at the big four and her experience own working for one of these companies.
Juniors starting at the company have a fixed career path laid out for them. It has several steps to climb up the corporate ladder. Where ambition and drive to climb up the corporate ladder is expected from employees. A phrase that is used is “one either moves up or move out”.
AP: “All juniors are encouraged to develop themselves and gain a lot of experience in a short time. It is an ambitious work atmosphere, for which taking next steps in your career is desired. A high learning curve is expected and is discussed in mid-year and end of year evaluations. There are high expectations, but there is a lot of coaching available. For example, I am responsible for my own development and choices in my career path, but whenever I am stuck I do have an appointed job coach that can help me out.”
Reputation is everything and everybody is fighting to work for the top clients. People are willing to go above and beyond when it comes to internal office politics. The internal office vibe can be described as a cut-throat culture.
AP: “Not true at the office I work. Whenever projects come in, there is a lot of interest from all departments. People tend to get jealous of each other when it comes to prestigious clients. There is lot of competition when it comes to this among peers. But, I have to say it is very over exaggerated to call it a cut-throat culture. Furthermore, my department is pretty casual and we rather think in the company’s interest.”
Most contracts are for a forty-hour workweek. However, in practice workweeks are more likely to hit between fifty and sixty hours, without getting paid extra. This makes a lop-sided work life balance.
AP: “I have to agree with this one, there is a high workload and working long hours is more common than exception. People are still e-mailing late at night and in the weekends. At first I thought this was related with upcoming deadlines. A few more months in, I understood there is always a lot of work to do. This results in a continuous high workload. Maintaining a healthy work life balance can be challenging. For me personally, it is hard to see my boyfriend during the week. I also notice I am prone to send some e-mails even after I get home. One time when I left the office at 17.00, I received comments from peers like: “Taking the afternoon off?”. I just happened to have started work early that day, but it is considered normal to work longer than the regular nine to five.”
As all of the big four have branches all over the world, there are many opportunities for employees to (temporarily) work abroad.
AP: “This one is true. Throughout the company, it is highly encouraged to gain experience abroad at other offices. In some departments, it is even a requirement to spend some time in their branches abroad. The company also takes care of your accommodation and helps out with the move.”
Seems like most of the common myths, perceptions are just a tat bit exaggerated. What is your impression of working at the big four? Got any more myths that need some debunking? Let us know in the comments below!