The answer is not so clear-cut, as it will vary on each person’s situation and their goals. Whether you joined a Big 4 as a springboard for your career or were set on making partner, we generally advise professionals to make a move around three to six years of experience, in order not to leave either too early or too far into their Big 4 career.
Your Big 4 experience will have allowed you to rapidly develop skills and expertise which simply cannot be learned elsewhere. As a Senior Auditor, a promotion which usually happens around the third year, you will be given a team of juniors to supervise and will plan and oversee the audit process to ensure all client needs are met. This role will enable you to get a head start on developing some key leadership skills such as problem solving, communication and the ability to motivate others. As Senior, you will also perform much more complex and risk based audits and will need to identify business process improvements, all of which give you a deeper understanding of the full audit cycle. For those reasons, staying put until you’ve become Senior will help you stand out from all those who left earlier on in their Big 4 career.
Transitioning into a new job always takes time. When stepping away from audit, you will need to further develop certain skills that are necessary to succeed in industry, such as a profound systems knowledge (SAP for example) and a broader business understanding. Leaving as a Senior for a controlling or analysis role, your new employer will be more easily forgiving to recognise some of your 'limitations' and will provide you with the necessary time to settle in your new function.
Your extensive audit experience will have trained you to quickly acquire a general knowledge of your clients’ business. However, gaining a deeper understanding of one specific sector, its business needs, products, customers and even hurdles can only be learnt on the job. When applying for a management function or higher, employers look for seasoned professionals who are able to rapidly become operational. Surely, switching jobs always comes with an initial adjustment period, but transferring from a Big 4 to an industry job will require additional time for you to completely submerge yourself within a particular sector.
When stepping away from audit, you will need to further develop certain skills that are necessary to succeed in industry, such as a profound systems knowledge (SAP for example) and a broader business understanding.
Furthermore, managing a team of auditors is not the same as managing an internal finance team. Instead of taking on a management function right away, it could be wise to take a role where you can learn from a seasoned manager who will show you the ropes of the business. For this very reason, we advise audit professionals looking to make a move not to wait too long past their manager promotion, which usually happens around the fifth year.
In the end, your Big 4 experience will prove beneficial to your career, no matter when you decide to leave. Like any job, just remember to leave gracefully.
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