Choosing the Right Public Accounting Firm whether it is Local, Mid-tier, or Big 4

Sep 13, 2012 -

Choosing the Right Public Accounting Firm 


You've already interviewed and received job multiple offers or are getting ready to decide which firms to interview with. How do you decide which firm to go with? Ultimately it comes down to what you are looking for in your future employer?

Here are a few things you should consider:

  1. Size
  2. Location
  3. Client Base
  4. Firm Culture
  5. Work/Life Fit
  6. Attention to your career

What has size/location have to do with a firm?

Big four have global resources and complex services/offerings while local/regional firms offer more relationship building. The issues that Big four firms deal with transcend national boundaries. You also have more opportunities for international travel. However, if you are looking for somewhere closer to home, local opportunities might be more up your alley. Mid-tier firms are somewhere in between and provide a balance between opportunities and the ability to build meaningful relationships within the firm. 

Here are some statistics:

  • Big 4 - Over 700 offices each in over 150 countries worldwide with average employees exceeding 150,000.
  • Mid-Tier- About 600 offices each in approximately 100 countries worldwide with average employees ranging from 25,000 to 32,000
  • Local - Usually have less than 10 offices and employees can range from single digits to the hundreds

What kind of clients do the firms service or what is their client base?

Different companies use different audit/tax service providers. If you are looking to work on a particular client, you should check whether or not the firm you are applying to work at either audits them or does their taxes. While companies do change auditors, they do so only on particular occassions. As you may have guessed, the bigger the company the bigger clients they service.

Here is a client service breakdown:

  • Big 4 - Primarily public companies; Fortune 500 companies with worldwide operations
  • Mid- Tier - Both Public Companies (some Fortune 1,000, many closely-held), Mid-Cap companies, emerging entrepreneurial companies, and larger Privately-Owned Companies, Multi-Location, including International
  • Regional/Local- Few smaller Public Companies, but primarily smaller Privately-Owned, single location businesses.

Typical Client Profile for a Mid-Tier

  • Large privately-owned, mid-size public, entrepreneurial in nature
  • Revenues ranging from $25M to $2B, but as high as $5 Billion.
  • Multi-locations across the region/country, and/or Internationally
  • Many Complex Issues: Company Structure, Tax Considerations
  • Finance/Accounting Department: From 5- 15 People (CFO, Controller, Accountant, Clerks)

What will your life be like working at one of these firms? What is the culture/work life like?

The best way to figure out whether or not you are a cultural fit in a firm or think you will enjoy the work/life balance the company provides is by attending firm tours and conducting informational interviews with those working there. Here are a couple questions you should keep in mind in your decision. 


  • What is the office atmosphere like?
  • What social events are planned?
  • Do I feel comfortable with the people I’ve met?
  • How much partner and senior management interaction will I have?
  • What cool perks are offered?
  • Do employees look like they enjoy their job? 

What about the firm's attention to your career?

The nature progression in the firm is from associate to senior to manager to senior manager and then the prized spot of partner. At a mid-tier firm, you will be up for promotion after every two years. However, it is based on performance and not always guaranteed. At a Big 4 accounting firm, you will be assigned a coach and then a relationship partner. They are called different things at the firms. But essentially they a coach will help you plan out your immediate goals such as passing the CPA and work towards promotion. A relationship partner helps your build relationships with others within the firm and usually is someone of partner level with connections. Rarely will you find this level of attention to your career in the working world.
 
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