Small vs Big 4


Hi all,

I graduated from a Russell group university over the summer, and have been applying to both small and big 4/middle-tier firms for ACA training contracts. My initial plan was to get a job for sept 2010 and work/go traveling in the meantime. However, it’s been hard finding a job at all to raise any money to go away, so at the moment my plans are falling through!

I’ve been offered a job at a small firm in london starting in Dec (which is great as looks like traveling has fallen through and I don’t really want to waste a year! I really liked the company and the people too), and they want to know if I will take the job by the end of the month. However, I am still in the running through the application process with Deloitte (just done AC), E&Y (AC), PWC (1st interview), BDO (1st interview), and GT (telephone interview). Apart from Deloitte I wont hear back about if I have a job or not within the deadline for accepting the smaller firm job.

My question is does qualifying with a smaller firm hold you back in terms of opportunities after you have qualified - is working for the big 4 that much of an advantage? Can you command a higher wage if coming from the big 4? what would you do - take a guaranteed job now, or wait on the chance you may get a job with a bigger firm, but would have to wait around for another 10 months?

Any feedback would be appreciated!



Incidentally, I have now been offered the job at Deloitte (for sept 2010), so have a big decision to make! would be interesting to hear others thoughts!


Hi Breadhead

I have very similar problem! I am working for the small accounting firm at the moment ( while still at my fourth year at Uni). I love this place and I believe that you can learn a lot in the small firm, as they can not afford to waste the money on trainees doing silly jobs. However, I have always wanted to work for the big four and applied to them in the meantime. I have now got to the last stage of KPMG, but my firm also offered me the graduate contract and I have to give them an answer very soon ( before I probably hear from KPMG). I have no idea what to do now!
Conclusion… depending what you want to do if, in the future, you want to work for the big corporations, go for the delloitte. However, if you enjoy working on the small clients and have opportunity to see the full picture, stick with the smaller!
Having said that, I still dont know what to do…


It’s a tough one but the bottom line is that certainly for the initial move out of practice, Deloittes will be the better entry on your CV even though we all know there may be many better candidates who trained with small firms. Certainly, Deloittes will give you more big firm audit experience and many auditors go on to join firms they used to audit when they were graduate trainees.
September seems a long way off until you start earning. Have you thought of speaking to Deloittes to see if they may take you on earlier? I’m surprised that Deloittes are not copying PwC and others, offering an April start. Do they know you are available now? Ring HR. Deloitte’s HR are pretty helpful.


Yeah I have spoken to Deloitte and they don’t have any opportunities to start earlier, but will let me know if anyone from the 2009 intake drops out. I also realise that having Deloitte on my CV will look better, but I suppose in a strange way I am a bit concerned about working for the big 4 after hearing some of the stories on here about the work-life balance, is it really that bad working for them?

But on the other hand, whilst the working atmosphere at the small firm would be more relaxed, I would not be in a position where I would meet as many people as I will only be one of perhaps 2 trainees.

This is certainly turning out to be one of the most challenging decisions I have ever had to make! What would everyone else do?

Thanks for all the replies so far, I really appreciate peoples thoughts.


Can’t comment on working at a small firm. But you’re right that having the big 4 name on your CV carries considerable value. Whatever your plans for the future it would be certainly possible to move back to a small firm but would be much harder moving the other way to a big 4 firm. If you intend to go into the investment management industry at some point - then I’d unreservedly recommend going to a big 4 firm.

Downsides are that you will probably find yourself doing all the crappy jobs for the first couple of years like taking notes, formatting reports, checking for errors, drafting emails etc. I work in tax so can’t comment on what it’s like in audit but since we’re the cheapest grades - we get the crappest jobs. Upside is that there is a very well structured training program and I’ve never found it that difficult to be able to complete my work, study, and have time to go out regularly.

No doubt you will work hard in the first year for your exams but it’s not unreasonable in my opinion. Then again tax may be different as I typically arrive at 9.30 and leave by around 6.30. Very reasonable - sometimes you work late (it comes in bursts) but other times you leave early. As I understand, auditors don’t get as much flexibilty as they’re the client site and the travel time can make all the difference. You will probably find that you get to know your colleagues who join at the same time as you very well, going to college and sharing these experiences for the first time.