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How the Big 4 Accounting Firms Set You Up For Career Success

Jun 20, 2023
Emily O'Dell, Master's of Accounting Program Director, explains how working for the Big 4 sets students up for accounting career success

By Eigen Escario

Emily O'Dell, Director of Admissions of the MAcc Program

Emily O’Dell, Director, Master’s in Accounting Programs

For those who have done enough career planning and soul searching to pursue a Master’s in Accounting (MAcc), spending years in public accounting on the path to partner at a top firm might seem like an intimidating and intensive commitment. Emily O’Dell, Vanderbilt Director, MAcc Programs breaks down key considerations when looking at entering this industry with the Big 4 accounting firms.

“Our MAcc program is designed for students to come in and go directly into the Big 4. We have a pretty organized recruiting and career management process along the way,” O’Dell said. “The students entering our program know that they’re interested in business and in the accounting piece which is the language of business.”

Accumulating Valuable, Transferable Accounting Experience

Regardless of any long-term business career prospects, O’Dell advises students to make the most of their years in the Big 4 accounting firms to gather experience to stand on for any opportunity that comes their way.

“We recommend 5 to 6 years in public accounting for students to have the best chances for exit opportunities,” O’Dell said. “I don’t think going into a firm and leaving after one or 2 years is always a smart decision because you’re not really getting access to what you need and getting that experience. You may not want to stay in this line of work long-term, but there are different opportunities you could benefit from if you stay long enough.”

Considering Push and Pull Factors

However, if students have serious reservations about staying on for too long, O’Dell outlines some considerations when contemplating an exit or continuing on the path to becoming a partner at the firm.

“Sometimes you may start out and have a great team, get the right clients, be in the right city—and that’s fantastic,” O’Dell said. “However, people sometimes don’t mesh with their team or they’re in an industry that they don’t like. Either way, Big 4 firms are great because they want to promote within and they want to keep the people that are succeeding by keeping them happy.”

Casting a Wide Net

O’Dell also mentions the value of wide-reaching experiences in this realm that maximize career options further down the line.

“I always tell my students that my goal for them is to never have to search for another job,” O’Dell said. “Within the Big 4 accounting firms, there’s always an opportunity for advancement in your service line, whether it be moving to another one or transferring offices after a few years.”

Maximizing the Return on Investment

As for the lockstep recruitment process that serves as the pinnacle of the Masters in Accounting program, O’Dell talks about its return on investment and long-term impact on students’ careers.

“We really focus on professional presence and making sure that students are prepared to enter a work environment and show that they deserve these opportunities,” O’Dell said. “Staying in a firm and becoming a partner with the Big 4 is a very lucrative position to be in, but not everybody does that because there are so many opportunities to leave Big 4 before that partner level.”

Taking Advantage of Your Resources

No matter what service lines students decide to stick with, O’Dell further explains that the network and skills gained through this whole process can be applied anywhere.

“There’s this world outside of Big 4—when you’re working on clients, you have access to Fortune 500 companies and their management, maybe even having the opportunity to move into one of their companies,” O’Dell said. “Even if you jump out of accounting entirely, you still have a CPA and skills that set you apart.”

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