Switching from Big 4 to Acquisitions: My Story

I've received a lot of PMs over the months about how I switched from Big 4 audit to REIT acquisitions. 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, Asset Management, 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 asset management 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 general financial modeling course like Training the 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).

Comments (12)

Dec 23, 2015

Congrats....I've been in an accounting role for about 6 months now looking to make a similar transition. I have a few questions. How long were you actively applying/networking for jobs while in the big 4 role? How was the transition and interview process from Big 4 --> Property Accountant --> Acquisitions?

Dec 23, 2015

I was in audit for 10 months and actively started looking for a new position about 6-7 months in (it was the tail end of busy season). So I was actively looking for about 4 months. I've been in real estate now for 3 years. As I was interviewing for real estate positions, the overriding question I received was, why real estate? It is crucial (as I noted in my post above) that you clearly demonstrate that real estate is your one and only goal. All my RE interviews were mainly behavioral questions with a few light technicals thrown in every once in a while.

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Jan 5, 2016

Almost everyone has the same experience in trying to get out of audit. There are a few good aspects to it, but on the whole, audit is truly a terrible job. Congrats on getting out.

I still have a hard time believing that 1-2 years ago, I was also working in audit. Similarly, I also had to transition to another job after audit before breaking into PE. Best decision I ever made.

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Jan 6, 2016

Thanks for your brief background and highlighting an important point - for those looking to break into a buyside role in real estate, it may take you 1 or 2 transitions to get there. But that is okay.

    • 1
Jan 6, 2016

What did you do between audit and PE?

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Jan 6, 2016

It doesn't appear that many people enjoy working in audit haha. Too bad for all my accounting friends who busted their asses in college just to get miserable jobs.

Congrats on breaking in by the way. That seems like a TOUGH path, especially considering your transition within the firm. Well done!

    • 1
Jan 6, 2016

How are the hours (work life balance) now and what is a typical day like for you?

Jan 7, 2016
HunteR23:

How are the hours (work life balance) now and what is a typical day like for you?

Hours are not too terrible at my REIT, usually 45-50 hours a week and a little more than that if a deal is closing. I did a thread on a typical day about 8 months ago. Check that out and let me know if you have any other questions.

http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/life-in-acqu...

Jan 6, 2016

Thanks for posting. Would salary / bonus could someone looking to follow your path expect? What's your next step?

Jan 7, 2016
VodkaRedBull:

Thanks for posting. Would salary / bonus could someone looking to follow your path expect? What's your next step?

There are many threads on this that all echo the same thing: there is no "typical" salary in real estate. However, my salary is around $90-$100k w/ a 40-50% bonus. Next step is an MBA from a top 10 program (already accepted, but will discuss at a later date).

Jan 7, 2016

I'm an accountant as well and I'm looking to make the same transition. Really passionate about Real Estate but so far I've had no luck. This post gives me hope. Thanks.

Apr 7, 2016
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