AMA: Big 4 Audit --> Advisory --> Top 15 MBA

breezy44's picture
Rank: Baboon | banana points 168

Starting an AMA thread for any Big4 Auditors or Advisory folks looking to transition to an top MBA. I leaned heavily on WSO to complete the journey up to this point, and want to give back to those currently mired in the Big 4 grind. I cannot thank WSO enough for giving me the knowledge and confidence to achieve what I once thought impossible.

Quick Background - Big 4 FS audit for 3 years --> Advisory for 2 years --> Attending a Top 15 MBA next fall. Very hard to take this path but it's doable. Goal is to enter investment banking after my MBA.

Feel free to ask anything - Big 4 culture/stereotypes, how to make the transfer to advisory, tips for getting into a top MBA from Big 4 - fire away.

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Comments (20)

Oct 31, 2018

Thanks for doing this. What group in Advisory are you in and what are your business school admissions stats i.e. GPA/GMAT?

Oct 31, 2018

Risk Advisory, 720 GMAT, 3.55 GPA. Solid extra-curriculars - leadership position on a small non profit, captain of club sports teams, etc.

Oct 31, 2018

Thank you for doing this! If you dont mind sharing which firm youre at and the culture. Been interviewing with all the big 4 firms and having a hard time finding out the difference in culture etc. Also would you mind sharing how you transitioned. I have an audit offer and am currently interviewing for advisory at a different big 4 and would like to know what I am in store for.


Oct 31, 2018

I am at EY and love it here. I found pretty quickly that EY has the most people-centric culture of the Big 4, which is why I chose them. I'm sure people at other firms have their own viewpoints and reasons why they picked the other firms, and I definitely don't want to discount them. That being said, I love EY and am glad I went that route.

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Oct 31, 2018

As for how I transferred, the process was pretty easy for me, although I was the exception. I performed well my first 2 years in audit and forged a great relationship with my audit partner. After my 2nd year I told him I was interested in joining advisory and he said he would put in a good word for me if I stayed another busy season for him, which I did. After my 3rd busy season, I received an email to apply for advisory openings, I applied, the partner put in a good word, and I got it. It's risky to apply through the "front door" like this as only a small percentage of people succeed, but I was lucky enough to get it. Another strategy is to apply through the "back door" aka not though the standard internal hire recruiting processes.

Good luck interviewing! Go with where you feel most comfortable.

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Oct 31, 2018

I made the move from RA>MC in a big 4 and am considering making the next move to MBA (hopefully top 10) to break into MBB. What were the biggest challenges when you were applying?

Are you an URM?

Oct 31, 2018

Congratulations on the switch!

I am not a URM, which plays into what was most challenging for me when applying - how to differentiate myself amongst all the other white, male, big 4 candidates pursuing an MBA. I would strongly recommend using an admissions consultant - they can be pricey but 100% worth it in my opinion.

The main takeaway from my admissions consultant was that I wasn't competing with the entire MBA applicant pool - I was only competing with people with similar backgrounds as myself. In other words, MBA programs essentially have a quota of how many people with X characteristic they want to admit. We worked tirelessly finding ways to differentiate myself from other people like me - white, male, big 4 accountants. It wasn't easy but take it from a pretty basic guy - you can find ways if you work hard enough.

If you are not a URM and have some time before applying to schools, I'd recommend getting active in things that make you stand out - poetry, wind-surfing, paragliding... anything.

Oct 31, 2018

Currently on a similar path. 3 busy seasons in Big 4 audit --> transferred to Advisory (M&A/TAS), been here for ~6 months. Wondering if you considered any other exit opps from advisory before going the MBA route. I am trying to figure out the cost/benefit analysis of an MBA, or if I could break into Corp Dev (or something similar) leveraging my current experience. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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Oct 31, 2018

I did not consider any other exit opps from advisory before applying. My goal is to do investment banking post-MBA. I applied to a couple of boutiques my first 2 years with no luck, so I figured my next best option would be to go to a Top 15 MBA and go from there.

My opinion on the cost-benefit analysis of an MBA is it's worth it in the long run to pay full sticker price at a Top 15 program only. Anything below that is not worth it unless you get a scholarship or are looking for something specific that a lower ranked school has - for example, I read somewhere that CMU Tepper has a good operations management program.

I am not very familiar with exit opps from M&A Advisory, but my advice to you is to first figure out what you want to do in the intermediate term and the long term, and determine whether you need an MBA to get there. If you're not sure and get into a T15 program, I would go hands down.

Oct 31, 2018

As someone formerly in audit, I'm very jealous that you were able to make the jump to advisory. Congratulations on the upcoming MBA. Did many people that you worked alongside with in advisory go on to get a MBA and move on to something else? I remember this being about 50-50 in my firm with many advisory people either staying or moving on to buyside/sellside roles.

Oct 31, 2018

Thanks, it definitely wasn't an easy transition. A lot of people from advisory go get their MBA - on my project someone went to Kellogg and someone went to Ross during the past year alone. From what I've seen, the exit opps from advisory are mixed - MBA, buy side/sell side finance, and industry are all possibilities. Buy side finance is rare though.

Nov 1, 2018

Did you try at all to break into IB after your switch to Advisory? I'm now in my second year in Big 4 Advisory and I feel like if I don't get into a boutique as an analyst now, my only other option will be to break in post-MBA. Also, not sure EY's Corporate Finance reputation, but my big 4 is pretty reputable in the middle-market sell side advisory. Any insight on how to possibly make the jump from Risk Advisory->Big 4 Corp Fin/IB? Thanks for doing this.

Oct 31, 2018

Your assumption is by and large correct. I've only seen people in the Big 4 leave for boutique banks during their first 2 years. Anything longer than that and it gets tricky - too experienced to come in as an analyst and banks don't want big 4 people coming in as associates. That was my assumption as well, I struck out on recruiting my first 2 years, and am going the MBA route.

I don't know enough about the corporate finance group to opine, but the answer is almost always network, network, network. Especially when entering into a group that small. I'd suggest trying to find a SM or partner in the group and let them know you're interested, and more importantly, why.

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Nov 1, 2018

IB after a stint in Big 4 TS / Valuation is very much a possibility. My path is a bit different (undergrad -> TS -> MM IB) but saw plenty of people who transferred from non Advisory service lines make the jump to IB including a kid in my start class that did the same thing. There was even a tax senior manager and tax associate who transferred previously make the IB move as associates.

I also wanted to transfer internally from TS to big 4 Corp fin but found a lot of internal walls I wasn't expecting. I got the sense that TS didn't want to be viewed as a jumping off point for Corp fin.

As far as interviewing, the technicals in IB should be easy to pick up as a lot of the elements in valuation and TS are more technical than you'd even see on a daily basis in IB and having transaction experience on your resume makes it easier to get calls / interviews and create a story for yourself

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Nov 3, 2018

I'm assuming you're a CPA. Did you get your masters to reach 150 credit hours. If so does it hold any significance when you applied for an MBA?

Oct 31, 2018

I obtained my Master's to get to the 150 credit hour requirement. If I had to do it over, I'd skip the Master's and just take the required classes I needed post-graduation, but I'm glad I got everything out of the way my 5th year.

The fact that I already had a Master's in Accounting had no significant impact on my application - admissions primarily cares about whether or not you have your CPA, not how you got there.

Most Helpful
Nov 4, 2018

I have had the opportunity to work with dozens of CPAs at various stages in their careers and guide them on their MBA journeys. Some were still with a big 4 when they applied. Others had transitioned to advisory. When bschools say they evaluate holistically, they truly do. Your CPA can only get you so far. They are admitting a person, not a certification, GMAT score or 'profile.' The key is developing your personal narrative including your short-term goals and career aspirations and why MBA? Once you have an idea of where you are going, you need to reverse-engineer the skills, knowledge and relationships you need to develop through an MBA program to get there. Next, look at the offerings of the top MBA programs to determine which will best meet YOUR needs. Just as every business needs accountants to succeed, every MBA class needs accountants. They just don't want an entire section of students who bring the same perspective and have identical post-MBA goals. Check out the pre-MBA audit article on Stratus Admissions Counseling website for suggestions on how to stand out.

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Dec 24, 2018

Hi breezy44, I'm currently in the beginning of the recruiting process for a Big4 in their Audit practice. I still have a couple of years more till I graduate from undergrad but the end goal is to work in an M&A role whether it be with a Big4 or a Bulge Bracket Investment Bank. My school is a non-target in the eyes of the banks, but the Big4 recruit heavily for Audit & Tax from the undergrad Accounting program. I'm thinking of sticking with the recruiting process and find some way to cross over to Advisory, but I'd love to have your thoughts on it.

Dec 25, 2018

Do you regret not going directly to advisory?

Dec 30, 2018