I recently placed a candidate in a considerably lower level role than I normally do. Most of my recruiting assignments are for senior level positions with experienced executives. It’s always personally rewarding to enhance someone’s career, both professionally, financially and personally, but this recent placement gave me a different buzz. One I remember liking from earlier in my own career. It’s the great feeling of making a difference in someone’s life, probably one they’ll always remember and knowing I helped create a turning point in their careers.
This also put me in mind of experiences placing candidates coming directly out of Big 4 for the first time. I did my fair share of these transitions in the good old pre-IPO, pre-SOX days, circa mid-late 1990’s. Hard to believe the many changes that have occurred since, from Enron to the great recession. The one thing that hasn’t changed though is how young talent feels, making the leap of faith from a public accounting firm to private industry. I’m quite sure attorneys and accountants struggle with some of the same questions when leaving the world of prominent law firms and the Big 4. After all, they’ve been groomed for success and high expectations, pitted against their peers for recognition, fostered in an environment of similar professionals; all hard working, bright and ambitious up and comers. Some see a clear path towards partnership while others dread yet another busy season.
And then someone like me comes along – whispering in their ear of opportunity, title, compensation increases, the chance to have a more structured lifestyle. Maybe they’ll work just as hard, after all I believe cranking out the hours is just ingrained in the Big 4 psyche. Regardless of the inducement, there comes a time when the right opportunity hits a nerve and the considerations of change come into play.
What makes transitioning out of Big 4 so different? In addition to their accounting firm experience usually being their first role out of a college they were recruited from, there’s the comfort level of professional commonality and equality. Everyone starts off in a comparable position, with similar skills and education. Everyone is working towards the same goal. Expectations are set and met; there are mentors and an established pattern for growth.
It’s no wonder the thought of leaving the prestigious society created in their firms is such a difficult decision. Here the CPA can rely on mentorship, interesting work and variety. Their peers share the same workload, similar challenges and are bound together in a culture of hard work and long hours. And even though they have worked with and alongside their clients, going to work for them is a completely different ball game. Contemplating submitting their work for the Auditors to review, getting involved in everything from journal entries to financials and often a big challenge in learning how to motivate and lead non professional staff. Leaving the cocoon of a big 4 environment is a daunting proposition and let’s face it – Managers and Partners will always encourage their star performers to stay.
Despite all the inducements to stay (excluding the long hours!), Big 4 talent often does make it’s way into the private sector. Most do it successfully, embracing private industry, thriving in new challenges and learning how to lead and motivate. Transitioning into the corporate world is almost a right of passage. Their talent is welcomed and embraced whichever side of the fence they ultimately choose.
Cindy Cremona, CPC has over twenty years experience as an Executive Recruiter. Her main focus is in Accounting and Finance, primarily placing senior level roles for clients mainly in the technology sectors.
Cindy works extensively with CPA’s and current/former Big 4 alumni. As a ‘Change Agent’, Cindy has a wealth of knowledge and expertise for CPA’s transitioning from public accounting or to the next step in their careers.
Please visit her website www.hirealternative.com