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How I made my own opportunities at a Big 4

Updated: Jul 5, 2020

I just wanted to share you my story on how I was able to land a long-term secondment opportunity when I was only a Senior Associate at a Big 4. To back up a little bit, I had always knew I wanted to work in a different country and experience living in a different culture.

For the first three years of my professional career at the Big 4, I was busy working and studying for my CPA. However, at the back of my mind, I always knew that I wanted to move after I get designated. So in my spare time, I researched about places I would like to go and talked to people to get some insight.

I always loved Europe - so I was thinking of London at first. It would have been the heart of Europe and the best place to travel from (not to mention, an English speaking country). Though at the time, I felt that I had taken enough time to travel Europe during my vacations and I didn't feel as inclined to go. As much as I wanted to be spontaneous and jump on a plane to Europe, I knew that in the long-term, it wasn't a place I can build my network and career.

On the other hand, I absolutely loved visiting Korea during my summer breaks, and had actually gone on a summer exchange program while I was in university. Being born in Canada, I never actually had the chance to live in Korea and really immerse myself in the culture. I was ethnically Korean, so I was fortunate to learn the language from my Mom and what I could pick up from my short visits and Kdramas - but what was working in Korea really like?

After I wrote my CPA exam, I was in a Transfer Pricing rotation and had the opportunity to work on a project with a network firm in Korea. Being bold and having nothing to lose, I had reached on to the partner in Korea, making the connection to the project we had worked on. I had said I was interested in the potential opportunity to work in Korea and, provided I was going to be in Korea during the winter holidays, if it would be possible to meet for coffee then.

I have to say, I was extremely lucky to have had such a positive and welcoming response to my email. The partner had agreed to meet me, and his secretary arranged a date and time for the coffee meeting.

Fast forward, I was in Korea over the winter holidays. I treated my coffee meeting almost like an interview. And right I was! I was taken to a meeting room and gave the whole spiel about myself. The partner was genuinely a nice person, and we had a conversation about work and even personal life. Fortunately, we had an instant connection as he had first came on a secondment from the US to Korea when he was first starting out his career. In the end, he didn't end up going back but settled in Korea.

At the end of an hour long conversation, it was settled - I had a job waiting for me in Korea. He saw the need and demand for more English speakers at the firm, as Korea was getting a lot of inbound investments from foreign countries.

After coming back from my trip, I had to tactfully communicate this secondment opportunity to my firm back in Canada. Next step was all about working out the paperwork!

All in all, the Canadian firm was very supportive of my move and had looked at it positively since I was moving within the network firms (and not to another Big 4). Many of the partners themselves had secondment experiences, and while it may not immediately benefit your career in the short term, they saw the rewards and self-fulfilment in the long-run. I made sure I was leaving on good terms and with solid relationships in tact, in case I wanted to return to Canada at the end of my secondment (which I ended up doing). Deciding whether I wanted to come back or not as my secondment was nearing its end was another decision making process in itself - but that is a story for another time.

Reflecting back, I'm so glad I took the risk and leap of faith in relocating to a different country. Mind you, it's not for the faint of heart, as it's A LOT of work to move your livelihood to another country (and back). You need to adapt to a new work environment, learn a whole new system, and how to interact with people in another culture. However, I enjoyed every single part of my experience, as I made sure I got the most out of it.

Not only was I able to build a solid network, meet new friends for life, and had the chance to travel within Korea with my Mom and really enrich myself in the culture of my roots - it was also a really good financial move. I was able to save a lot more since the salary and bonuses were higher AND taxes and cost of living were lower.

I was in quite the conundrum as my secondment was nearing its end. I had been offered a permanent position at the Korean firm, so I had to decide whether to return to Canada or stay in Korea. In the end, I decided to return to Canada and, subsequently reached out to a partner here to start the transition once again.

I come full circle, as now I am back at the firm I first started with. My experience with a Big 4 has been awesome so far, to say the least. I know a lot of people might have negative experiences with a Big 4, as they may have been overworked, unappreciated, etc. However, I believe your career is how you make it and you need to voice what you want - because no one is going to do it for you.

#Big4accountant #opportunitiesarewhatyoumakeit #globetrotter

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