How to Succeed in Public Accounting at the Big 4

How to Succeed in Public Accounting at the Big 4

Here at GAAP Dynamics, our employees bring diverse backgrounds in public accounting and auditing to each client we serve. And while we’ve had different career paths, we all share one thing in common: prior success at one of the Big Four accounting firms.

We understand what it’s like to be a member of a huge recruiting class. Sometimes, you aren’t quite sure how to find your place or avoid getting lost in the shuffle. But, if you’re in the first few years of your career and want to maximize your opportunities, you have to learn how to stand out from the crowd.

So, we gathered dozens of suggestions from our trainers and leaders, and six key themes emerged from all of their advice. Here is our top industry advice for making the most of your career in public accounting.

Top 6 Tips for Success in Public Accounting at the Big 4


1. Be a Team Player

Working in public accounting at the Big 4 is not for lone wolves. You are part of a team, within a team, within a larger team, within a global organization. And no matter how amazing your work is you’re only as successful as your group’s weakest link.

From day one, you need to prepare yourself to be a leader. With every task, aim to look beyond your individual responsibilities and contributions — to see the bigger picture you’re all building together. Being a motivated, supportive team member will make you stand out and also help keep everyone on the team (including you) engaged.

Where to Focus:

  • Motivate other people.
  • Help your teammates develop their skills.
  • Support associates when you’re a senior.
  • Volunteer around the office.
  • Write Thank You cards when someone helps you.


2. Be a Sponge

Joining one of the Big Four accounting firms straight out of college can be both exciting and daunting. You want to belong, and you want to look smart. And here’s the good news: Nobody expects you to know everything when you’re just starting out.

By working at a Big 4 firm, opportunities to improve and advance your public accounting skills surround you, so take advantage of them! Now is the time to soak up as much free training, skills development, and high-level mentoring as you can. Don’t take these opportunities for granted. Investing in yourself will pay dividends for a lifetime.

What to Focus On:

  • Ask questions.
  • Take as many training classes as you can.
  • Learn from the decision makers you have access to.
  • Study intricacies of the business world, not just accounting.
  • Avoid unnecessary mistakes by asking questions. (Seriously, ask questions!)


3. Become an Expert

Generalists are a dime at a dozen at any Big 4 firm. Every year brings a new recruiting class of eager, young accountants who want to climb the ladder just as badly as you do. To set yourself apart from the masses, specialize in an area that few people choose.

Sure, mastering topics like derivatives and hedging, foreign currency, or any other niche is more challenging. But, you don’t become indispensable by choosing the easiest, most popular work.

What to Focus On:

  • Find a specialty that sets you apart.
  • Pay your dues early and reap the benefits for life.
  • Network with managers and other leaders.
  • Build relationships with clients and other people outside the firm.
  • Stay at your firm until you’re a manager.


4. Avoid Getting Stuck in a Rut

After awhile, any job can feel like drudgery, no matter how much you enjoy it. Luckily, the Big 4 firms provide an amazing array of new opportunities when you know where to look.

If you ever start to feel bored, discouraged, or out of place, just explore a new side of public accounting. No matter how you’d like to expand your horizons, chances are, your firm has a path for you to do so — especially if you’ve followed all these other tips for being an indispensable employee!

What to Focus On:

  • Determine why your current role dissatisfies you.
  • Explore your firm’s different practice areas.
  • Look for international opportunities.
  • Teach an L&D course.
  • Train for a new specialization.


5. Master the Impression You Make

From your communication skills to your attitude to your attire, every professional detail affects your long-term success in this crowded industry. To stand out, you need to cultivate a work persona that reflects the best of what you bring to the table.

Start by purposefully defining the impression you want to make and the type of professional you would like to be. Identify qualities that you respect in your superiors to find specific traits you can embrace in your own career. Then, be consistent and reliable, so your colleagues and clients know they can trust you — no matter what comes your way.

What to Focus On:

  • Set realistic expectations — and exceed them whenever possible.
  • Be forthright, succinct and diplomatic.
  • Think about the tone of your communications, not just the content.
  • Learn the difference between “reply” and “reply to all” when emailing.
  • Invest in well-tailored, quality clothing.


6. Maintain Balance in Your Life

Let’s be honest: working at Big Four accounting firms is not for the faint of heart. Everybody has those intense moments where you wonder what you were thinking when you decided to pursue this career. The days can grind on, and the hours can feel torturous at times. And if you’re not careful, you can burn out faster than a campfire in a downpour.

To achieve career longevity in this demanding world, you’ve got to take care of yourself.

What to Focus On:

  • Get involved in work activities.
  • Take time for yourself.
  • Develop healthy habits, such as exercising or volunteering.
  • Stay connected to friends inside and outside the firm.
  • Try to keep your sense of humor, even when you’re stressed.

Ultimately, the opportunity to work in public accounting at the Big 4 is a chance to make your life and career as awesome as you want — if you’re willing to put in the work. There’s no magic bullet. But, if you follow this advice, you’ll be on your way toward a career many people only dream about. Congratulations, and good luck!

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