I'm finishing up my first year as an audit senior and going through the 'should I stay (until manager) or should I go' dilemma. I know I don't want to do internal audit or financial reporting and I think my target future job would be VP, Finance or Finance Director, or would love some M&A exposure, rather than the typical accounting/controller route.
If I stayed until manager, I believe that will give me an edge to get into the c-suite later on rather than if I leave just after 2.5 years in big 4. On the other hand, if I tried to leave as a finance or FP&A manager, the job descriptions look like they are wanting people with industry experience.
Big 4 Audit Manager Exit Opportunities
The OP's question revolves around when to leave audit to pursue a more finance-oriented leadership role. Generally speaking, our users shared that the best time to leave is 2 - 4 years after you start as you have a strong excel and audit background that you can leverage into a variety of other positions. See a general path breakdown below:
- Less than 2 years: You'd have pretty much limitless exit opps. You could find opportunities in IBD (boutiques only), equity research (boutiques only), financial analysts, start-ups, etc. If you're certain about leaving accounting to pursue a career in finance, leaving at this time is a good idea. However, keep in mind that for most of the "high finance" jobs you will be going to a boutique so the exit opps to private equity, hedge fund, and the other big perks will not be as plentiful as a bulge bracket, so the path to the high-end benefits will be tougher
- 3-4 years: This could be considered a good time to leave. as you can still go pretty much any direction with your career. Granted, it will be tough to break into investment banking or equity research at this level, but a position in the industry with some financial responsibilities is extremely feasible. It's a fairly common path to do audit three years --> industry two to three years before shifting into a decently ranked MBA.
- Longer than staying until manager isn't a bad idea if you want to stay in the accounting realm long term. Six years in audit has been known to land a low stress, high paying accounting/reporting manager job. However, if accounting is not your end goal then get out before this.
- Most senior managers desire to become partner, but to accomplish this is very difficult and unlikely and they end up leaving for either manager jobs or VP/CFO at a smaller company.
- If you manage to make it to partner, you're set for life. But it's a long, long haul of working long hours and being underpaid. The work gets more interesting as you move up though.
- You learn Excel
- Decent hours
- You learn how to run a team
- You're a revenue generator so are generally treated well.
- AMA - Big 4 Audit to Boutique M&A Shop
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There are good experience opportunities in an audit position for the first three to four years:
A different opinion from one of our users:
The contacts I have who started at Big 4 and are now in senior level F500 positions (Director, VP, etc) each left the Big 4 after 2-4 years and took Senior Financial Analyst / Senior Accountant roles. When I hire someone, my top candidate is the guy who is already doing the same exact job at another company or the guy who works at my company with comparable experience and knowledge of the business, requirements, ERP system, etc.
Spending another few years at a Big 4 will not necessarily give you an edge into getting into the C-suite. There are F500 finance executives who spent 2 years at a Big 4, some who spent 5 years, and some who never worked in public accounting at all. You are just as likely to get there (if not more so) by taking a SFA role now.
Read More About the Big 4 on WSO
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