Which size of firm you work for is a question that faces every professional at least once in their career. While the Big 4 dwarf the other firms with their headcounts there are plenty of other alternatives out there in the shape of mid-tier, ‘boutique’, and smaller independent firms. If you are looking for an international career providing professional services to the world’s biggest companies then the Big 4 can offer you this along with the most sophisticated training and support, a structured career path, global mobility, financial rewards and all the prestige that comes with being associated with a household name firm with household name clients. Yet some would argue that it comes at a price with the work-life balance often tested to the limit.
Despite the firms ‘championing’ the work-life cause, the reality is that if a major client has deadlines and demands that need to be met and you are on the team then it is quite plausible that you may find yourself burning the midnight oil for weeks on end. Other oft-cited drawbacks of working for the Big 4 include the fact that meaningful client contact is remote and falls to the Partner and Director end of the spectrum and that you only get to work on certain parts of a job rather than getting to see the full picture, but for most people this is actually just part and parcel of working for such a large organisation.
As for the smaller firms, yes you are likely to get more responsibility earlier, more direct client contact, involvement in all aspects of an assignment and a more sympathetic work-life balance, although even here clients can be equally demanding, albeit smaller, with deadlines that need to be met. Not everyone is suited to the Big 4 and although the smaller firms are generally not able to offer the same financial rewards, support and resources as the Big 4 they can nevertheless offer an attractive alternative, especially when compared to most other professions rather than held up against the Big 4. An oft-heard saying is that the mid-tiers can offer the best of both worlds.
Then there are the ‘boutiques’ which usually provide specialised services to a particular segment of the market – these can range in size from one-off independents to multi-nationals, though nowhere near the size of the Big 4. Ultimately, it comes down to personal choice and the good thing is that there’s something out there for everyone. That said, it’s worth some thought and research before jumping in as by no means does everyone make the right choice for themselves at the first time of asking.