Mid-tier firms offer better experience

So says this recent story on Accountancy Age, quoting a Cantos interview with the ACCA’s head of development, Tony Osude:

“If you went to one of the mid-tier firms, one of the beauties about being there is you might not be paid as much necessarily, but you have much more hands on experience. You can expect to actually meet your clients in the flesh and have much more dealings with your clients and also, importantly, if you want to stay in practice and recognition is important to you, there’s a greater chance of being recognised and career tracked.”

I have worked only at my current mid-size firm, so I can’t give a first hand comparison of the difference between it and a Big Four firm.

I know that at my firm, I was given greater responsibility on files fairly quickly after starting, and when I started there I was as green as you can get. I thought a discontinued operation was an error message in Windows.

In a non Big Four firm, you’ll generally have more opportunity to effect change within the organization, and there’s a better chance the firm will be on the cutting edge technologically speaking. I have a feeling the first firm to truly go paperless, if that ever does happen, will be a small one.

In a non Big Four, you’ll have more direct client contact because the engagements are smaller – the team is smaller, the risks are lower, and the client is less complex. With fewer staff on the audit, the lower level employees will necessarily have to take on more responsibility, leading to more client face time. Because the work is less complex, lower level employees can work with the client and have the necessary expertise to do so.

There are great opportunities within small firms and students should know all the options when they are considering where to apply. It can mean the difference between a rewarding few years leading up to getting their designation versus doing nothing but low-level rote work.

6 thoughts on “Mid-tier firms offer better experience

  1. Some good points – I’d say variety of ‘types’ of engagements (more ‘small’ jobs and tax hours, for example) are even more significant, but I would disagree about the amount of face time you get with clients – perhaps you’ll get more interaction with higher level client staff earlier on, but that was be the extent of it.

  2. I agree with most of the article, but all things being equal, students will still choose to go with a larger firm because:

    1. all training/exam/membership fees are covered

    2. big firm experience will make them more marketable, regardless of their actual skill aqcuired.

  3. Hello guys,

    I’ve recently left the largest of the big 4 to join a smaller, sector specific consultancy, and I can say with a fair degree of confidence that irrespective of whether you’re at a big, mid, small or boutique style firm, what really determines one’s career progression is the will of you’re superiors. If you are lucky enough to be part of a team which nurtures development, encourages leadership and innovative thinking, and willing to promote the hell out of you to partners/directors, then your career will look after itself. If you are in an area which is looking to consolidate, or does not have a culture of fast-racking careers, then often your best efforts can be in vain. I’ve seen guys work their asses off and earn big buck for the firm only to be overlooked for promotion, whilst other, less dedicated and talented individuals seem to get the better opportunities, and ultimately the better position within the firm. Good luck trying to fast track your career in the corp fin divisions in any of the big 4 unless you’ve got someone above (and I don’t mean God) looking after you and actively endorsing your skills. Having said all that, I cannot argue with the fact the big 4 experience tends to speak volumes to employers, and can be embellished without too much scrutiny. Some argue exposure at big 4 is the distinguishing factor, given the number/volume of clients from various sectors. However, there is no point working on multiple engagements across numerous sectors if all you are doing is glorified admin work. Smaller firms may not have the variety of clients, but you will find yourself adding significantly more value per engagement.

  4. Hi Barry, thanks for giving your perspective.

    It’s going to take open-mindedness on the part of those responsible for making hiring decisions, and good self-selling skills on the part of job seekers coming from mid-tier firms to gradually change the perception that training at a Big Four firm is by default the best route for aspiring professionals to take right out of school.

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