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Four myths about leaving the Big 4

Many Big 4 professionals grow weary of making a move based on common misconceptions either about their Big 4 journey or about what to expect from an industry role.

Christophe Paquay, Manager at Robert Walters and former Big 4 professional, clarifies 4 myths about leaving the Big 4.

1. Once you leave you can’t go back

'What if I don’t like my role in industry?' 'What if I don’t get on with the company culture?' One of the biggest misconceptions many Big 4 professionals have is that once you leave the Big 4 world you can never go back. “Many Big 4 candidates I meet are hesitant to explore new possibilities just because they fear they will regret their choice and not be able to get their old job back,” says Christophe. But there’s no need for this concern. Given audit firms’ high turnover rate, should you miss your old job, any firm will gladly take you back. Big 4’s are also increasingly actively looking for former Big 4 professionals with a couple of years of field experience to take on more senior consulting roles."

The biggest thing to realise as you start thinking about leaving is that your career will not be over if you haven’t stuck it out until you’ve made it to manager or higher.

2. If you can audit the books you can also draft the books

As an Auditor, you’ve become an expert at analysing figures and know accounting rules like the back of your hand. Drafting the books yourself should then not be a problem right? “Not really”, says Christophe. “Reporting requires other skills than controlling. Preparing accounts yourself and forecasting future scenario’s from current figures are different responsibilities from those of an Auditor where all the figures are provided to you. The difference might seem small but you need to anticipate that your job content will look different. Transitioning to anything new is always hard – so give yourself a few months to learn the ropes and get past the learning curve."

3. You can’t leave until you’ve reached manager/director level

The biggest thing to realise as you start thinking about leaving is that your career will not be over if you haven’t stuck it out until you’ve made it to manager or higher. Yes, as a Big 4 manager you will assume more responsibilities and become an expert in some metrics specific to the Big 4 world, but all this extra experience does not always translate to industry.

“As a Senior Auditor, you will have already developed many important hard and soft skills which appeal to most employers. Moreover, leaving prior to becoming Manager provides you with more time and flexibility to settle into your new environment and develop all the additional skills which are necessary for a career in industry,” explains Christophe.

4. Salaries are higher in industry

There is a common misapprehension that all industry jobs pay better and that a significant pay increase can be expected when switching to an internal finance role. “You will indeed likely be incentivised and receive a pay increase when making a move, but this increase only corresponds to the pay rise one should expect when changing jobs in the first place”, says Christophe. “Some jobs do indeed pay better in industry, but salaries vary depending on many factors such as experience, sector and general market conditions.

While your Big 4 experience will certainly appeal to many employers, you will also need to acquire a much broader palette of skills in order to succeed in your new function. Keep this in mind when receiving salary offers and don’t underestimate the fact that your next employer will be taking a chance on someone who still has some learning to do.”

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