I've received a lot of PMs over the months about how I switched from Big 4 audit toacquisitions. Here is the path I took and some suggestions for those who are trying to make the switch. I welcome other RE veterans to post their suggestions as well...
I started my career in the Banking audit group for one of the Big 4 in the Northeast. My love of RE began while auditing the commercial loan portfolio for a large bank. My interest grew as I spoke with real estate professionals and read scores of books/articles. At the end of my first busy season, I decided to make the jump.
Unfortunately, as many of you will find, shaking the accounting/CPA background can be difficult to do (despite what they tell you in school). For my search, I used recruiters (which were of little help to me) and applied to online postings (which I had the most success with). As you will find, every recruiter I reached out to kept pushing me into accounting type roles despite my insistence that I wanted to work in RE. During my search, I read as much as I could about real estate investing and took a BIWS RE modeling course, all with the goal of being able to craft my story and show my interest in RE.
Ultimately, an opportunity came up that I was very on the fence about. A recruiter had a lead for a property accounting job at a large REIT. However, he said the REIT had a track record of hiring internally for the acquisitions and asset mgmt departments. After much persuasion, I decided to interview. However, during the entire interview process, I made it very clear to the interviewers that my ultimate goal was to transition out of their group and into acquisitions. Surprisingly, they were very open to that idea and even more surprising they offered me a job. After much contemplation, I decided to take a huge leap of faith and accept the offer.
Luckily, my bet paid off. About 4 months into the job and after busting my butt in the accounting department, a role on the acquisitions team opened up. I applied, interviewed, received high recommendations from my superiors, and landed the job.
I do NOT recommend that path for everyone. Being a property accountant is mind numbing and can pigeon hole you even more. However, it can be one of many paths to break into RE. I would suggest applying to acquisition,, brokerage, Big 4 RE advisory, and RE investment banking type roles. Apply to anything and everything that seems remotely interesting and see what sticks. Understand that your first job out of Big 4 is likely not going to be your dream gig. Besides, that is not the point. The goal is to transition out of accounting and into real estate. Once you are actually in the real estate industry, it will be significantly easier to change job functions (i.e. moving from to acquisitions).
Two big items to help you out: 1) Make sure you have your story down cold as to why you want real estate. People in real estate are passionate about what they do and want to hire other passionate people. You cannot be luke-warm and get a job. 2) Beef up your resume. I would suggest taking an Argus course, a real estate modeling course (or a generalthe Street), talk with other people in the industry (use LinkedIn to make new connections if you don't know anyone) and read up on the industry. This will prove once more that you are interested and will allow you to start contributing your first day on the job.
Overall, there is no one single path to break into an acquisitions role (unlike breaking into private equity). Analysts/Associates on my team came from: brokerage, traditional IB, development, commercial loan servicing, accounting (me), and consulting. Here is my overall piece of advice: remain open. Don't shut doors just because a job is not "sexy". Break into real estate, bust your butt, and then lateral (and lateral again and again if needed).