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Big 4 Exit Opportunities for Tax

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

You are probably wondering what sort of jobs you can pursue after getting into a Big 4. After all, you worked so hard to get into a Big 4 for this exact reason - the opportunities are suppose to be better, right? Well today, I'm going to tell you three critical points in you career at a Big 4 or any other public practice firm, which impact your opportunities in the job market.

Experience: 3+ years (Senior Associate)

The first two years are spent as an New Associate and Associate. Going into your third year, you would probably get promoted to a Senior Associate and also get designated by earning your CPA. You have come to a milestone in your life where you have gained some experience so you are not a complete newbie anymore.

I found that a lot of people leave the firm around this time since you have the most amount of opportunities. Your typical roles after public practice into Industry may be as part of the finance/accounting team as a Financial Analyst or Senior Financial Analyst. I would say the biggest incentive to leaving is probably the pay, which could be 10 to 25% higher than Big 4. Though it might be worth keeping in mind that salaries as you move up in Big 4 tend to have a bigger jump, while salaries may be more stagnant in Industry (though base salary and bonuses may be higher).

This is also the best time to leave if you decide that tax/audit/accounting is no longer for you. I would also say that whether you are in Tax or Audit, it's not that greatly differentiated at this stage, since you can be considered more of a generalist in accounting, knowing bits of everything as part of studying for your CPA. This is because you are more malleable to conform to other specializations, such as strategy, financial planning, consulting, IT, etc. At this stage, whatever path you decide to go, having a CPA designation will still be beneficial and advantageous, since it provides a strong foundation of core skills such as problem solving and business acumen.

Experience: 5+ years (Manager)

As a manager, you have more specialized experience in Tax, which makes you highly sought after in the Tax world. It will be common to have head hunters on Linkedin asking you if you are interested in moving to another firm for higher pay and/or early promotion. There are also jobs available in Industries for roles related to Tax Analysts all the way to Tax Managers (equivalent to Controller level). You can even go for roles for tax planning specialists at banks and treasury positions. These Industries will tend to be larger companies, since smaller companies will most likely not have an in-house tax expert (ie. like an in-house legal counsel) since it's expensive. Pay (salary plus bonus) can range from $100k to $150k+ depending on the role you are able to land.

That being said, there is less flexibility in the types of roles you can pursue outside of Tax. It is definitely possible to go into a different role, such as strategy, financial planning, consulting, etc, but you may need to level down and not be able to get as much pay as you are getting now.

Another exit plan is to create our own firm for tax returns and compliance for small to medium businesses. Tax provides a bit more flexibility in starting your business than Audit, which requires more requirements and regulations to be able to run your own firm.

Experience: 8+ years (Senior Manager)

As you become more senior in public practice, it becomes increasingly difficult to transition outside of the Tax specialty. As a Senior Manager, you can look towards roles such as a Director of Tax but at this point, you probably stayed around long enough to go for the Partner route at the Big 4. The salaries can range from $120k to $200k, and there probably won't be as much incentive to search outside of public practice since pays are around the same but not as many options. The incentive probably lies in becoming Partner (whether at Big 4 or even moving to a smaller firm where your chances are better), which you can expect around $250k to upwards of $1M.

Do you dream about becoming a VP of Finance/CFO?

As a CPA, you may dream about becoming a VP of Finance or CFO one day. This role requires you to have broad financial knowledge (ie. budgeting, forecasting, compliance, risk management, etc), not just Tax or Audit. In addition, you need to have a deep understanding of the business and how it operate. You can achieve this by working your way up from within the company as a CPA, but also, obtaining a MBA can accelerate the experience, knowledge, and skillsets necessary for the C-suite. Check out the following article written by Robert Half (biggest recruiter for accounting/finance positions) for more tips:


#big4accountant #big4exitopportunities #careerintax

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