When is a good time to leave Big 4? Is there really such a thing as leaving too late?

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Hoping the answer is “within the first year” because I’m just about ready to go 😭

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You can find plenty of jobs that look just as good if not better than big4 PA. Plenty of public finance gigs out there with less hours, higher pay, and more interesting work. Do what you want, big4 accounting isn’t anything special. Since it’s early in your career doing a total career change won’t be too hard

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I hit m1 in audit, then did a rotation in FDD, then left before busy season to healthcare fp&a. I think it was a +40% TC bump above my post-promo comp. Two years later, my TC had again doubled. So I’ve something like 3x+ in 2.5 years and I wouldn’t have been able to do this leaving at senior IMO. But you can find anecdotes at all levels I’m sure. I just didn’t see how audit SM can be a more desirable hire than M + 3 years in private and the M will make more in comp in the interim too.

The best way to do this is to figure out what you want to do + where the money is; look around at successful people 3-10 years older than you. If you can get equity in something / start a successful business that would be better than what I did. Don’t leave at SM - if you stay that long it’s because you’re going for PPEDD or don’t know what you want to do. You’re too pigeonholed by then and likely too expensive to give a big raise to @ exit. Leave when you hear the right opportunity and start listening once you’re comfortable you can lead teams as a senior through mid manager; so like from s2-m2 is probably the time; ideally m1 IMO.

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Best time: right after making senior or manager.

Too late: late manager and above.

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Unless you want to go straight into a higher level exec role. I’ve seen senior managers leave for some great CFO jobs at medium size public companies, or VP level jobs at large public companies. Jobs paying close to $300K (which is a lot for an auditor!). A manager would never be able to exit straight to that kind of role.

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It depends on your LoS, but for audit, the convention wisdom is to leave as an M1 if you’re pursuing the controllership route. Leave at S1 if you want to switch to advisory/FP&A/etc.

Advisory broadens your exit ops a bit more so it would depend specifically on what you’re interested in pursuing.

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I left as a Director in Big4 audit (going through partner process for the year) but found a GM role in a bank which was a good step up into an adjacency to the typical financial control/accounting type roles. I think leaving later in your Big 4 career isn't "too late" but rather, it just means you need to be more aware of what you bring to the table and being selective in what opportunities you're willing to entertain (both in terms of role/organisation and compensation). Unlike leaving at say, SA/M levels where the skillset is somewhat commoditised and most recruiters/employers know what they're getting, once you get to the upper echelons of D/P, you need to be able to help prospective employers understand why they should want you.

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I started a little over a year ago so I can provide a short term insight. So far I’ve seen a few from my start that seemed to have a “gmtfo asap” attitude which led to some poor decisions imo. However I know some who pivoted hard quick and seem to (from a salary/ career field perspective) have made a good decision.

Guess answer is… it depends? I personally want that senior promotion on my resume so I’m stick around a bit longer at the least

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Earlier the better I say. I’m still plotting my escape and it’s been 15 years 🤦🏻‍♀️

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I feel like if you stick it to SM, get to the point where you have 10 years of experience instead of 1 year that would put you at 8. All the corporate controller, director, etc require 10+ years for the most part so I think it’s probably good to ride it out if possible. But what do I know, I’m only 5 years in 😂

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The problem with leaving “too late” is you may need to take a pay cut.

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Industry in most cases doesn’t have a direct promotion path. Also yes you get that 15-30% bump when you join a new company but then year after year your raises are 2-5%. If you’re not in a position to get promoted (the company doesn’t think you have what it takes, or more commonly there isn’t an opening) you’ll be stuck where you’re at.

That said everyone isn’t looking to climb the ladder and make 200k+. You have to decide for yourself what you want in life.

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There is not bad time to leave PA honestly. Leave too early and you leave money on the table mid/long term.
Leave before manager, you are leaving that title’s weight on your resume and the money related to it.
And then stay until late manager or SM, and you need to take a paycut.
So as I said in the first sentence, there’s not a bad time to leave PA or a good one for that matter. It truly depends on what you want for your career and what you are willing to sacrifice or not.

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Start underperforming than your peers?

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No such thing as leaving too late in my opinion. It really depends on the type of roles you seek

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Now

Depends on what you want to do after Big 4 imo. If you plan to stay in the field of accounting such as industry or accounting advisory then staying until manager is a great move with a lot of exit opportunities. Leaving for a senior accountant role can be selling yourself short of what’s out there if you wait a year or two past that level. If you plan to transition into finance, consulting, etc then leaving earlier (1-2) years is much better as every year you stay in accounting is another year you don’t have in a different field of work.

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